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06 novembre 2005

Nature's girl

Kate Bush's land of plenty

KATE BUSH "Aerial" (Columbia)

Kate Bush 's music could serve as the soundtrack to a cherished children's fable. On "Aerial," the eccentric singer's first album in 12 years, her glowing melodies and breathless vocals set a graceful backdrop for lyrics that address magical washing machines, enchanted forests, witchy incantations, and that most mythic of heroines, Joan of Arc. All this may sound too precious, infantile or just plain daft for words. But the sophistication of Bush's music, the inventiveness of her arrangements and the credibility of her pop persona more than carry her through.

What a loon this woman remains.

Twenty-seven years ago, Kate Bush emerged as pop's most left-field diva - a kind of proto-Bjork, one whose sound Tori Amos ripped off (and dumbed down). From the start, Bush's semi-classical music, storybook lyrics and ghostly voice made her a compelling character as well as an elusive one. More than a decade ago, Bush quit music to raise a child. Now she has returned with a work that feels quintessential. It's a tale told in two disks, the first housing seven songs that mine memory and childhood perception. The second luxuriates in the power of nature.

On both, Bush's music evolves slowly, creating mood pieces that draw from classical music and folk. At times, her sound suggests Peter Gabriel mixed with Pink Floyd. On the first CD's standout cut, "Bertie," Bush melds chamber music with her most blatant foray into traditional British folk to date. "Pi" - a salute to the spiritual possibility of numbers - is driven by a haunting pulse of a beat, while "Coral Room" relies on Bush's solo piano playing.

Bush finds a lyrical highlight in "Mrs. Bartolozzi," a recollection from her childhood in which nothing more momentous happened than an encounter with mud that necessitated extra use of the washing machine. Yet Bush's telling of the story nails the way children can become entirely enveloped by the most mundane of experiences. Bush raises this simple tale to the level of opera. The second CD presents a pastoral tone poem that chronicles a day spent in nature from late afternoon to dawn. Bush's interpretation shows the careful composition and beauty of a well-realized still life.

On the surface, Bush's vision of the world may seem terribly idealized. But, buried below the surface, there's a tension in her yearning to capture the vitality and reach of consciousness. As with any Bush disk, it will take time for listeners to work their way into her world. But once you're in, you may be reluctant to break the spell.

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