Monday, 15 September 2008

Kate and Joni

If there is one aspect of pop music that really, really gets me climbing up on my high horse, it is the perception that because anything is created under the banner of popular culture, it is automatically labelled as throwaway and worthless.

Whilst I would be the first to admit that there is a fair amount of produce around that fits this category, there is also some that transcends the run of the mill and enters the realm of the timeless. It is the sort of stuff that becomes art history. The difficulty with identifying such art is that by its very nature it becomes very personal and therefore subjective. It is generally the sort of album that speaks directly to the listener and they just know that there is something special about it without necessarily knowing why. And accordingly it is difficult to reach agreement with others as to its objective merits.

As I tend to reserve the highest status for the very best, I only have two such albums that give me that special feeling and they are both by extraordinary women. The first is ‘For the Roses’ by Joni Mitchell and the second is ‘The Dreaming’ by Kate Bush. These are albums that to me drive a coach and horses through the perception that all pop music is lightweight rubbish. These are albums created by massively talented artists at the peak of their powers and just ooze quality. You can almost feel the genius.

In the case of Joni Mitchell, it is the emotional depth of the lyrics that really gets me. The fact that they are allied to more than acceptable tunes is just the icing on the cake. Every song conveys a vivid picture of life that invades your soul and could only come from a true poet. Kate Bush, by contrast brings an almost unrestrained passion, a form of ‘madness’ if you like, to the whole process of music making. The melodies, the use of technology, the voice as an instrument are all right on the edge. It is not an album for the faint hearted and was far too much for the buying public in 1982 who backed away in alarm.

Interestingly, both these albums are the predecessors of what is generally considered the ‘best’ (read; commercial) work of each artist. In Kate’s case it foreshadowed ‘The Hounds of Love’ and in Joni’s, ‘Court and Spark’. This is not an unknown phenomenon as ‘Revolver’ is now considered on a par with ‘Sgt Pepper’ and ‘Off the Wall’ has been cited as at least as good as the following ‘Thriller’. But whatever their place, they are truly great albums.

Just don’t let anyone tell me they are throwaway pop.


d.edlen said...

I did a post partially about The Dreaming awhile ago:

I don't really think Bush's work is "pop" as at the time, helped along by David Gilmour, it was more progressive. Sure, songs have become considered pop because they were popular, but she is, as you said, a passionate, authentic artist.

And I'd love to paint her someday.


musicobsessive said...

D - I agree. What's so galling is that the public at large see all recent music as 'pop' and then feel let down when it turns out to be real art as is the case with 'The Dreaming'. Strange old world eh?