The biggest selling album of Kate Bush’s career is The Whole Story, the 1986 compilation which featured 12 of her best-known songs released up to the end of that year. With the music available on vinyl, cassette and compact disc (and later, mini-disc), and promotional clips issued on companion VHS and Betamax video cassettes, EMI unleashed a huge advertising campaign for The Whole Story, including television spots. Arguably the title was something of a misnomer. ‘Stories’ usually have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and yet the order of the story as presented here was apparently random, the track-by-track progression leaping backwards and forwards through her catalogue. As for most people Bush’s story had begun with Wuthering Heights, it seemed odd not to include the original version; instead, a version with a re-recorded vocal was used. The very successful Tour Of Life was not represented in the track listing either, despite the On Stage EP, which included songs recorded at the shows, having been one of her few Top 10 hits. These (minor) points aside, it was a worthy attempt to represent her career to date and was beautifully packaged. The cover utilized an understated font for the text and featured a black and white photo of Bush set against a white background, a timeless design. Inside the gatefold sleeve, effort had been made to provide an accurate overview of her discography, with pictures of records sleeves and video cassette covers together with details of their issue dates and chart performances. Released in time for Christmas, it was an ideal gift for fans and the generally-interested alike.
It also got 1987 to a good start, reaching #1 at the beginning of the year. (It would also top the music video chart, and become one of PMI’s longest-sellers.) Although there was no new release from Bush, she was involved in various projects during the year which kept her name in the press. She won Best British Female at the BPI Awards in February, backing up the numerous readers’ polls in the music press that she had topped. There were a couple of live appearances, including most notably unexpectedly joining Peter Gabriel on stage at one of the final dates in his current tour to perform Don’t Give Up. She provided guest vocals on Go West’s single The King Is Dead; her song from the movie ‘Castaway’, Be Kind To My Mistakes, was released on the film’s soundtrack album; she recorded a new song This Woman’s Work for the soundtrack of ‘She’s Having A Baby’; and she was featured prominently on the charity single Let It Be for The Sun’s Ferry Aid appeal in response to the Zeebrugge disaster. On 16 July, Kate Bush Complete, the sheet music and lyrics to all her commercially released songs together with photographs and a chronological account of her career, was published. Meanwhile, Bush started work on her next album.
It was a long time coming. News was scant in 1988, with Midge Ure’s new album providing a rare opportunity to hear Bush’s voice on a new track via its song Sister And Brother. (It was prepared for release as a single but this was cancelled.) Just as the two years between Never For Ever and The Dreaming had been superseded by the three year gap between the latter and Hounds Of Love, so now there was a four year wait for The Sensual World. Again, the title did not quite match the content. There were moments that were warm and sensual, but much of the rest was dark and stark with a production style that was raw and clinical. The title track was probably the most accessible cut, depicting James Joyce’s character Molly Bloom from Ulysses stepping out of the book and into the real world. (Joyce’s estate refused her permission to use actual quotes from the text.) But for the most part, this was a serious work by a serious artist and there was very little light relief.
The reviews were uniformly positive: “Her confidence grows and we benefit from a music which is so naturally outside, so gracefully above the sweatings and strainings of those who strive to be alternative,” said Melody Maker; “Kate Bush remains alone, ahead, and a genius,” said NME; “wonderful.. incredible emotional depths,” said Music Week. Sales were good too: the album went to #2 and lead single (the title track) reached #12; this despite radio airplay seeming to be at the whim of individual DJs rather than as a result of inclusion on a playlist.
☛ What happened next
In 1990, EMI issued a box set of all Bush’s studio albums, plus albums of B-sides, alternative mixes and rare tracks, as This Woman’s Work. The following year, her cover of Rocket Man, recorded for a tribute album to writers Elton John and Bernie Taupin (a project involving many artists that had been on the cards for several years) was released as a single and was another #12 hit. Then there was a hiatus while she completed work on The Red Shoes (1993), her next album. Lead single Rubberband Girl reached – once again – #12, and the album’s remaining singles all peaked in the 20s. Bush promoted the album for over a year and a short film, ‘The Line, The Cross and The Curve’, based on the album’s songs, was given a limited theatrical release. Then, she retreated into obscurity for several years. At first, fans and the media were unconcerned, as one or two years of limited news about her was par for the course. When nothing else was forthcoming from her for the rest of the 1990s, rumour and speculation about when she would next appear began, punctuated by the occasional piece of hard news (the birth of her son, Albert; the announcement of the occasional ‘lifetime achievement’ type of award at ceremonies where her catalogue was celebrated). Her work was continually reappraised and her standing in the British music industry was undiminished: she was one of our most vital female artists.
When she came back, it was with double album Aerial (2005). The first disc featured a collection of unrelated songs under the title A Sea Of Honey, which included lone single King Of the Mountain, her first Top 10 hit for nearly 20 years. The second disc was a 40+ minute concept piece called A Sky Of Honey which is probably her masterpiece, a song sequence describing the passage of an English summer’s day and set to a background of birdsong. (The titles of the discs and the birdsong explained the album’s cover image. At first glance a mountain range reflected in sea water with the sun setting in the sky behind it, it was in fact a stylized image of a waveform of blackbird song.) On this opus, Bush demonstrated just about every skill she had honed throughout her thirty years as a recording artist.
Her most recent albums, Director’s Cut and 50 Words For Snow (both 2011) were her least satisfying collections to date. The former was a compilation of selected tracks from The Sensual World and The Red Shoes re-worked, the first time since the ‘New Vocal’ of Wuthering Heights that she had revisited old material. The new interpretations added little to the originals (although her status is now such that the Joyce estate allowed her to use his words on Flower Of The Mountain, the new take on The Sensual World), but it was an innovative way of bringing The Whole Story up to date. Winter-themed studio set 50 Words For Snow was similarly inventive but flawed, with just seven songs stretched to fill nearly 70 minutes. What was most disappointing about it was that she was no longer the star of the show: one track was a duet (with Elton John) and on two others she provided backing vocals only (lead vocals coming from Stephen Fry on one and her son on the other). Then again, it was still very much ‘her’ work: she wrote it, she produced it, she had full creative control. It was released on her own Fish People record label.
Nevertheless, these releases met with acclaim from the contemporary reviewers, and the following year 50 Words For Snow won the South Bank Arts Award for best album and was nominated in the same category at the Ivor Novello Awards. Bush herself was once again nominated for a BRIT Award for Best British Female. Also in 2012, a new mix of her song Running Up That Hill featured as part of the Opening Ceremony to the Olympic Games, and this version of the song restored her to the Top 10 in the singles chart. But it was her return to the stage in 2014 that caused the most excitement. She had a 22-night residency at the Hammersmith Apollo theatre which sold out in minutes, received positive press leading to all 11 of her albums featuring in the Top 50 for the chart of the week ending 6 September.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Nov. 20
The ASSOCIATES White Car In Germany (Situation 2 SIT11)
The BEAT Hit It (Go Feet FEET11)
The BOOMTOWN RATS (Bob Geldof) Never In A Million Years (Mercury MER87)
David BOWIE Wild Is The Wind (RCA BOW10)
The CLASH (Joe Strummer) Radio Clash (CBS CBSA1797)
Kate BUSH This Woman’s Work (EMI EM119)
CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT First Place (Mercury CAT7)
Debbie HARRY Brite Side (Chrysalis CHS3452)
Sydney YOUNGBLOOD Sit And Wait (Circa YR40)