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The Baffling, Alluring World of Kate Bush

January 28, 1990|TERRY ATKINSON

Bush's lyrics are seldom easy to fathom on first listening, something she acknowledges. "My music can be a little obscure," she admits. "It does worry me that the music might be too complicated for people to take in--that they have to work too hard at it."

"The Ninth Wave" is as good an example as any of how challenging her themes can be. The related string of songs concerns a woman who is dreaming (perhaps) of floating on water and being lulled into sleep (and perhaps death). She finds herself drowning under ice. Then several friendly voices pull her up from this state of mind, but a Medieval witch-hunter thrusts her back under water to prove she's a witch. Images of loved ones, salvation, morning and a lust for life end the cycle.

Though not quite so complex, Bush's individual songs usually tend to be similarly drawn from the unconscious realms, especially since her great 1982 album "The Dreaming." Madonna she's not. No wonder it took her so long to sell records in America.

However, not all of Bush's songs are difficult to enter. An excellent place to start for a beginner is one of the songs on the new LP, "Deeper Understanding," which deals with how people often cut themselves off from others and opt for technological "friends." Sample lyric:

As the people here grow colder

I turn to my computer

And spend my evenings with it

Like a friend ...

I need deeper understanding

Give me deeper understanding.

"That seems to be something we're encouraged to do," Bush said, "in that, more and more, it's almost easier for us to stay in our rooms, watch the television, shop from our computers. To become such isolated beings."

But hasn't she been accused of being too isolated herself since moving to the English countryside, and spending literally years working on each album with bassist/engineer/boyfriend Del Palmer?

Bush doesn't see it that way. True, though, she did want to get out of the city. "I find it fascinating how I've heard people say that they get a tremendous amount of inspiration from the cities and from this kind of unnatural situation. I get much more inspiration from being outside in nature."

Bush admits she does spend a lot of time in her own home studio--and when she isn't there she's most likely to be found "in the garden--if it's summer--or watching television, watching a film, trying to catch up on sleep."

But, while no party animal (again, Madonna she's not), the singer also enjoys "asking friends around to dinner, or maybe going to the theater with them. I love being with my friends, relaxing and talking."

In fact, Bush says, there's nothing more important to her--in her life and in her work--than relationships.

"I think that's really my big fascination--relationships. I suppose in some ways you can look at everything in terms of relationships. It's so crazy! I think I could spend the rest of my life just working with relationships."

"The Sensual World," like her previous albums, explores this fascination. The LP's songs include "Love and Anger," "Reaching Out," "Between a Man and a Woman," and--on the cassette and CD--"Walk Straight Down the Middle," an optimistic consideration of male/female symbiosis comparable to her moving 1987 duet with Peter Gabriel, "Don't Give Up."

One thing that sets "The Sensual World" apart from the previous albums, in Bush's mind, is an increased sense of "positive female energy."

"All my music has been influenced mainly by male music," said Bush, who has specifically cited Gabriel, Elton John and the Beatles, "and by the people I work with, which have almost always been men.

"I love working with men, but with the new album I began to explore my own ways of expressing music even more, to look for female energies. Working with the Trio Bulgarka provided that for me."

The Trio Bulgarka is made up of three singers from the Bulgarian folk-music world, which has recently intrigued English and American musicians and audiences because of its unusual modalities and powerful female vocals.

As reserved during an interview as she is unreserved on record and video, Kate Bush came closest to real enthusiasm when speaking of the three songs on the new album where she is backed by the Trio. She has always integrated ethnic music in her work, but this was something special for her.

"Suddenly, there I was working with these three ladies from a completely different culture. I've never worked with women on such an intense creative level, and it was something strange to feel this very strong female energy in the studio. It was interesting to see the way the men in the studio reacted to this. Instead of just one female, there was a very strong female presence.

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