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The Dartmouth
February 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Kate Bush album 'Aerial' fails to fly

"Aerial" should come with a warning label: "Caution: Induces drowsiness. Do not use while operating heavy machinery." Or perhaps: "May be indicated in the relief of insomnia. Patent pending." Actually, this one might suffice: "Not intended for use by intelligent consumers."

Over the course of her twenty-seven-year career, British singer and songwriter Kate Bush has built herself a solid reputation for Zen-like irreverence and experimental, emotionally stirring music. After a twelve-year hiatus, Bush returns with more of the same drifty instrumentation and mellow, erratic lyrics on "Aerial," a two-disc compilation made up of the completely random "A Sea of Honey" and the more cohesive but equally awful "A Sky of Honey."

"Aerial" is boring. Really, really boring. It's difficult to stay awake waiting for one song to end and the next to begin. It's really difficult to tell when and if this transition has occurred. And it's next to impossible to care. "A Sea of Honey" opens benignly enough with "King of the Mountain," the album's first single. The track, an otherworldly search for Elvis, takes an amusing approach, and Bush's airy, high-pitched vocals resonate nicely. Even "Pi," which, yes, really is about the infinitely long number with which all survivors of high school math should be all too familiar, turns eccentricity into moderate success. Bush's slow, heartfelt rendition of 116 decimal places proves oddly entrancing, and her lyrics address the paradoxical limits of the infinite -- the challenge of putting "a number" to "a great big circle."

But, with a few exceptions, it's all downhill from there. Bush's unique, lilting voice turns nasal and irritating on "Bertie," an overly sentimental tribute to Bush's son. On "Mrs. Bartolozzi," a slow piano track with real potential, Bush explores the joy and drudgery of domestic life: "They traipsed mud all over the house / It took hours and hours to scrub it out." The song descends into tiresome inanity, with Bush hauntingly repeating "washing machine" as if to convey a deep spiritual truth about her weary narrator. Also, like so many of Bush's songs, the too-long "Mrs. Bartolozzi" turns an atmosphere of deliberate calm into a running time that seems about as infinite as Bush's approximation of pi. It's not that the dreamy, unhurried quality of Bush's songs alone renders them failures; Bush just takes it a bit too far. Every track on "Aerial" would benefit from ending about thirty seconds earlier.

Musically, "A Sea of Honey" doesn't exactly break new ground. Bush relies on understated piano arrangements, making only sporadic use of upbeat guitar riffs (on the silly "How to be Invisible") and electronics (most notably, on the random-to-the-point-of-weird "Joanni," a ballad about Joan of Arc). "A Coral Room," the first disc's closing track, stands out only in context; with a pretty piano arrangement and light mid-range vocals, it alone invites a second listen.

"A Sky of Honey," a collection of nine songs and interludes intended to represent a single day, plunges still deeper into mind-numbing mellowness. With few tempo changes and no alteration in Bush's distant yawn-inducing vocals, the songs certainly do meld together -- but the artistic whole they form falls far short of Bush's intent. The artist's creative process dominates thematically, especially on "An Architect's Dream," which finds Bush observing a painter at work: "That bit there, it was an accident / But he's so pleased / It's the best mistake, he could make."

Unfortunately, none of the other tracks offer lyrics worth serious contemplation. There's lots of birdsong, a mercifully brief dialogue with an unenthusiastic "painter" (whose voice is oddly reminiscent of that of a "Sesame Street" character) and enough lulling piano to quiet an army of overtired two-year-olds, but no lyrics that delve much deeper than "Every sleepy light / Must say goodbye / To the day before it dies."

The title track, "Aerial," closes out the album with a sorry attempt at triumphant rock-and-roll: "I feel I want to be up on the roof / I feel I gotta get up on the roof," sing-songs Bush to a backdrop of weak guitar that feels forced and lasts much too long before giving way to rhythmic, creepy laughter.

Albums like "Aerial" best serve the world as minimum-volume background music. Despite glimpses of insight, Bush's lyrics remain largely dull and forgettable. Her album confirms her complete disinterest in current musical trends " hardly something to be ashamed of, but after twelve years, "Aerial" ought to set itself apart from the body of work she's amassed to date. Instead, it'll probably leave unimpressed listeners wondering how its production could have taken her so long. Skip this one, folks.