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Coming four years after the perfect "Hounds of Love" this was no disappointing follow-up, becoming a classic in itself. It's not quite as extroverted as "Hounds of Love" or disturbing as "The Dreaming". Instead the sound is more reflective, but it's still colourful and exciting when it wants to be. And that voice, well, it's still that voice. My first taste of the album was the song "The Sensual World" itself, decorated with slinky Irish pipes, a great example of how to be erotic without being sleazy. Mmh. The percussion-heavy pop of "Love and Anger" doesn't quite reach the uninhibited delights of the first side of "Hounds of Love" but it's getting there.
Her lyrics seem more mature and human than ever, although there's the occcasional moment where you wonder about the mysterious way her mind works. The jerky "Heads We're Dancing" has an odd idea about dancing with the devil, and then recognising him the next day in a picture of Hitler. "Deeper Understanding" also seems an unusual idea for a song - internet addiction, and it was only 1989! Kate can do exotic darkness like nobody else. "The Fog" is a wow-moment, its evocative lyrics presented above a wash of dark colours, topped with a soaring violin solo. "Between a Man and a Woman" is similar but less powerful, exploring the psychology of a relationship, with some spooky, discordant backing.
The sound I associate most with this album is the voices of the Trio Bulgarka. The "Mystere Des Voix Bulgares" was a big hit in the late 80s with the new-age and light classical crowd, and their sound fits perfectly with the exotic style of the album. (Think several Liz Frasers singing in close harmony?) The Trio Bulgarka's showcase is "Rocket's Tail", which starts with just them and Kate, as if they are cheering her on. When the song finally explodes in a pyromaniac frenzy, Dave Gilmour joins in to add some guitar fireworks.
Then there's Kate's version of the power ballad. The chorus of "Reaching Out" may be too podgy for some people's taste, but it's a good contrast with the restrained verses. However this doesn't compare with the real treat at the end - "This Woman's Work". It started off with a simple inspiration, a scene in the film "She's Having a Baby" where a man waits outside the room where his wife is giving birth. But it grew into something much more special, one of the most tender, beautiful and tasteful piano ballads of all time. It may be touchy-feely stuff, but it shows a rare human understanding. There's a respectful silence after it finishes, and before "Walk Straight Down the Middle". This wasn't on the original LP, so it will always feel slightly grafted onto me. The most notable thing about this song is Kate's gurgling whoops which are notated interestingly in the printed lyrics!
March 30, 2004