The best part about Kate Bush is that she knows how make her naturally feminine voice work for her. A mother for the past seven years of her twelve-year recording hiatus, the forty-seven-year-old Bush’s Aerial – her first and long-awaited album since 1993’s The Red Shoes – incorporates a bit more of her personal life than previous records but retains the strong soprano voice and dramatic delivery that made her famous. More literal with lyrics and straightforward in the ballads, Aerial may be a bit less imaginative than some of her earlier work, which separated her from her peers twenty years ago, but it confirms Bush’s success and longevity.
First signed to EMI at 16, the Kent, England-born singer has collected a number of honors and a few number one records over her extensive career. But it wasn’t until 1985’s home-recorded Hounds of Love that she finally made it onto the U.S. Billboard charts, where she remained through the release of 1993’s The Red Shoes (the mediocre album that was predicted to be her last). Her catalogue ranges from heavy David Bowie influences to tunes suitable for the Rocky Horror Picture Show. But her best and most accessible album (particularly now, with the Futureheads recently covering the title track) is 1985’s Hounds of Love. And twenty years later, her comeback release is similar to that record in that it is a double-disc album divided by a diverse group of pop songs and a less accessible concept half.
A Sea of Honey, the modern counterpart to Hounds of Love‘s A-side, offers a mixed range of songs. First single "King of the Mountain" finds Bush approaching and questioning Elvis Presley. Subject matter aside, what makes it sound outdated is, ironically, the use of a full band instead of the keyboard that made previous albums so distinctly her. Alternately, the song on this disc that skeptics should find the corniest – an ode to her son, "Bertie" – is beautiful for its simplicity and is as close to "Cloudbusting" as can be. Concluding A Sea of Honey is "A Coral Room," a simple piano ballad about the death of Bush’s mother that was almost too personal for her to include on the record. After an erratic beginning, the first disc finishes on an assuring note that says, Yes, this is, in fact, a fantastic record.
The second disc, A Sky of Honey, updates The Ninth Wave (Hounds of Love‘s second half), though it does not include tracks as haunting or Labryinth-ready as "Under Ice" or "Waking the Witch." What it does offer, however, is a mini concept album that follows the narrator from day to night and through to the next morning. We’re given the accidental transformation of a painter’s creation, bird calls (by Bush herself) and, most important, the acknowledgement of day and night being referred to as the dichotomy between a "sea of honey" and a "sky of honey."
By the time the record is over, we get the feeling that Bush has indeed matured and has a bit more of a new-age quality than she did as a combination of "literate goth" and "dramatic actress type" years ago. Even without the quirky, theatrical pop she offered in the 1980s, she has held up beautifully after her long hiatus from recording, creating a record that is very much her own. That’s more than can be asked of most whose careers have spanned three decades. If only she’d go on a second tour.