Many viewed Kate Bush’s first single – Wuthering Heights – as a novelty record. Her striking and distinctive vocal style was nothing like anything else around at the time, making it easy pickings for satirists and cynics alike. Sadly, this rather detracted from what makes this song, and the album on which it was featured – The Kick Inside – so special. At the time of its release (February 17th, 1978), Kate’s eerie, soprano tones weren’t so much distinct as unique. It sounded nothing like classic female folk singer/songwriters (Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Laura Nyro), yet nor did her style sit comfortably outside the genre. Some critics cast her as a kind of new-wave siren, probably because of the shock of her voice which subsequent stylists like Hazel O’Connor later adopted. In truth, she was a rock artist in the classic mould, but where she differed from the likes of male rock stars Peter Gabriel were arresting lyrics from her distinctly feminine perspective.
The Kick Inside is surely one of the best rock debuts ever. It includes her earliest compositions, some of which she wrote in 1975 when she’d barely reached her teens, such as The Man With The Child In His Eyes and The Saxophone Song. It’s packed with disarmingly personal and romantic compositions, such as Moving and L’amour Looks Something Like You, which could almost not have come from one much older. The lyrics are sometimes dark, cynical and world-weary, yet often naïve and appreciative of life in its myriad and strange forms. They alternate between the extremely personal, or dazzlingly imaginative projections of the subject in her song. The way in which she suffuses a sense of romantic dreaminess with knowing, worldly wit surely wouldn’t disgrace John Keats. Hearing them via her unorthodox, almost theatrical singing voice – one which spans an eight octave range – is all the more arresting and unexpected. The result is that even sometimes quite pithy words such as, “oh to be in love, and never get out again, never get out again”, can sound so affecting…
Musically highly polished, The Kick Inside is a work of breathtaking maturity for a girl of just seventeen summers. Although it relies heavily on traditional verse-chorus song structures, it succeeds thanks to her arresting vocal style, which instantly makes this infectiously quirky and unusual, and the brilliant playing of the backing musicians. The album’s accomplished musicianship – which sticks to standard rock practice but does it so well – allied to a sympathetic production from Andrew Powell, makes for a sublime listen.
The Kick Inside is also fascinating inasmuch as it’s a fixed point in time in her development. Listening to 1985’s Hounds of Love, for example, shows greater maturity on the part of the artist, but the former’s immediacy still wins the day. The songs, about broken hearts and basic instincts, aren’t conceptual, abstract or clever in the way that her later work is, and are all the better for it. We have Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour to thank for getting this record out – without him – it wouldn’t have happened like it did. It’s a debut of both touching naivety and breathtaking maturity, one which puts that of other female greats like Tori Amos or Sarah McLachlan to shame. As such, it’s an essential listen, and as good an introduction to the rest of Kate Bush’s work as you could ever want.