Saturday, December 03, 2016

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Watching Kate Bush At The BBC the other week - first aired around the time of her run of gigs at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2014 and no doubt repeated to coincide with the release of her new live album Before The Dawn - I was struck by one thing in particular: the fact that I really must stop comparing other artists to her. Put simply, she's incomparable.

It's partly her creativity, her imagination, her apparent lack of self-consciousness, her enthusiastic embrace of the theatricality of performance, her impulse always to move on both musically and aesthetically, the way she consistently spurns the prosaic in favour of the outlandish and outrageous without actually resorting to crass shock tactics.

Take, for instance, the performance of 'The Wedding List', a bloody revenge fantasy inspired by Francois Truffaut's film The Bride Wore Black. (Having sworn I would stop making comparisons, allow me just this one - as good as Bat For Lashes' concept album The Bride is, I can't help thinking that it might have been even better if Natasha Khan had listened more to this song than to the rest of Bush's back catalogue.)

Of course, this devil-may-care attitude and refusal to play it safe does leave her exposed to ridicule at times. While 'Wuthering Heights' is rightly hailed as a classic, 'The Sensual World' - Bush's attempt to adopt the persona of another famous fictional heroine, Molly Bloom from James Joyce's Ulysses - is rather less successful. But, as with David Bowie, such missteps are inevitable and it's her indomitable spirit of adventure that makes her such a fascinating artist, even if it did bring her to try a reggae cover of Elton John's 'Rocket Man' (performed together with what looked like Keith Lemon on headless bass) in 1991 - a track that was inexplicably voted the Greatest Cover of all time by Observer readers in 2007.

However, all this isn't the whole story. What makes Kate Bush truly remarkable is the fact that she has unstintingly followed her arty, cerebral muse without ever losing mainstream acceptance and appeal. The BBC programme underlined this, showing all of her many appearances on prime-time chat show Wogan during the 1980s (something that of course also reflects the stature and influence that Terry Wogan and his show had during that decade, which seems rather odd or quaint now). In many respects, Radiohead are one of the few who can say they've somehow managed to bridge the same gap, with deliberately leftfield and experimental albums like Kid A, Amnesiac and King Of Limbs being gobbled up by the masses - but you wouldn't find them appearing on Alan Carr or Graham Norton's shows.

When all's said and done, then, I think Bush can be just about excused for recently expressing her liking for Theresa May as though she's some kind of feminist icon. Though that does make me feel not quite so bad for admitting (once again) to much preferring the Futureheads' version of 'Hounds Of Love' to her own...

No comments: