Album Review: Kate Bush – The Kick Inside (1978)


Kate Bush’s debut album “The Kick Inside” was released in 1978 but the story started a few years earlier when she was just a schoolgirl. ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ for example was written when she was little more than thirteen. 

A demo tape of some fifty or so songs was sent to record companies in the mid seventies but universally rejected. The tape though made its way into the hands of Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd and he was impressed enough to set up the production of a more professional sounding demo. The resulting tape was sent to EMI and they signed her on the strength of it. 

Although the managing director of EMI, Bob Mercer, was impressed with the strength of the material he sent Bush back to school and put her on a two year retainer refusing to allow her to release any of the material. The thinking behind this was that a young Bush may not be able to recover emotionally if the album did not go down well and similarly she may not be able to handle the pressure if it became a huge success. 

During the two years before the main recording session began Bush finished her school work, achieving far above average results, and also took extensive dancing and mime lessons. As well as this she wrote around two hundred more songs and played in pubs as The K.T Bush Band. A couple of the tracks on the debut album were also recorded during this time although the main recording sessions began in August 1977 when she was still barely nineteen. A group of seasoned session musician were put together by EMI to help her record the album with only brother Paddy from The K.T Bush Band appearing on the final recording.

 “The Kick Inside” starts with a recording of whale song from a humpback whale which leads into the first main track ‘Moving’. Bush wrote the song as a tribute to her dance coach Lindsay Kemp.  A beautiful song with a great structure and a particularly elegant and engaging vocal melody it immediately sets the bar at a high level. Bush’s vocal almost enters operatic territory in places. The song was particularly well received in Japan where it was a major hit and reached the top of the Japanese single chart. ‘Wuthering Heights’ was the b-side ! 

Recorded at the 1975 session ‘The Saxophone Song’ is a more jazzy and uptempo affair with the vocal almost becoming scat in places. The track also manages to blend in a little feel of Japanese techno as well. In fact the Oriental feel pops up quite often throughout the album. Given the songs title it is not surprising that it contains a good sax break. 

‘Strange Phenomena’ is one of my favourites from the album and features a range of vocal techniques and an absolutely stunning vocal melody. Bush flits effortlessly from the deep to the high pitched and the musical accompaniment is very atmospheric. The almost haunting monastic ending is also a nice touch. 

This is all followed up by a huge slice of quirky late seventies pop in ‘Kite’. A faster upbeat almost frenetic track Bush performs vocal acrobatics on a track that once again has that Oriental feel. It is something of a surprise that it was never released as a single as it would surely have received a lot of airplay and is very commercial. 

The first of the heavy weight hits is up next and it is testament to Bush’s song writing ability that tracks which have been played constantly for over thirty years have not become tired or unwelcome due to over exposure. ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ is the second of the tracks recorded back in 1975 under the guidance of Dave Gilmour although as with the earlier offering he does not play on the track. It gave her a second consecutive top ten single in the UK and her first significant success in the US. My only criticism of the song is that it is a little too short. If anyone needs me to go into any great detail about it then I can only assume you have been on a desert island for the last thirty years. It is quite simply a classic. Basically a straight forward vocal over a piano it lacks the usual vocal acrobatics but is overflowing with emotion and won an Ivor Novello for its lyric. 

The same of course can be said of ‘Wuthering Heights’ which closed the first half of the original vinyl edition. Obviously based on the Bronte novel of the same title it is sung from the perspective of Catherine Earnshaw. Bush read the novel several times before writing the lyric after being inspired to write it by the final minutes of the film version and discovering that she shared the same birthday as author Emily Bronte. After all the research she wrote the lyric in one sitting of just a few hours late at night. The song itself of course is as important as any other in the history of British music as it was the very first song to top the singles chart that had been self penned by a female artist. As with the previous track it needs little description as it one of the most played tracks in music history and I seriously doubt that anyone reading this has not heard it several times. However unlike ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ ‘Wuthering Heights’ does display Bush’s incredible vocal acrobatics. The delivery of the word “wuthering”  being particularly impressive. The guitar solo which ends the song, and was regularly faded out or spoken over on radio play, was played by former Alan Parsons man Ian Bairston and not Dave Gilmour as some people have suggested. Engineer Jon Kelly has stated in recent years that he regrets not pushing it higher in the mix as it does get a little lost. 

The second half of the album kicks off with ‘James and the Cold Gun’. A pleasant enough song although for me it is not of the same quality as the tracks on the first half of the album and despite the nice organ work it is one of the weaker tracks on offer here. Curiously EMI had wanted to issue it as the lead off single but Bush had been adamant that it should be ‘Wuthering Heights’. Subsequently the track was never released as a single. Similar things can be said of the following track ‘Feel It’. Another pleasant enough track it just lacks the majesty of the majority of the album despite Bush giving a typically passionate performance. 

The quality returns in abundance for the next couple of tracks. Firstly ‘Oh To Be In Love’ which has a simple gentle opening that soon gives way to something which manages to blend sixties Britpop, robotic Japanese and the British brass band feel into the musical accompaniment as Bush delivers another of her sublime vocal melodies and exquisite displays of range and tone.  That is swiftly followed by the all too brief  ‘L’Amour Looks Something Like You’ which has yet another of those beautiful Bush vocal melodies and hypnotic delivery. 

The third of the big UK hit singles on the album ‘Them Heavy People’ is up next although the version that actually charted was not the version from “The Kick Inside” but the one from the live EP released a couple of years later. Another classic example of late seventies British pop it once again has a jerky Oriental feel to it and lyrically talks about the power of religion. The only single release of the album version was actually in Japan where it was re-titled ‘Rolling The Ball’ and reached number three. 

‘Room For The Life’ is a pretty standard piano led album track which despite yet another pleasant vocal melody is nothing above the ordinary. The album concludes with the title track which is based on ‘The Ballad of Lizzie Wan’. A hugely atmospheric track with dark and haunting vocals over a dramatic piano and a mournful string arrangement it is a perfect end to a truly wonderful album. 

“The Kick Inside” was released in February 1978 and immediately pushed the nineteen year old Catherine Bush into a world of superstardom and she has remained there ever since. The significance of this album can not be over stated and every female singer song writer from the UK and possibly even the world owes her a huge debt of gratitude as she paved the way for every one that followed. One of the few albums that can truly be described as essential to any lover of popular music “The Kick Inside’, like Kate Bush herself, is nothing less than a national treasure.

© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM June 2012

 

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About Martin Leedham

Music critic, Horse Racing Tipster, Hapless Dreamer, Defender of the Underdog
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One Response to Album Review: Kate Bush – The Kick Inside (1978)

  1. Andrew Cartwright says:

    Hi Martin,

    Just had chance to read your review of Kate Bush. A very good piece and I must say it took me back some years when I first bought the album. Great artist and performer. Great album.
    Thanks.
    Andy C

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