The Kick Inside:
I confess, subtitling a piece about Kate Bush’s debut album with a song about…
menstruation is not the sagest decision, granted. In the spirit of passion – translate: self-indulgent erudition – I wanted to look at albums and songs that mean that much to me. I have brought together a selection of songs from my childhood before and will do another selection very soon. The reason behind this piece is because something very odd is happening: the album I THOUGHT was my favourite might not be after all. It is peculiar when you become comfortable with an album – safe in the knowledge it is top of the tree – but then the leaves begin to drop. In the nakedness and revelation of autumn, the mind wanders and looks for other things. The Bends is/was the record that lifted my mood and took me somewhere different – nothing like it exists; a peerless and timeless record that seems to capture a spirit. In 1995, when the album was released, Radiohead were the ‘outsiders’ of the Britpop movement – not in the same circles as your Blurs, Oasis and Pulps. Because of that, I backed that lonely nucleus: a band free from commercial pressures; they crafted an album few could see coming.
After a lot of soul-searching – the way one does when life gets a bit crap and hard – I have been immersing myself in, what I consider, Kate Bush’s finest album, The Kick Inside. As I said at the top of this piece: I wanted to pay tribute to those records and albums that made an impression on me, and, I think, deserve more acclaim and attention today. I grant you, many critics and (Kate Bush) fans will put Hounds of Love at the top of their list. Its very title seems to define the contrasts and images of the record. The second-half – that wonderful, cinematic suite of songs – follows the hit-laden, more ‘conventional’ Side One – can Kate Bush ever be considered conventional, mind?! Few albums in history can compete with the phenomenal one-two-three of the title track, Cloudbusting and, the magisterial, Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God). That last song has one of the most beguiling and evocative introductions of all time; the video is extraordinarily captivating and memorable – the whole experience is unlike anything else. Cloudbusting and Hounds of Love are tremendously raw and emotional; that Kate Bush passion and songwriting genius throughout. I am not going to argue against those who claim Hounds of Love is Bush’s best album – let us consider the importance of her debut. Whilst Hounds of Love boasts several career-best tracks; I would argue there are few who sit through the album’s second-half or quote it alongside her best work. The Kick Inside, by contrast, has fewer filler moments and is a more solid album – albeit, one with fewer ‘classic’ tracks. What gets to me – when looking at Bush’s debut – is the sheer audacity and confidence one hears within.
Consider the fact Kate Bush was, I think, nineteen when the album was released. Many of the tracks were scribed when she was younger than that: The Man with the Child in His Eyes was written when Bush was thirteen. That song, aside from its somewhat-creepy overtones and suggestions, is a beguiling and transcendent performance. It was recorded with the backing of an orchestra: Bush attested she was nervous and daunted by that experience – maybe her performance was less natural and breezy than it otherwise would have been. The song, mind you, sound completely natural and assured; the lyrics and melody flow; the central performance is one of the most beautiful and tender deliveries Bush ever committed to tape. You see, this feature is no mere passion-piece: more, an essay about an album that means so much to me – for so many different reasons. I feel modern music has a throwaway quality and often bleached and washed-out in the overriding digital/social media machine. The fact I am hunting for The Kick Inside on vinyl is because that is its true form: lying on the floor, legs akimbo, eliciting every syllabic breath and dreamy utterance – delving into the peculiar scansion, cadence and personality of the music.
Kate Bush was, as explained, a teen when the music was coming together which makes it success and quality remarkable. Yes, there are teenage stars today but they are, by and large, commercial and under-fed. Those that are genuinely enduring are often overlooked by the mainstream and bigger publications. In 1978, when the album came out, it has to compete with some seriously good albums. Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model; Blondie’s Parallel Lines; Wire’s Chairs Missing; The Jam’s All Mod Cons – the list goes on and on (and on). A tremendous year was prepared for quality but not for someone as unique and entrancing as Kate Bush. She did things like no other and, whether she knew at the time, would inspire legions and generations of artists. The Kick Inside is where is all started and that first song, Moving, opens the album superbly. Those lush, atmospheric backing vocals; the simple but effective chorus all blend with the intuitive elongations and tics; those Bush-ian runs and syllabic leaps. If you are talking about ‘lesser tracks’ then there are, I confess, two that I would highlight: The Saxophone Song and Room for the Life. The former is the second song whilst the latter is the penultimate – both are very strong but not as compelling as others on the record. Even Kate Bush’s ‘weaker’ moments carry huge weight and nuance – songs I always come back to just to see if there’s something I missed. The title-Muse, and one reason for this song, was to show the originality and bravery of the songwriting. Now, it is almost-taboo to sing about subjects like mental illness and that kind of thing. Back in 1978, a young singer put a song about menstruation in her debut album. Whilst the song is, according to its author and other sources, that feeling when déjà vu, synchronicity and coincidences coalesce into meaningful patterns – look harder and something more personal can be detected.
