Review Summary: HEEE-HAAAAWWWWW HEEE-HAWWWWWWWWW
One thing that has often impressed me in the songwriting of Kate Bush is how form always seems to match function. Whatever she may be singing about, whatever character she may be evoking, the songs really come to life in the production and compositional extras thrown in. It was in The Dreaming that Bush’s songwriting acumen came into fruition. The Kick Inside and Lionheart featured Kate as a young artist still under the thumb of her record label. She was thankfully given more freedom for her 1980 album Never For Ever, and it showed. There was a greater eclecticism in the instrumentation and more unconventionality in the structure of these songs (see: Delius, Army Dreamers), and while many of these songs were still rooted in piano-led theatrics, Bush brought in the spanking new Fairlight CMI sampler to flesh out the songs in more interesting ways.
By 1982, Bush was in almost full control of her music and had amassed enough experience to make something truly phenomenal, so she did. The Dreaming, more than any other album in her discography, demonstrates what is so amazing about Bush and why she remains a great inspiration to many songwriters today. While these songs are certainly forward-thinking, they are also very individualistic and expressionist in a way that was very unusual in the world of popular music at the time. Kate was always expressive in her voice and performances before, but never like she was here. These were songs only Kate Bush could have conceived, yet many of these songs remain very impersonal.
This was the last Kate Bush album to be free of any sort of theme. Instead, these songs read like standalone character studies. We have the paradoxical lamentations of a scholar in Sat in Your Lap, the story of a bank robbery gone awry in There Goes a Tenner, and the plights of a Vietcong resistance soldier and Aboriginal Australians in Pull Out the Pin and The Dreaming respectively. Meanwhile, Kate, like a true actress, gets underneath the subject matter of these songs and immerses herself and her arrangements in these themes. Sat in Your Lap evokes a sort of chaotic atmosphere with its jerky rhythms and abrupt transitions as its speaker restlessly tries to pursue knowledge and truth while constantly being sidetracked and intimidated by just how much there is to find out. The title track finds Bush taking on authentic Australian vernacular among a hazy drone of didgeridoo, uncomfortable chanting voices, and stomping percussion. In There Goes a Tenner, Bush becomes a cockney Englishman, and the music is simultaneously swift and subdued, suitable for a bank heist.
These sorts of affectations make their way in every song across the album to the point where they become perfect, if not literal, representations of what these songs stand for. It would then be easy for this album to slip into a sort of cheesiness, but it never does. It’s far too crafty and beautiful for that. The prime cases go to the last three cuts on the album. These songs are about as dramatic as Kate gets. That’s not to say they’re grandiose. In fact, All the Love and Houdini are among the simplest, quietest, and most unassuming songs here. However, the former features a beautiful piano line, haunting and isolated background singing, and a longing and regretful refrain backed by multiple sighs behind Kate’s singing of “All the love we could have given.” Houdini, in contrast, accomplishes the stunt with beautiful string arrangements, the Fairlight, and great storytelling. Both of these tracks are very affecting, and then the album hits you with the wallop that is Get Out of My House. This song brings back the chaotic nature and pounding drums of Sat in Your Lap, but this time in a more sinister environment. It’s actually a very unsettling portrayal of denial and reclusive escapism to the extent that Kate imagines herself to be a mule to plead total ignorance as the opposition (disturbing male voice provided by her brother) inevitably imposes himself on her. Donkey noises ensue.
In a sort of collective retrospect, her subsequent album Hounds of Love found Bush at her commercial, critical, and artistic peak. I’ll admit that Hounds of Love is an untouchable album, but The Dreaming is just as astounding. It is a testament to Kate Bush’s unique talent and her innovative and evocative approach to songwriting. The Dreaming was unrivaled in its time, and remains a beacon of influence now. The songs here are each perfect, insightful creations from Kate Bush’s wandering mind, the beginning of something great.