It’s hard to fathom the pressure that would come with getting discovered by David Gilmour. The idea that a member of Pink Floyd would stick their neck out for your demo recordings seems like a dream for most musicians and yet, a wonderful fiction to hope for at any age, and yet this was the reality for a 17-year-old Kate Bush. While the label ultimately decided to push her off on retainer for a couple of years in hopes of softening the blowback if her music didn’t perform well — after such an auspicious genesis story — Bush persevered, only to become one of the most influential pop artists of all time. In direct defiance of the marketable prog rock of the 1970s, Bush released The Kick Inside, a mythical, twisting pop record that bore influences of rock ‘n roll, classic literature, and personal psychedelic experiences. Such a bizarre amalgamation suggested no real reason that it should all work cogently, let alone at all, the record a seemingly unsellable experience for most modern listeners. The album went platinum in Bush’s native United Kingdom and sold over one million copies worldwide.
In the wake of this surprise success, it became clear that there would always be an audience for Bush’s music. The artist continued to record, evolving her sound across the next several years, and building something of a personal cottage industry with her invocations of various obscure imagery on subsequent records. But this mode wore thin for some, and her album sales significantly stagnated over time. In an effort to avoid becoming a musical drop in the bucket, lost amidst a fickle and ever-changing industry, Bush decided she needed a little more time and a lot more freedom. She built her own recording studio and got to work on her next project, which would eventually become Hounds of Love. On this record, she set out to craft a cohesive experience that would draw in both fans of the modern, mid-‘80s pop music that held claim to the era’s radio waves and those of a stranger, more brooding approach to album-making, built on songs that slid together in service of an overarching story. The resulting work was constructed so as to feature an inflection point of these two ideas, each half representing not just a different sonic disposition, but an organic reflection of Bush as an artist.
Hounds of Love was an immediate success, with critics citing the musician’s expansive songwriting and catchy grooves as triumphs, the two entwining to craft something greater than she’d managed before, the proverbial bow on the gift. Even today, it’s easy to see what a unique success the album was, ripples of its influence readily found in nearly every pop album that came after, its sonic daring a dart thrown straight through the middle of a whole era’s sound. She mixed synthesizers and traditional Irish instruments to create a folksy pop sound, layering beautiful vocals throughout her new textures, and each decision feels notably precise and intentional, recasting Bush as something of a perfectionist in contrast to her past albums. At the time, the degree of control afforded Bush on this record was nearly unheard of for most major artists, and the passion that comes with such a process is on full, wonderful display.
As time went on, the proximity between Kate Bush albums grew greater and greater. She artist became more reclusive, more particular about her surroundings, and more focused on raising her son. Such extra-textual details are worth nothing because they feel like a pointed extension of the artist, one operating exclusively according to her own terms for the length of her career, any zigs and zags feeling like they were directed only from within. At this point in time, we’re more than a decade removed from a new Kate Bush record, but we are never far from a new record influenced by the breakout and lingering sounds of Hounds of Love.
Part of Kicking the Canon – The Album Canon.