A number of vectors converged to make “Wuthering Heights” the successful song it is.
The music itself is a solid foundation — melodic, dramatic, seemingly simple but ultimately complex. From the odd piano riff in between verses to the chorus that doesn’t quite mark a straight meter, the song is catchy for its quirks.
Then there’s the subject matter — Wuthering Heights, a classic literary novel dramatized in a song every bit as sweeping as the story itself. Cathy’s haunting of Heathcliff encapsulated the central conflict of the story, and the song plumbed the depths of that torment.
Finally, there’s the performance of the song’s creator — Kate Bush. Her pouty voice is at once fragile and overwhelming. “Oh! Let me have it,” Bush wails with an emotional nakedness that’s as frightening as it is alluring.
“Wuthering Heights” demands the attention of everyone who comes in contact with it. Even Antwan “Big Boi” Patton, the member of Outkast not described as flamboyant, cites “Wuthering Heights” as an influence. (So much so, he’s seeking Bush out for a collaboration.)
It’s a song even Bush herself can’t put a chink in its armor, despite her attempt to do so on The Whole Story.
For this inaccurately-named retrospective — Bush would go on to record two more albums before retreating from public life — she re-recorded “Wuthering Heights” to exploit the state of the art in recording technology at the time.
She sounds like she’s singing in a fish bowl.
By then, it had been seven years since “Wuthering Heights” catapulted Bush into stardom in her native England. She was 19 years old when she recorded her debut album, The Kick Inside.
Her updated performance of “Wuthering Heights”, while amping up the bombast, sported a matured voice, able to occupy the nooks and crannies of every sonic surface.
Whether such pigeon-holeing is good or bad, “Wuthering Heights” encapsulates the essence of Kate Bush in the same way her song captured the heart of its namesake novel.
But as the title of the retrospective album indicates, it’s not the whole story.
Instead of following a chronological sequence, The Whole Story jumbles up the different eras of Bush’s work. Her earliest recordings were lush and intimate, strings and piano complimenting a standard rock band.
But as MIDI made studio work more efficient in the ’80s, Bush exploited the technology to transform her music.
It’s tough to resolve the genteel beauty of “The Man with a Child in His Eyes” with the tribal, robotic rhythms of “Sat In Your Lap”. Or that “Cloudbursting” is one of her most orchestral pieces, even though it doesn’t use an orchestra. Or that “Wow” is one of her most etheral songs but keeps the synthesizers at a minimum.
In the framework of The Whole Story, it makes sense. The eclecticism of Bush’s writing threads all the songs together. She may be an incredible melodicist, but try singing along with her, and it becomes apparent how difficult her music can be.
Women singer-songwriters of the past two decades have all been traced back to Kate Bush. From Sinéad O’Connor to Sarah McLachlan, Bush is the litmus strip by which others are compared.
And it’s inaccurate.
Bush infused her music with theatrical imagery. While the songwriters in her wake talked about matters of their hearts, Bush explored her imagination. Who else could sing about a nuclear holocaust as a haunting ballad (“Breathing”)?
It’s that distinctiveness that comes through The Whole Story and makes it a nice entry into Kate Bush’s creative universe.