Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Kate Bush - Lionheart

Kate Bush's follow-up single to "Wuthering Heights" was "The Man With the Child in his Eyes." Here we see Kate's lyricism at its best. Who was the man? Was Kate the child in his eyes? The interpretation has often been needled with the speculation that the man was David Gilmour, though a timeline would suggest the song was written before Gilmour was Kate's artistic paramour. Conversely, the man with the child in his eyes is Kate's toying early on with Peter Pan. Is the man childlike or childish; is he young at heart or immature? That ambiguity is what great writing is all about. Kate would run with this in her quick follow-up to The Kick Inside, Lionheart.

The Kick Inside was unleashed onto the world without precedent, and strictly speaking Lionheart could be written off as The Kick Inside, Volume 2, though it stands alone as a separate work more lush and less circumspect than its predecessor. "Symphony in Blue" opens the set and sets its tone throughout: the many idiosyncrasies that make up Love ("The more I think about sex, the better it gets/ Here we have a purpose in life." Who am I to argue with that?). The production is more intricate and thoughtful, with Kate’s impetus more clearly integrated into the sessions, which obviously suits Kate’s vocals as well as her lyrical subjects. The pulsating "In Search of Peter Pan" was and remains one of my faves with innocent Kate at her dramatic best once again underscored by great production, particularly with the lilting "Second star on the right, straight on till morning" which segues so skillfully into the hit single "Wow." Who but Kate could sing wow over and again to such brilliance. Unbelievable. The sultriness of Kate combined with her theatrics raised music to a new level in 1979. The album's singles did not fare as well as may have been hoped. "Hammer Horror," a dramatic ode to the film studios, stalled outside the U.K. Top 40, and the follow-up, "Wow," was far more successful yet failed to dent the U.K. Top 10, yet Lionheart wasn’t about chart positions or commercial success. Keep in mind that this was all but missed in America, with the exception of a small cult following. My own undertakings to find Lionheart (unreleased in the U.S.) was a trek that finally ended in an obscure record store in Santa Monica, spurred on by mention of the LP in Smash Hits.

One of the album’s two highlights, "Don’t Push Your Foot on the Heartbrake" accelerates and climaxes in a manner afforded only Kate, and all the better for its raucousness. Side one ends with "Oh England, My Lionheart." Not your ordinary patriotic ditty, but a love song to the country that raised her, cleverly weaving into the lyrics what Kate identifies as England, much in the same way that Paul McCartney did with "Penny Lane." The beautiful ballads "Fullhouse" and "In the Warm Room" expand on Kate's poet laureate prowess. "Imagination sets in./ Then all the voices begin./ Telling you things that aren't happening./ (But they nig and they nag, 'til they're under your skin.)" Now that’s schizophrenia!

"Kashka from Baghdad" is another truly insightful track and another highlight of the LP, the lush production providing the contemporary atmospherics and story-telling: neighbors gossiping about other male neighbors who live together, and thus the are they or are they not debate begins. Sensitive Kate Jackanories* her way through a somewhat taboo subject: “At Night They’re seen,/ Laughing, loving,/ They know the way,/ To be happy,” but of course they're not allowed.

More eccentric short-storytelling comes in the quirky "Coffee Homeground" which sees Kate in a playful mood espousing the value of poisons. The backing is synthesized accordion which brings the track to life and affords it a somewhat European styling. The sultry, dramatic and oh so grand "Hammer Horror" brings up the rear and closes the set, overwhelming us as Kate weaves between pathos and upbeat, confusing the listener as to what should be felt, which emotion is right here. "Hammer Horror" would be right at home in a dramatic West End or Broadway musical.

Lionheart was the second album in Kate’s LP triumvirate that made up the first phase of her career. Many foolishly dismiss this outing as a rush release. There is a definite and thoughtful progression here setting it apart from The Kick Inside, yet it is sadly so often critically over-shadowed by its more famous predecessor.
*Jackanory was a long-running BBC children's television series that was designed to stimulate an interest in reading.