Sound — 10
After taking a twelve year break from the music industry, Kate Bush released Aerial, her latest album following 1993'a The Red Shoes. And after twelve, years, much has happened to the overall sound of the iconic UK singer/songwriter. As with 1985's classic masterpiece Hounds of Love, Kate has divided the album into two discs, the first (A Sea of Honey) having isolated songs, while the second (A Sky of Honey) is a unified suite based on a bird song. Still remaining highly experimental, the album has a wide appeal to both sides of Kate Bush. Piano ballads such as "Mrs. Bartollozi" and "A Coral Room" will please the more subdued fans, but it truly is the second disc that shows why Kate continues to push boundaries. Experimenting with highly atmospheric styles, Kate has created a grand, exhilarating piece of art, yet even with its grandness of sound, the theme is so simple. A small bird chirps wistfully in the title track, followed by Kate's laughter in time with it. A Sky of Honey seems to progress as a regular day would, with a piece entitled "Nocturn" toward the end. The morning song, "Aerial" bursts out with a very dance able melody. Never has Kate seemed more free in her work, as represented by the bird. "A Sky of Honey" features Rolf Harris playing the didgeridoo on one track, as he had done on her 1982 single "The Dreaming" (Harris also provides vocals as "The Painter" on 'An Architect's Dream' and 'The Painter's Link'). Other guest artists include Peter Erskine, Eberhard Weber, Lol Creme and Procol Harum's Gary Brooker. Two tracks feature string arrangements by Michael Kamen (one of his final projects before his death in 2003), performed by the London Metropolitan Orchestra. Her sound has never been better, more experimental and seeming so free and effortless.
Lyrics — 9
Kate's lyrics seem to only get better with time, and this certainly applies to Aerial on the most part. Her opening work on "A Sea of Honey" however is not as stunning as previous isolated songs such as those on Hounds of Love or 1982's The Dreaming. "King of the Mountain", the only single released from the album, peaking at 4 on the UK charts, is a good example however, of a strong single both musically and lyrically. The song speaks about the world's obsession with perhaps the most famous of all musicians, Elvis Presley. She even begins the song by doing an imitation of his voice. She makes references to his house being filled with junk as the wind whistles through it, with nobody home. Another standout on the first side is "Mrs. Bartolozzi", an extremely abstract piano/vocal piece. What starts as a normal routine of washing the clothes by a house wife turns into much more. Some view the song in a very sexual light, while others have gone so far as to believe it is about murder. Kate makes her audience work for the answers, making the songs all the more fascinating. Concluding the first disc is another abstract piano ballad, "A Coral Room" in which Kate reflects about the death of her mother. It is perhaps her most elegant and honest recording, but also her most confusing. It certainly reads like a poem, utilizing strong images such as "a city draped in net" and "a broken jug". The listener eventually may come to the conclusion that the song is so personal, that an outside listener could never truly comprehend what Kate is trying to say, making it all the more beautiful. The second side, "A Sky of Honey" tells a very loose story connected by a bird song. It's stark simplicity in the beginning make it very calming, and the whole piece acts as one giant cresendo until the title track. While her lyrics such as those in "A Painter's Link" and "Nocturn" are quite vague, her voice is able to miraculously carry every song. Over the years, her voice has become lower and lower, but also more articulate and honest. While some may miss the screeching Kate, the album's theme of simplicity and being free like a bird truly match her vocals at this point in time.
Overall Impression — 9
Overall, Aerial is one of Kate's strongest works, perhaps not as experimental as The Dreaming or Hounds of Love, and certainly not as strong as those mentioned, but it is still a remarkable piece of art. "A Coral Room" is easily the most beautiful song Kate has ever written, and its lyrics make the reader do some thinking. Her work continues to push boundaries, and her lyrics in particular are open for much debate and interpretation. The sound on the album, especially the second disc is extremely atmospheric, a significant shift in the artist's style, showing that she is not doing the same thing over and over just because it works.