Friday 30 December 2011

Everything Old is New Again

Snowflake in Lake Tahoe Loop by Kate Bush
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As soon as the critics started melting their glowing ooze upon Kate Bush's 50 Words for Snow, particularly priNtin’t’fYT® - attributilizizin' with "utterly self-contained" and "supple pianism" - I recalled that fine line between this and that, and that one should be careful with the crayons: They may seem harmless, but they could still poke somebody's eye out. Yet prose and poetry, like the reviews themselves, always remain a matter of taste.

If you look hard enough, you'll find meta-critic criticism confounded at the aggregate praise: "Why this? Why now?" I gotta say that I understand where this is coming from, my being suspicious of everything nearly always.

On that note, these words resonate with me:
But all is not perfect. Elton John's sudden appearance on "Snowed in on Wheeler Street" feels like an unwelcome intrusion...
I've got every album Sir Reg did from his beginning, right up to the year of the Amerigone Bicentennial (that's two LPs per annum). I don't take them for a spin very often, but they're not exactly guilty pleasures either.

The best music can take a while to sink in. Not like we become acclimated to pain, but the way we learn to like broccoli. It takes a few tries not to be shocked at its taste and if presented properly, even complements the rest of what's on the platter. All due respect to the brown dirt cowboy, Captain Fantastic was not one of those albums. It was immediately accessible and rendered its follow-up, Rock of the Westies, superfluous.

Likewise, when I'd heard the Madman across the Water I didn't need to visit a poor man's version at the Honky Château. One begins to realize that every third album was just a collection of that which didn't make the previous cut with a couple of singles thrown in (both Kate and Cap'n Kirk made better rocket men despite Nigel Olsson's archetyp-percussionary balm).

I can't make these claims about Kate's catalog. Firstly, Lionheart is not an inferior version of her debut. Clearly she'd collected a lot of material which had ripened by the time she was declared legally marketable and was notoriously successful in getting her way, at least when it came to running order and presentation. Similarly, Never for Ever and The Dreaming represent a time when she was able to wrest even more control of her own arrangements, the latter album being for some her lost masterpiece.

Each and every album a gem, though clearly not everyone feels that way. Still, I believe the reason that Hounds of Love is everybody's desert island disc has more to do with timing than its being superior to any of her other work. Of course, for those who love extended remixes of Running up that Hill, all bets are off: hit lovers don't have time for much else.

Back to the value of repeated listening: I suppose I'd have to say that, usually, the music I like the best, I didn't like upon first listen. Some of it even disappointed me before delivering the payoff. That doesn't mean that everything I liked at first go hasn't stood the test of time: Superficial is superficial, but if the surface pleases again & again, there must be something more there.

On the third hand, Kate has long been one of those artists who rewards sinking into the tracks without forgoing their immediacy.

But I'm not one of those who thinks she can do no wrong. I was enthusing like a fanboy-schoolgirl at her premier of The Line, the Cross, The Curve at the Film Center in Chicago and - in spite of my desperately wanting every next moment to make it better, in spite of already loving all of the music therein - I found it a little embarrassing, with one video's worth of genius (And So is Love).

It's just that so much of what she has produced has moved me so deeply, that I am forgiving and patient. To take Aerial as an example, what is a few seconds of her child's, no doubt to her, adorable voice and a minute of cringe-inducing finger-painting from Rolf Harris versus over an hour of the sublime?

I wonder how many people find bro John Carder's narration on Jig of Life (from Hounds) an unnecessary distraction from their Dafoe with an iPod fantasy. I once did.

Pumping out masterpieces the way she has, Kate certainly has every right to work with whomever she likes. I find it soothing to conclude that her choice to put the Elton duet (Snowed in) alone on Side 3 of the vinyl release was a brilliant move. Everybody else can program that track out.

Alone the thirteen minute track Misty makes worthy being stranded.

No snow hovers here in Berlin, but the image does... Hover!
"Every old sock meets an old shoe."