The greatest #8: The Dreaming
Let's waste no time here: The Dreaming is some bizarre shit. If you're looking for tame, well-behaved pop, move on right along. This album is jagged and messy art-rock, and definitely not suited to everyone's taste. It's the sound of Kate Bush coming into her own, both figuratively (ratcheting up the artistic stakes skyward on her fourth work) and literally (self-producing her album for the first time). With no censor and new technology at her disposal, the twenty-four-year-old Bush could indulge any whim that struck her. She pretty much chose to cram them all in, creating a dense, theatrical fantasy world still unequaled today. The Dreaming sounded just as unique and puzzling in 1982, becoming the worst-selling album of Bush's thirty-year career. But as time has shown, it's also gone on to be her boldest and her best work.
There are two essential elements of The Dreaming: Bush's vocals and the Fairlight CMI. Though the use of synthesizers became an '80s hallmark, nothing from that decade sounds even close to Bush's shriek. (The closest we've come since to matching the interplay of harsh and lovely is Joanna Newsom's The Milk-Eyed Mender.) Lulling the listener with a sweet melody, Bush quickly switches to something like a primal scream. On her song, "Pull Out The Pin," she uses her voice as nothing less than a weapon. Recounting the Vietnam War from the other side, she silkily sings, "You learn to ride the Earth,/ When you're living on your belly and the enemy are city-births./ Who needs radar? We use scent./ They stink of the West, stink of sweat,/ Stink of cologne and baccy, and all their Yankee hash." But setting that false trap, she detonates in the chorus, howling, "Just one thing in it/ Me or him/ And I love life, so I pull out the pin." All the pain and rage she conveys sound just as explosive as her character's actions.
On "Night of the Swallow," Bush goes even further. She uses her expressive voice to create a dialogue between a criminal and his lover, playing both parts. The woman desperately urges him to abandon his mission, as he unctuously assures her he'll be all right. "'Though pigs can fly, they'll never find us/ Posing as the night, and I'll be home before morning,'" he says, with Bush supplying the requisite confidence. As the lover, she starts out angry and demanding, but finally settles on pleading. By the end, his cool front breaks down too, imploring her, "Give me something to show for my miserable life.../ Let me, let me go." It's a one-woman-show, a shadowy film noir and a three-act relationship drama masterfully condensed into a single song.
As potent as her vocals are, Bush's music is just as important and idiosyncratic. It melds pedestrian instruments like guitars and pianos with uillean pipes and didgeridoos. It complements the album's wide scope of topics with equally catholic styles. "There Goes A Tenner" bops like an old-world waltz, and "Suspended in Gaffa" nimbly hops around like a harvest dance. Album opener "Sat In Your Lap" hits hard with forceful drum machines, sounding almost like a strand of industrial music. But the album's connecting force is that aforementioned Fairlight CMI, rooting the work firmly in the early '80s.
For better or worse, The Dreaming doesn't sound as time-stamped as other Fairlight alumni, like Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Relax" or Peter Gabriel's "Shock The Monkey." Bush integrates the synthesizer more organically into her soundscapes, though it still clearly registers. The reason it works so well here is its wonderful contrast with Bush's voice, its smooth contours countering her sharp-edged wail. It's also used in lots of different and creative ways, evoking almost as many moods and settings as Bush herself.
The most exciting mix of vocals and music arrives at the very end, with "Get Out of My House." Inspired by Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, the song finds Bush at the height of her sorceress powers. Over her repeated scream of [a door] "slamming," and the driving pound of percussion, Bush manically begs "Get out of my house!" The song is about possession in every sense of the word, and it's a performance as searing as Jack Nicholson's Jack Torrance. As the music viciously thrums forward, Bush reveals, "This house is full of my mess/ This house is full of mistakes,/ This house is full of madness/ This house is full of, full of, full of, full of fight." That's just as true of The Dreaming in its entirety, where weirdness is beauty and both those forces are overflowing.
* MP3: "Pull Out The Pin" - Kate Bush from The Dreaming
* MP3: "Get Out of My House" - Kate Bush from The Dreaming [Buy it]