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Friday, September 22, 2023

Kate Bush ‘Never For Ever’ has the best album cover of all time

Album artwork serves as a portal into the soul of music. Acts like Kate Bush enrich this medium with vibrant colours, intriguing graphics, evocative imagery, and even thought-provoking text – it can hold the power to convey messages and themes that sometimes elude the music itself. Whether strolling through a record store or browsing online, the initial encounter often begins with the album cover.

In essence, this artistic facet offers a distinctive avenue for self-expression that transcends the boundaries of the album’s sonic landscapes. While an artist may assert their psychedelic inclinations through their music, there’s something uniquely resonant in the use of vivid hues and retro-futuristic visuals, coupled with imagery that frequently hints at multifaceted dimensions. This visual medium communicates more about the essence of a record than mere word of mouth ever could.

As a pioneer of theatrics and pyrotechnics, it comes as no surprise that the artwork for many of Kate Bush’s albums evoke that precise level of extraordinary: her debut album demonstrated this beautifully with its depiction of Bush holding onto a large dragon kite, gliding across a vast, all-seeing eye. Even Hounds of Love exhibits a profound sense of tensity with Bush’s voluminous hair and dramatic yet soft purple hues. However, the album that encapsulates her entire essence and arguably stands as one of the finest in the realm of music due to its profound relevance and unparalleled creativity is undoubtedly Never For Ever.

Bush’s 1980 release Never For Ever was also her third studio album and, remarkably, her first number one in the UK. It was also the first album by a female British solo artist to top the UK Albums Chart and the first album by any female solo artist to enter the chart at number one. Her incredible talent with this album, therefore, didn’t go amiss, and, as her first fully-fledged foray into production, served to be just about as archetypal Kate Bush as you could get.

The initial two albums had established a distinctive sound that permeated every track, characterised by opulent orchestral arrangements complementing the live band’s presence. Never for Ever, however, diverges considerably in stylistic diversity, ranging from the direct and energetic ‘Violin’ to the nostalgic waltz of the chart-topping single ‘Army Dreamers’. Bush’s artistic inspirations from horror literature and cinema were once again prominently featured on this album, with songs like ‘The Infant Kiss’, which tells the story of a governess who grapples with adult emotions for her young male charge, possessed by the spirit of an adult man.

Similarly, ‘The Wedding List’ was influenced by François Truffaut’s 1968 film The Bride Wore Black, a revenge film featuring a widow who murders the man who accidentally shot her husband on her wedding day. Her gothic and even extreme inspirations are intrinsic to her artistry, proving once again that Bush was the true torchbearer of art-rock and experimentalism, using the macabre to go against what was expected of women artists of the era. At the same time, however, Bush instated beauty in her explorations, with deeply resonating emotions at the crux of all of her dark endeavours. According to Bush, the title alluded to such conflicting emotions, including positive and negative binaries, stating, “We must tell our hearts that it is ‘never for ever’, and be happy that it’s like that”.

By extension, the cover art features a striking design that reflects the creative essence of the album and all of its messy yet stunning inclinations. Designed by British photographer and graphic designer Nick Price, who collaborated with Kate Bush on several of her album covers, the image depicts Bush in a surreal and ethereal tableau. Evoking an intriguing sense of mysticism and surrealism, various animals emerge underneath her dress, including a yellow-eyed owl, a black crow, and a pair of white doves.

This visual representation perfectly mirrors the album, both in terms of its sound and context. The artwork exudes a dreamy and otherworldly quality, aligning seamlessly with the album’s thematic explorations and diverse musical journeys. The project serves as the quintessential example of using music as a conduit for fantastical storytelling, illustrating the conflicting forces of good and evil that manifest within us and how these entities present themselves to the external world.

It’s an inevitable aspect of the human experience – the convergence of inner and outer worlds – and the cover’s depiction of the intricate and omnipresent nature of emotions and the darkness within is astounding. As Bush explained herself, the image represents “an intricate journey of our emotions: inside gets outside, as we flood people and things with our desires and problems. These black and white thoughts, these bats and doves, freeze-framed in flight, swoop into the album and out of your hi-fis. Then it’s for you to bring them to life”.

When coming up with the idea, Bush gave Price direction, but it was ultimately his choice to apply his vision following a simple instruction to convey light and dark themes. What he created firmly resonated with Bush’s inner world, echoing the artistic influences she held dear. One such influence was the Renaissance painter Pieter Breughal, whom she once said would be the artist she would most like to embody. Bush cited his ability to capture reality in a fantastical yet profoundly beautiful and elemental manner and found his depictions hauntingly evocative.

Another artist she admired was the late 1800s illustrator Arthur Rackham. The woman featured in his work, ‘Undine in the Wind’, bears a striking resemblance to the figure of Bush depicted on the cover of Never For Ever, right down to the detail of both figures standing on their toes. Price’s artwork also parallels the paintings of 15th and 16th-century artist Hieronymous Bosch, sharing similarities such as encompassing style, the use of colour, and the exploration of dreamlike and nightmarish subject matter.

Beyond the front cover illustration, the back continues its thematic thread, featuring Kate Bush in flight alongside ominous black vampire bats. The French picture sleeve for the ‘Breathing’ 7″ vinyl single also portrayed her as a bat. On side-A of the original vinyl release label, however, she is depicted as a graceful white swan, abstract concepts that were also featured in the music videos for ‘Delius’ and ‘Babooshka’.

Much like the album cover, which symbolises the diverse facets and emotions of life, ranging from the sombre to the radiant, the album’s sound, along with its title, Never For Ever, encapsulates the notion that this amalgamation and turbulence are all transient and that nothing endures eternally. Never for Ever was a pivotal album in Bush’s career, marking her transition into producing her own music, and the cover art reflects the album’s artistic innovation and emotional depth. Ever since the mastery of her debut and with entries like ‘Wuthering Heights’, Bush has been a game-changer, but Never For Ever succeeded in its mission to signify her as an indisputable marvel of music and fuser of alternate worlds.

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