The first thing to remember about Kate Bush is that she's never been concerned with staying ahead of the curve. In fact, she's rarely been anywhere on the curve. Her approach to music, starting in the late 1970s, has been a cosmic vision uniquely her own, where synthesizers compete with Hammond organs and calypso arrangements. If her early music sounds dated now, it's because it was never in vogue to begin with.
''Aerial," her new double album out today on Columbia, is her first in 12 years, but it could easily have come out any time in Bush's career arc. Which is to say that it's as eclectic and erratic as anything the British singer-songwriter has ever done, from ''Wuthering Heights" up to ''This Woman's Work."
With the exception of ''King of the Mountain," the album's first single and its most radio-friendly song, ''Aerial" is a sprawling project divided into two themes. ''A Sea of Honey," the first disc, finds Bush extolling the virtues (and banality) of domestic life. ''They traipsed mud all over the house/ It took hours and hours to scrub it out," she sings on ''Mrs. Bartolozzi."
''A Sky of Honey," the second disc, was conceived as a suite, and it follows a languid, sometimes tangential path that unfurls with chirping birds, cackles, and full-throttle electric guitar solos. There are some serious missteps along the way, such as ''Sunset," which starts as smooth jazz and segues to a flamenco guitar backdrop that belongs on a Gipsy Kings album.
Instrumentation, it turns out, is perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of ''Aerial." It's still diverse, from the R&B-lite of ''Nocturn" to the Renaissance arrangements for harpsichord on ''Bertie." But there's something vaguely processed and shopworn about the sounds.
While the accompaniment is not as ambitious or histrionic as on, say, ''Sat in Your Lap" (from 1982's ''The Dreaming"), lyrically, this is clearly a Kate Bush album. She can still insert ''Eye of Braille/ Hem of anorak/ Stem of wallflower/ Hair of doormat" in the middle of a song and make it sound natural, even the right thing to say at the right time.
When the album comes to a climactic close on the title track, it's clear that, more than two decades on, Bush is still making music on her own terms, as uncompromising and sporadic as they are.