Review Revue: Kate Bush - The Dreaming

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by DJ El Toro

For this week’s Review Revue, I pulled out one of my all-time favorite albums, The Dreaming by Kate Bush. When it came out in 1982, the record was very divisive, not only within my circle of friends, but with critics and pop fans in the UK (where Bush was an established chart star). Some listeners were severely bummed that the airy-fairy princess of “Wuthering Heights” was nowhere in evidence on her fourth full-length, but others (myself included) were thrilled at how she embraced the then-radical sampling capabilities of the Fairlight, and composed wholly original songs that ranged from the Irish reel of “Night of the Swallow” to the thundering percussion of “Sat In Your Lap.” Hell, on the final “Get Out of My House,” she even turned into a braying donkey -- scary stuff.

Not surprisingly, the staff at KCMU were similarly at odds over this wildly inventive album. As I read over their comments from a quarter-century ago, I found myself wanting to jump into the argument. Repeatedly. So I did... (comments in italics):

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“For some strange reason, Kate Bush’s singing reminds of me of Rex Harrison, or maybe it’s Noel Harrison...”

One assumes this is a reference to her rather stentorian, very British delivery on the jaunty bank heist number, “There Goes A Tenner.” At least, I hope so. Lord knows, Bush had no problem carrying a tune, while the great thespian was renowned for speak-singing his way through “My Fair Lady.”

“Some of this is very folksy, some of it is like a hit of LSD”

“Folksy? Not ‘down home’ folksy, I think.” Well-needed album. ‘Sat In Your Lap’!!”

“I like this album. I also like LSD.”

Personally, I’d be scared to ingest psychedelics while listening to this disc. It is pretty far out-there for even the soberest listener.

“She is part Aborigine after all -- so her folkiness isn’t surprising -- it works well.”

Um, excuse me? What do these two topics have to do with each other? In today’s PC climate, would anyone dare to write such a snarky comment on a new release?

“A new Lene Lovich?”

“An old -->”

“<-- Yeah"

"This is cool sounds like a cross between Nina Hagen & Lene Lovich (vocally)"

"bullshit"

Bingo! Throughout the 1980s, it drove me nuts that women like Bush, Lovich, and Hagen -- plus Hazel O’Connor, Diamanda Galas, Yoko Ono, etc. -- were forever lumped together by armchair critics. All these women were wildly disparate performers and writers, yet because each had a highly idiosyncratic vocal style, they all got lumped under one umbrella. Jazz critics would never do the same thing with, say, Patty Waters and Jeanne Lee.

“I personally like the earlier stuff she put out, although this album’s ok WAY COOL!”

“Kate Bush is in a class all her own -- she deserves more recognition and credit.”

“The vocal equivalent of pheromones. KATE IS GREAT!”

“Avant garde masterpiece.”

“I love her”

I want to hang out with these people.

“These songs are all about dreams she’s had.”

“Not so. For instance, ‘All The Love’ was inspired by her phone answering machine going crazy. It refused to record the messages, only the goodbyes, which is what you hear during the song. (I’ve followed her since the 1st LP.)”

“Ok! Most.”

“I sit corrected.”

Damn right. In fact, the underpinnings and inspirations of all ten songs on this record are just as bizarre and ambitious. I look forward to finding out what my esteemed colleague Ann Powers of the Los Angeles Times makes of this epic when she completes her exploration of it for Continuum’s 33 1/3 book series.

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11 Comments

  1. Jim
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    This album was (and remains) totally delightful

  2. Marc Van Opstal (Belgium)
    Posted January 12, 2009 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    In my opinion, The Dreaming is the best album ever recorded.
    I first heard it around 1983/1984 at the age of 14/15, didn’t like it so didn’t listen again. Then, in the summer of 1985 with the release of Running Up That Hill (just before the release of the Hounds Of Love-album), heard it again at a friends house and completely fell in love with it. It’s been my favourite album ever since, it’s pure genius ! I still listen to it regularly and always come to the same conclusion : no-one’s ever gonna top this. I’ll never grow tired of it.
    Thanks for paying it the attention it deserves because it’s far too much underrated.

  3. Jimi Kent
    Posted April 18, 2009 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    I was searching for the lyrics to the “Aboriginal” Dreaming track and stumbled upon your blog... I was suprised to find ripples still being felt by this masterpiece by the legendary Kate even to this day but then I guess I shouldn’t be. Pure original genius will always make waves. I was in the Army the day “top of the pops” in the uk aired Kate’s first appearance with “Wuthering Heights” all the squadies said “What the F**k is this” or words to that effect. I told them this will be number one and within weeks I was proven right. I have grown up with Kate Bushes music a big part of my conciousness and thank her deeply for the thrill, pleasure and yes... love.

