Album Reviews: Public Enemy, Kate Bush


November 13, 2005

BY JIM DeROGATIS Pop Music Critic

Album reviews: Public Enemy, Kate Bush


November 13, 2005

BY JIM DeROGATIS Pop Music Critic


While plenty of fans pay lip service to honoring the old school, mainstream hip-hop has an attention span shorter than Andy Warhol's proverbial 15 minutes. With a 23-year history and 10 studio albums to its credit, the pioneering Public Enemy gets its props, but its new releases are greeted with the same enthusiasm that a cutting-edge rock fan might display for the newest disc by Journey or Chicago. That's a shame, because P.E. is still making powerful music, even if it falls short of earlier classics such as "Fear of a Black Planet."

To be sure, the crew's driving forces have done themselves no favors with the overexposure of their extra-musical gigs: main man Chuck D. as an unimpressive talk show host on Air America, and cheerleader Flavor Flav as a willing buffoon on VH1's "The Surreal Life" and "Strange Love." They've never been as powerful as when they were when rapping over the Bomb Squad's dense white-noise productions, which have been replaced by more generic, rock-inflected grooves; Chuck D. has become prone to simplistic sloganeering ("Power to the people because the people want peace"), while Flav has been relegated to the margins, and we really don't need the many samples (including an opening homage from the Rev. Al Sharpton) reminding us how important the group once was.

Despite these gripes, P.E.'s first all-new album in six years deserves a larger audience than the latest from any geezer rocker this side of Neil Young or Bob Dylan. Chuck D.'s bombastic, basketball announcer voice is stronger than it was on "Muse Sick in Hour Mess Age" (1994) or "There's a Poison Goin On" (1999) and it's such a great instrument that even his slightest lyrics sound impressive.

And when the former Carlton Ridenhour challenges himself to take a stand that's truly controversial (as on "Preachin' to the Quiet" and "Makes You Blind," the former a condemnation of greed and violence in hip-hop, the latter a mediation on empty entertainment) or tries to say something new about a familiar dilemma ("Who in the hell told you that you were in heaven?/Platinum, gold, the house and the car/But poverty all around you by far ... Heaven for whites is hell for blacks in America," he raps in "Superman's Black in the Building"), P.E. is still unbeatable.



Long one of the most distinctive voices in the music world, Kate Bush has been missing in action for more than a decade. After "The Red Shoes" (1993), the singer-songwriter took some time off to heal after the death of her mother and concentrate on raising her son, now 7. (He contributes album art and receives a loving homage in the song "Bertie.")

Thankfully, Bush lost none of her ethereal vocal power or her eccentric weirdness during her absence, and "Aerial" -- which was self-produced, recorded largely at her home studio and written over an extended period even longer than her semi-retirement -- is as strong as any of her previous albums, which tend to prompt either indifference or intense devotion. As usual, these 16 songs, which are spread over two discs, focus on her keyboards and that magical voice, with occasional touches from top-tier session help, including drummer Peter Erskine and former Procol Harum organist Gary Brooker, though sadly, the singer's original mentor, Dave Gilmour, is nowhere to be found.

Those unfamiliar with Bush's mix of styles (which range from New Age Muzak to Celtic folk to Spanish guitar with many detours in between), her at-times bizarre and impressionistic lyrics ("Slooshy sloshy slooshy sloshy/Get that dirty shirt clean ... Washing machine, washing machine, washing machine!" she chirps in "Mrs. Bartolozzi") or her occasional overindulgences (she spends 42 minutes serenading a pigeon over the nine tracks that comprise the second disc, "A Sky of Honey") may be put off. But committed fans and listeners willing to bound those hurdles will be rewarded with an album that creates an enchanting and hypnotizing world all its own.