This album was my first formal introduction to Kate Bush.
(I had heard “Running Up That Hill a few years before, but at the time, I didn’t know it was a Kate Bush song.)
A magazine I read religiously in 1989 featured Bush on its cover and lavished near-religious devotion to her in the article.
Back then, I was a teenager discovering the wide world of music. Sinéad O’Connor, whom I discovered a year before, was compared to Bush, so I figured I may as well see if the parallels were warranted.
O’Connor was fierce and honest. Bush, on the other hand, was wispy and fragile. She was feminine, whereas O’Connor’s shaved head and confrontation style was more masculine.
The Sensual World wasn’t a first good impression. In fact, I fell asleep half-way through side one.
Then I discovered the trick to listening to it — start with side two. In CD terms, that meant starting with “Deeper Understanding”, an eeriely prophetic song about finding human intimacy through a computer.
At the time, the Internet was solely the domain of goverment agencies and higher education institutions, so online dating wasn’t even a blip in public consciousness. But Bush’s words ring far truer now than they did in 1989.
“As the people here grow colder/I turn to my computer/And spend my evenings with it like a friend,” she sings.
Later in the song, she describes what would eventually called Internet addiction: “Well I’ve never felt such pleasure/Nothing else seemed to matter/I neglected my bodily needs”.
The second half of The Sensual World featured Trio Bulgarka, an offshoot of the Bulgarian State Radio and Television Women’s Choir which stormed the world with its debut album, Le Mystere de Voix Bulgares. The choir would eventually rename itself after the album.
Trio Bulgarka’s backing vocals, mixed with Bush’s lush electronics and Celtic instrumentation, offered more compelling material than the tepid first half.
“Never Be Mine” weaves Uillean pipes with Bulgarka’s plaintive singing. “Rocket’s Tail” starts off with Bush and the trio unaccompanied for the first half of the song, till the rest of the band crashes in for a rousing conclusion.
And of course, “This Woman’s Work”, one of Bush’s best songs, rounds out the album. (Japanese singer ACO blows Maxwell out of the water with her rendition of this song.)
Rewind to the start of the album, and the title track offers Bush punctuating her take on James Joyce’s Ulysses with an erotic, “Mmmm, yes”. And with a giant stretch of the imagination, “Love and Anger” could be construed as a theme song for any gay person coming out.
“It lay buried deep, it lay deep inside me/It’s so deep I don’t think that I can/Speak about it”. Maybe not that giant a stretch.
Although rich and (as the title indicates) sensual, The Sensual World isn’t Bush’s most compelling work. Aside from “This Woman’s Work”, little on the album matches the intensity of “Wuthering Heights” or the eclectism of “Hounds of Love”.
And it’s an album that demands a lot of patience. But that patience pays off.
Just don’t start your exploration of Bush’s work with The Sensual World.