  4. Örn Leifsson
    Posted October 4, 2009 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    This album is simply one of the Best ever made, it´s so unusual and highly original that there is nothing like. It has that rare quality that you simply do not get bored with it. I think I bought in in 1986 or so and that´s more tha 20 years ago and I still listen to it regularly. And sometime when I´m in a certain mood this is the only album too listen too.
    The music, the lyrics, the fantastic use of Kate´s voice, all mindboggingly brilliant, which means of course that it did not sell that well, but all of the hardcore Kate Fans really like it.
    It really is one of the greatest album in pop history and one of the oh so few masterpieces of pop music.

  5. ray
    Posted February 7, 2010 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    this is pure genius, kate is a true icon in this world of music. and yes dear dorothy their ain’t many.

  6. DJDDoS
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 4:43 am | Permalink

    The best album of Kate Bush. One of the best albums I ever heard.

    Look at the back of the cover. It says:

    “This album is made to be played loud.”

    So crank up the volume, don´t mind the neighbourhood.

  7. Jack Cullen
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 5:05 am | Permalink

    Interesting comment Marc, I had a similar experience with The Red Shoes. Heard it once when I found it in my Mum’s record collection but wasn’t that interested. Then came across it again a couple of years later and became hooked on it. The whole album. Apart from maybe Eat The Music which I find a bit too sickly to listen to more than once every other year or so!

  8. Ictus75
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    An amazing album “Pulling Out The Pin” is one of the most haunting songs ever written, while “Night Of The Swallow” is ever so beautiful. One of her best.

  9. robert marshall
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    I was given this album by my sister for my 15th birthday. It came with no lyric sheet. I spent hours pouring over it, finding it utterly mesmerising, haunting and even chilling in places. I think this is where Kate Bush really shaped herself as an artist, eschewing catchy melodies (which she is brilliant at -Wuthering Heights/ Baboohska etc) for more extreme immersive sonic landscapes. I read her saying she re-listened years later and felt it embarrassingly self-indulgent, but I think her sonic explorations here made the following Hounds of Love possible, where she keeps all she has learnt but pulls back a little and brings her vocal to the front more. It has a very, very special place in my heart. This woman really is utterly remarkable. Aerial/ 50 WOrds for Snow? Sublime, healing, heart-rending artistry and the result of a journey that I think really kicks off fully with this album.

  10. Charles H
    Posted November 7, 2012 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    kate bush is not part australian aborigine, although the album’s title track is about the plight of australian aborigines whose lands were cordoned for the mining of uranium ore by non-aboriginals. additionally, “dreaming” is a term in australian aboriginal animist spirituality, particularly in reference to creation stories and core myths of ancestral lands. “dreamtime” (which is referred to in the title track) is supposedly the time when the world was created, and a “dreaming” is a story of how things were created. i’d say her folksiness has less to do with her own cultural heritage and more to do with her professor-like interest in perspectives which differ vastly from her own.

    this album took me a long time to get into (oddly enough, though, less time than “the sensual world”) but is easily my favorite album from the ’80s, possibly one of my favorites of all time. it’s really inspired me in my own experimentation in electronic music, and in my perspective on art in general. i really admire her sensitivity to soundscapes, and her ability to create truly unique environments with sound alone. her voice is fantastic, she’s an absolute fucking poet when it comes to her lyrics, and her creativity as a producer is clear from the first drum beats. i’ve never listened to this album on lsd, but i have a feeling i will one day, and that day it will only become more special to me.

  11. Ian S
    Posted February 10, 2013 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    I was born in 90′s, so to say kate’s music is not something I was growing up together with. I just bumped on to her in 2010 (with Aerial) but really hooked in 2013.

    The dreaming is the second album of kate that I listened to (yes started listening with Aerial then The Dreaming). Now I almost have her full catalogues, so it gives me to say The Dreaming is kate’s my favourite album. Yes it’s hard to understand but it has this growing element.

    By imagining kate’s quote about this album, something like “she’s gone mad album”, I really thing artists, including of course musicians, have to gone mad in order to realize how far they can reach. This album is an art,and an art somehow will survive for the next hundred of years.

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