Ever wondered what a ‘70s progressive rock band with a female vocalist would sound like? Take that basic setup, tune that vocalist a few octaves higher than most, and you have the debut album The Kick Inside by British singer/songwriter Kate Bush, who hadn’t even turned 20 before it was released.
The Kick Inside contains a few indicators that it was recorded in the peak years of progressive popular music – there’s a typically heavy, lush sound, which is very surreal at points, and the instrumentation is quite specific and is used in different ways for particular tracks. But unlike a conventional prog-record of the era, there isn’t a particular concept – this is simply a collection of Kate Bush’s self-penned works. And if the album is one part progressive, the other is singer/songwriter. In fact, The Kick Inside is literally singer/songwriter meets progressive pop/rock. On this particular album, Kate Bush’s ability to fuse the two is still in its infancy, but it’s still a charming enough combination to hear. For instance, the track “James and the Cold Gun” features an upbeat, rollicking prog-rock style not unlike “Dogs” from Pink Floyd’s Animals, released the year earlier. But what sets this track (and the entire album) apart from its progressive contemporaries is Kate Bush’s spectacular wailing vocals. It’s certainly a unique experience to listen through, and I’m sure was innovative for its time.
But what I particularly liked about this album is that it wasn’t overproduced, when it easily could have been. But with the likes of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and his collaborator Andrew Powell at the helm, this album was in good hands. The Kick Insidebegins with the slow, melodic “Moving”, featuring relatively little extra instrumentation. But like all good progressive music, the album builds, eventually reaching its climax with the classic cut and definite standout on this album, “Wuthering Heights”, strategically placed at the end of the album’s first side. This is where the album really shows its production value. Every aspect of instrumentation on the track complements it beautifully, from Kate Bush’s terrific piano work to the guitar solo (by The Alan Parsons Project’s Ian Bairnson) which plays out the melody superbly.
The second half of the album continues where “Wuthering Heights” left off, beginning with the up-tempo “James and the Cold Gun” which features a prog-esque mix of guitars, organ and piano that also combine during the outro. From here on the songs become slower, more somber and less production-heavy, continuing in the progressive mold of winding down towards the close of the album. Unfortunately, the album loses a bit of steam towards the end of the second half, with tracks like “Oh to Be in Love” and “Room for the Life” that are pleasant enough, but pale in comparison to their counterparts on the first half. And just like the album’s opener, the title track is a dreamy, evocative ballad that closes out the album with very little fuss.
For an album that contains so many elements of progressive music as well as vocal work that is about as unique as it gets, The Kick Inside is surprisingly accessible. And for a 19-year old to compose, sing and play on this album is nothing short of remarkable. It may not be the perfect wedding of singer/songwriter and progressive music, but it’s certainly an enjoyable album nonetheless.