Sound — 8
Released in 1980, Bush's third studio album would mark another milestone for her illustrious career as well as a milestone for female artists everywhere. While her first single, 1978's "Wuthering Heights" would be the first self-written song by a female artist to reach the number one spot on the UK Singles Chart, "Never for Ever" became the first studio album to reach the number one spot on the UK Album's Chart by a writing female artist. Yet, Bush didn't serve just as the album's songwriter for she also co-produced it. (A hat she would wear in all of her later work.) The album spawned three Top 20 singles, ("Babooshka", "Army Dreamers" and "Breathing") all of which are strong story oriented. "Babooshka" would reach the Top 5 and would not be topped until 1985's "Running Up That Hill". While the album's core strength seems to rely mostly on the singles, (there are a few missteps) it does sport some unique highlights and brilliance in songwriting. Bush's songwriting diversity is at its highest on this album from the eerie ballad of "The Infant Kiss" to the rock-oriented "The Wedding List" and the minimalist surrealism of "Delius (Song of Summer)". Also, as with 1978's "Lionheart", Bush's brother Paddy (a musical genius in terms of instrument usage) utilizes many strange and exciting instruments such as the Harmonica, Mandolin, Balalaika, Sitar, Koto, Banshee, Saw, and Mando (to name a few). It's a massive sonic achievement for Bush even if songs like "Violin". "Egypt" and "Blow Away (For Bill)" become too flashy and annoying, the gorgeous instrumental a cappella "Night Scented Stock" and the introspective "All We Ever Look For" are among the many highlights of the album's sound. "Breathing" in particular marks a transitional period for Bush. Not only is she taking on massive and dark topics such as nuclear war, but she is also delving into a more experimental and progressive genre. Utilizing the Fairlight CMI on a few tracks, Bush would come to embrace the mechanical instrument which would play a huge role in her work of dark genius, 1982's "The Dreaming". "Breathing" has layer after layer of harmonies on the synth building the the song's dramatic climax, ending the album on a strong, powerful note.
Lyrics — 7
A major difference between "Never for Ever" and Bush's previous work is the use of more daring and experimental topics for songs. For example, "The Wedding List" calls upon Bush's love of dark humour as she plays the part of a bride revenging her husband's death on their wedding day. Even more daring is "The Infant Kiss" which deals with a governesses strong love for a child, near pedophiliac. (It was based on the movie "The Innocents", in turn based on Henry James' novel "The Turn of the Screw".) Only Bush can make literature cool as she would later prove in 1989 with "The Sensual World". The album's top single, "Babooska" presents Bush at her lyrical best, singing a simple tale of a woman who suspects her husband would cheat on her if he had the chance. Her delivery on this, as well as the waltz- like "Army Dreamers" prove to be her lyrical and vocal highlights. Some tracks however fail to impress and actually get annoying. In "Egypt" she paints a surreal soundscape that fails to really grab me with a melody or lyrical line. It becomes too self-indulgent as she would also show in "Violin". (The album's most annoying catchy song) While it is catchy, her vocal delivery is way over the top as she shrieks about a sexual obsession with the violin. Overall, it's a lyrical hit or miss, but the album ends on such a strong emotional note with "Breathing", that the rest is somewhat forgivable.
Overall Impression — 8
"Never for Ever" is not only a landmark for Bush, it is a landmark for all female artists. Bush began taking full control over her work. Her dark tone and affinity for violent topics would culminate on her following album, as well as her usage of the Fairlight CMI. It's a transitional work for Bush, as well as an important step for her. Her stereotype was beginning to break away as she became a more respected songwriter in the industry. While Allmusic would give the album three out of five stars, I have to give it an eight out of ten. It's strong songs truly outweigh the occasional missteps. A bravo performance.