Twelve years ago, at the time of her last album The Red Shoes, Kate Bush’s musical legacy could be heard in the voices of followers like Tori Amos (on Little Earthquakes), Milla (on The Divine Comedy), and Sarah McLachlan (who, after all but plagiarizing Bush’s sound on her debut, had formed her own identity with the lovely Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, the lead single of which managed to cross the barrier into mainstream pop the way Bush’s own music never quite could). Today you can hear the subtle and fleeting influence of Bush in the likes of newer artists like Alison Goldfrapp, but both Amos and McLachlan, her most prominent heirs, have descended into some kind of adult-pop netherworld. So it could have been very easy for Bush to fuck up her big comeback—both “big” and “comeback” being relative, of course—by following suit.
In many ways, it’s best that Bush abandoned music-making in the late ‘90s, when her dalliances into electronic music would probably have come to a head and whatever music she released would likely have gotten lumped in with the electronica-infused output of any number of other alt-rock acts. The good news is that, while domestic life has overtaken much of her writing (an entire song, “Mrs. Bartolozzi,” is dedicated to the fantasies of a housewife, on which Bush sings the words “washing machine” with the wonder of a child discovering his or her own genitalia for the first time: “I watched them going ‘round and ‘round/My blouse wrapping itself around your trousers”), Aerial is a work of organic, exquisite beauty and patience. An ambitious twin-disc, the album is divided into two halves not so much because of its length—at 80 minutes, it’s only a few minutes longer than your average hip-hop CD—but due to content: the first disc is comprised of seven standalone tracks under the sub-title A Sea Of Honey while the second disc is dedicated to a birdsong-cycle called A Sky Of Honey.
The bad news is…well, there isn’t really any bad news, unless you were expecting K. Bush to take on W. Bush—the closest we get to war imagery is “Joanni,” a song about Joan of Arc. Instead, raising her family informs most of the record. Bush submits to the perhaps unavoidable temptation of songwriters-turned-mothers to record (and, more importantly, make public) an ode to her son on “Bertie,” which, with its arrangement of renaissance guitar and strings and lyrics like “Sweet kisses/Three wishes/Lovely Bertie,” becomes sickeningly sticky-sweet, but you just can’t help but feel her joy when she goes on to describe “the most willful, the most beautiful, the most truly fantastic smile I’ve ever seen.” The second disc follows the arc of a sunny, birdsong-filled summer day as she enjoys the sights and sounds with her son, who converses with his mother throughout. A Sky Of Honey opens and closes with two of the album’s best songs, “Prologue” and the propulsive, art-rock title track, which finds Bush laughing along to birdsongs—a stroke of euphoric, maniacal genius.
Much like Stevie Nicks’s Trouble In Shangri-La, Aerial sounds dateless. Some of these songs could have been written right after The Red Shoes, in anticipation of a more immediate follow-up that would never materialize, while others could have been composed just yesterday—and there’s no telling which are which. Bush often falls into her old, familiar eccentricities (lead single “King Of The Mountain” finds her singing with an Elvis-like drawl—it shouldn’t work but does—while the chorus of “Pi” consists of her hypnotically reciting the infinite digits that make up the titular number like some crazed mathematician), but if those quirks weren’t here we’d be complaining about that too, and they only add to the charm of an album that seems to come from another place and time, specifically Bush’s own musical past. The Lite-FM law firm of Amos & McLachlan could learn a thing or two from their predecessor about growing older without getting stale…even if it means taking more than a decade-long sabbatical only to return as if no time had passed at all.