Wow. Just wow.
I decided to really do the first listen justice (well, it has been 13 years since the last album). I borrowed Mr. Bsag's lovely Grado headphones, lit a stick of my favourite incense, dimmed the lights, and listened to both discs straight through. I've waited to write this review until I had a chance to play the album a few more times, as Bush's music often grows on you slowly rather than grabbing you immediately (although it sometimes does both). If you didn't skip the first three words of this review, you already know that I really like it.
The album is a double one, with two 'sub-albums' within it: 'A Sea of Honey' and 'A Sky of Honey'. Much like 'Hounds of Love', the second disc is a concept album, with the tracks merging together and a common theme of experiencing a perfect day from one dawn to the next. At first, I thought that I preferred 'A Sky of Honey', but with repeated listenings, I've become just as fond of 'A Sea of Honey'.
Kate's voice hasn't deteriorated at all over the years since 'The Red Shoes'. It's as rich and varied as ever, plunging from a sweet and resonant tone to a sharp cry or an emotional break. There's also what I can only describe as angry humming, laughter, breathing and bird imitation. She certainly knows how to use her voice to the utmost. She can also inject feeling into literally any subject. Her rendering of π to 116 decimal places is a revelation on 'π'. I'm no mathematician, and regard numbers with distrust, but at the end of the song, I felt that π was indeed beautiful. On 'Mrs. Bartolozzi', she creates an incredible atmosphere which is deeply ambiguous. You can read it as woman doing her washing and daydreaming about her man standing behind her in the sea, or you can imagine that he has been murdered or has died suddenly, and she is shocked or guilty and imagining him there while washing his clothes. I can't think of any other songwriter who can create so many possibilities within the same song, which flicker like that 'vase/face' optical illusion.
'Bertie' could be horribly saccharine, but the Renaissance musical style and her obvious simple and unconditional love for 'luverly Bertie' makes it impossible for me to dislike. I suspect that others (probably including 'luverly Bertie' himself when he hits puberty) may have a different opinion. 'How to be Invisible' is a rather witty song about privacy which contains a spell of invisibility:
Eye of Braille
Hem of anorak
Stem of wallflower
Hair of doormat
The disc ends beautifully with 'A Coral Room', which is a moving song about the fragility of time, and how quickly things can slip away from us. Like many of her songs, it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.
'A Sky of Honey' is shot through with bird song. It starts with wood pigeons calling, and fragments of blackbird calls and gull cries run through the whole thing. The one dodgy moment in the whole album is Rolf Harris's contributions on 'An Architect's Dream' and 'The Painter's Link', but even that becomes endearing after a couple of listens. The songs 'Sunset', 'Somewhere in Between' and 'Nocturn' are all unbearably beautiful, and show Kate's seductive way with words to the full. The way that she sings the lines, "Where sands sing in crimson, red and rust/Then climb into bed and turn to dust", and "The sea's around our legs/In milky, silky water" makes my knees go weak. Goodness knows what kind of effect it has on sensitive straight men and gay women.
Both discs, but particularly 'A Sky of Honey' are joyful and somehow serene. If you can imagine experiencing the most perfect day outside, surrounded by nature, that's how it makes you feel. If this album is any indication, Kate Bush is now a very happy woman, and it shows in her music. Personally, I think that 'Aerial' is her best work since 'Hounds of Love', and since I think that is one of the best albums ever, that's high praise.
1 As an illustration of how integrated Kate Bush's music is in my life, note the fact that I used two album titles in the first two paragraphs, without even noticing. ↑