Kite, the B-side to Wuthering Heights, is a perfect lead-up to the album’s two biggest songs: The Man with the Child in His Eyes and Wuthering Heights. The latter has gone down in legend and we all know the story behind it. The song was released as a single but not popular with the record label (EMI). They were pushing for other releases but, as Bush has said on record, someone poked their heads in the room – where Bush and the record bods were chatting – and proclaimed their affection for Wuthering Heights – that was that, really. It was written when Bush was eighteen and inspired by Emily Brontë’s novel of the same name. She wrote the song late one night – in the space of a few hours – compelled by the last ten minutes of a 1967 mini-series about the noel. Bush shares her birthday (30th July) with the author so it seemed like kismet. From Catherine’s bad dreams in the night and lust for Heathcliffe – that personal purgatory where Cathy, the ‘icy’ ghost in chapter three of the novel, grabs Mr. Lockwood’s hand (the narrator). Whether you are familiar with the book or not: it is a masterful set of lyrics and a mesmeric performance. The song went down in history as the first self-penned number one by a female artist. If that is not reason enough to celebrate The Kick Inside, I don’t know what is! Since its release, Wuthering Heights has been cited as one of the 1980s’ best tracks – a singular vision and incomparable song theorists and music-lovers are trying to un-weave and understand in 2017. It is a masterful creation and not the only beauty in (a wonderful) album.
It’s second-half, like Hounds of Love, is less single-heavy but has more of an emotional weight and cohesiveness. James and the Cold Gun is a full-on rocker – artists like Dave Gilmour contributed to the album; Ian Barinson played the closing lick on Wuthering Heights that, despite being unobtrusive in the mix, is essential – whilst Feel It is a sensual, Dionysiac standout. Oh to Be in Love is a skipping, bouncy song with some of Bush’s most balletic and otherworldly vocals. It is full of twisted sentences and lovely little touches; an incredible chorus and a young artist fully lost in the moment. Room for the Life and The Kick Inside are, essentially, two title tracks: looking at childbirth and life; the comfort of the womb and issues around that. Bush would explore subjects like this in later albums but it is remarkable to hear that maturity and sort of thing being represented in a debut album. Perhaps I am forgetting how great the late-1970s was in regards music and innovation. Now, there is stigma and hesitation – you could not write a song like The Man with the Child in His Eyes without a police investigation. Across the thirteen tracks, we hear about love, the self and fantasy; literature, life and everything in-between – a novel in an album, as it were. Such is the power and potency of the songwriting; you are compelled and surprised thirty-nine years after its release.
It may not be the favourite album for Kate Bush fans – in fact, many place The Dreaming and Never for Ever above The Kick Inside for quality. I would argue with that but few can debate the significance of her stunning debut album. It broke records and opened eyes; it is cited as inspiration by many modern female songwriters. You only have to hear the modern music scene to see how far and wide Bush’s legacy has spread. It all began with that album and continues to compel and propel young hopefuls into music. Not just in terms of vocals and compositions: the very nature of songs and pushing boundaries; going away from pure-love and addressing themes deeper and more interesting. I was not born when the album was released but grew up listening to it. The video for Them Heavy People still makes me smile and is, for that reason, my favourite song on the album. Some critics write it off as Cod-Reggae or Reggae-lite but it is another bold and brilliant move from Bush. That chorus gets you moving and grinning; addictive and spellbinding. Aside from the brilliance of the song – I could go on for ages – the video is eye-catching, funny and interesting. It is the sound of Kate Bush’s voice and the memories it brings back. Her divine and peerless voice carries so many different emotions and colours: it is fairy-like and fragile one moment; womanly and controlling the next. Whether you are a Kate Bush fan or not – how could you NOT be?! – and where you place The Kick Inside in the rankings (to me, it’s: 1) The Kick Inside; 2) Hounds of Love; 3) Never for Ever; 4) The Dreaming and, 5) Ariel) you cannot ignore its relevance and idiosyncrasies. I am going to look at other songs and albums that have resonated with me but wanted to begin with this exceptional record. Whether I track down a vinyl – getting there! – and make it onto a record player, I keep repeating the songs and letting them do their work. It is a magic album that is, after all these years, threatening to topple Radiohead’s The Bends. I never thought I’d say that, but you know what…
IT seems like it was going to happen from the first moment I heard The Kick Inside.