Saturday, October 21, 2017

Breathing: KB and Never For Ever

There is something about Kate's voice – her physical voice, as well as her voice from a literary sense – that strikes me as triumphant. Kate emerged, as a teenager, almost wildly overconfident, staggeringly daring; her young voice often described as shrill or off-putting. To me, it has an angelic clarity and devil may care alacrity that makes it beautiful and awkward and uncomfortable. Never was that more evident than on "Wuthering Heights," of course, maybe with the exception of "Something in a Song." This is the unreleased Kate that infects my soul more than any other song. Like "Moments of Pleasure," "Wow" and "Breathing," and especially the sublime "Sat in Your Lap" (so ridiculously experimental) and "Houdini," there are KB moments when that shrill, off-putting, angelic, demonic voice are overwhelming. That said, it may be understood why, with the exception of "Breathing," Never For Ever is my least favorite KB LP, though choosing one's least fave Kate is like dissing Please Please Me. It's my least favorite effort, but simply due to unreasonable expectations on my part. Sophomore efforts are usually given a pass in that record labels expect too much, too soon from artists who spent years honing LP #1, only to have the next deadline six months down the road. Never For Ever is an album I have listened to time and again, but I rarely dedicate my full attention for the required 37:16. Instead I'm all about tracks 1-4, "Army Dreamers" and of course, the monumental AM10, "Breathing."

Never for Ever is, in my opinion, the aural equivalent of a Miyazaki film. You know, the director Spirited Away. Kate, like Miyazaki, has the ability to fuse the elements of myth with situations which take place in some far off reality. Lyrically this album is nearly perfect, touching on a range of topics from Kate's left of center imagination. "Babooshka" is about a wife who tests her husband's faith by writing him letters pretending to be a seductive young woman. "All We Ever Look For" revolves around the standards we impose upon ourselves and others. "The Wedding List" evokes a scenario in which a bride cleverly combines a wedding list with a murder list. Musically it pales compared to the first two LPs and The Dreaming, which is so layered and dense, compared with songs here that seem to float and fluff around. And the voice, sadly, has matured, ho hum, had to happen. Still... 

The brooding and haunting "Breathing," a chilling anti-nuclear single, is sung from the POV of a baby in the womb, affected by the radiation her mother is inhaling following an atomic bomb explosion. The baby knows it's dangerous to take in the fallout, but her instincts tell her to keep "breathing my mother in/ my beloved in/breathing her nicotine/breathing the fallout in out in out in..." After a casual and authoritative report of a nuclear test, the music rises to a crescendo, climaxing with a heavy guitar and poignant refrain: "What are we going to do?/We are all going to die." OMFG, brilliant. Never For Ever is an AM7.