Kate Bush – The Kick Inside (Retrospective)
Unbelievably, it's been 40 years since Kate Bush released her debut album, The Kick Inside; with that in mind we take a closer look at the record which was home to the timeless classic, Wuthering Heights
Kate Bush's debut album, The Kick Inside, is not her best album. The Dreaming is bolder and more experimental, leading both Björk and Big Boi to praise it as one of their respective favourites. Hounds of Love brought together the strands of Bush's eclecticism into her most compellingly cohesive statement. Late-career highlight 50 Words for Snow is more expansive and ethereal. But The Kick Inside is where it all began, and everything that came after can be traced back to the seeds that were sown when a teenage Bush gifted the world a collection of songs that she'd been working on since she was 13.
The album is now often remembered as the home of Wuthering Heights; a towering classic, surrounded by lesser, juvenile material. But leaving Wuthering Heights aside for a moment, there's still a wealth of prime Bush to be found across the breadth of The Kick Inside's 43 minutes.
Opening track Moving was the only other song to be released before the whole album. However, for inexplicable marketing reasons it was only released in Japan, with Wuthering Heights as its B-side. It begins, and hence begins canonical Kate Bush, with 20 seconds of whale song before segueing into a moving tribute to Lindsay Kemp, with whom Bush had taken mime classes (and also taught, influenced and collaborated with David Bowie). The lyrics invoke a sense of motion as an enveloping state, one which surrounds and affects, that can uplift, 'How I'm moved, how you move me / With your beauty's potency / You give me life...', but can also be destructive, as exemplified in the abstruse line: 'You crush the lily in my soul'. A mixture of gleefully simple sentiment, theatrics and enigma; a perfect introduction.
The Man with the Child in His Eyes was the first song that made it onto the album, recorded shortly after Bush was 'discovered' by David Gilmour in 1975, when she was 16, and written (at least in part) as far back as 1971/72. Supposedly written about her first boyfriend – Steve Blacknell (as he claimed to The Daily Mail in 2010) – the song speaks to an adolescent contemplation of the wonder that comes with forging early romantic affiliations. The eponymous 'man' seems more likely to be an older man with whom the author is making a connection (Bush has denied autobiographical interpretations of her songs, insisting that she plays 'characters'). He's omnipresent in thought, 'I realise he's there when I turn the light off', and though he appears worldly and alluring, 'Listening to a man I've never known before / Telling me about the sea / All his love, 'til eternity', the final verse focuses on the author's feelings, removing any agency the man holds: 'Here I am again, my girl / Wondering what on Earth I'm doing here / Maybe he doesn't love me / I just took a trip on my love for him'.
Is the 'child' Bush herself, engaged in a relationship with an older man? Or simply a reflection of innocence that Bush can see despite the front he's putting up? Both? Either way, it's ultimately a personal meditation on finding your place in the world and how you can fit other people into that. Them Heavy People continues the exploration of this theme, as different teachings are considered with a wide-eyed wonder and a seemingly rapacious desire for knowledge. With references to Gurdjieff and Jesus, Bush sets out her philosophical/historical stall, one that would provide material throughout her career. Them Heavy People also shares the honour, along with The Man with the Child in His Eyes, as being one of the two songs she performed on Saturday Night Live in 1978, still her only appearance on US TV to date.
The song that gets the most attention on The Kick Inside is, of course, Wuthering Heights. Now a bona fide classic, endlessly gushed over as an exemplar of 70s art pop (against the grain of the then-ubiquitous disco and punk). It's also destined to be forever remembered for its equally famous visual of Bush dancing in a white dress with cheesy post-production effects (or the 'red dress' American version, with equally theatrical dancing on some real-life moors), still a few years before MTV would make the music video a mainstream creative medium.
Wuthering Heights was the first self-penned number one for a female artist in the UK, written when Bush was 18 (released a year later). Bizarrely, EMI had decided that James and the Cold Gun would be the first single from the album, but Bush was determined that Wuthering Heights should be the first release and – amazingly for a young woman in the music industry in the 70s – she got her way. This imperturbable drive towards her own creative vision is something that Bush would continually exhibit throughout her career.
Lyrically, the song deals with the ghost of Catherine (Cathy) Earnshaw – from Emily Brontë's novel Wuthering Heights – pleading to be released from her purgatory and let back in from her post-death wandering on the moors. Despite the novel's ambiguity when it comes to Cathy's affections (for either Heathcliff or Edgar), Bush asserts that Cathy longs for Heathcliff, 'I'm coming back to his side to put it right / I'm coming home to wuthering, wuthering, wuthering heights' – i.e. the wild, passionate side of her character that she supressed during her lifetime. As a mission statement for an artist unmoored from conformity, social mores or traditional expectations, it's more or less perfect.
The Kick Inside was unafraid to dip its toe into more experimental waters. While it held sure-fire hits like The Man with the Child in His Eyes and Wuthering Heights, it also dealt frankly with sexuality and eroticism (Feel It, L'Amour Looks Something Like You), throws in a little reggae on Kite and doubles down on the gothic occultism that peppers the album on Strange Phenonema (a song once described by The Guardian as a “frank paean to menstruation”).
Listing all those who've been influenced by Kate Bush is a near-impossible task and her impact on contemporary music is impossible to deny. The most obvious current touchstone is Lorde, another artist who came to prominence as a teenager writing pop music that veers away from the norm, similarly fearless in her imaginative musicality (not to mention a predilection for interpretative dance moves). But her influence can also be glimpsed in the avant-garde compositions of Jenny Hval, the eclectic experimentation of Charli XCX and the bombastic future-pop of St. Vincent.
40 years ago, The Kick Inside began a musical journey that continues (hopefully) to this day. Kate Bush did not arrive fully formed – she has used constant renewal and rebirth as the tenets of her artistic evolution – but her auspicious debut album did showcase an artist with enough conviction, confidence and creativity to more than warrant her position as a once-in-a-generation musician.
Kate Bush's The Kick Inside was released on 17 Feb, 1978 via EMI (UK) and Harvest (USA)