"At her best - even at her overreaching worst - she makes pop music's reach feel limitless. A Kate Bush song can be a game, a riddle, a library, a plane ticket, a good meal, a night at the movies, a love affair, an hallucination, a dream. Is it any wonder she finds it hard to explain?" Dorian Lynskey, The Word, December 2011
In 1993 I was listening to a lot of new music. From the first stirrings of Britpop still fizzing with youthful energy (that would change), to indie disco sounds, lo-fi rock, British neo-soul and Weegie dance beats.
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The albums I kept going back to that year - Suede's eponymous debut, the sophomore effort by Saint Etienne, One Dove's Morning Dove White (my enraptured exposure to Dot Allison's voice) and, best of all, the post-Sugarcubes solo debut of Bjork (spoiler alert: we may be hearing more of Ms Guðmundsdóttir in this space anon). All of them shiny new sounds.
And yet the singles I loved that year were from familiar voices, doing things they'd done before; but maybe doing them better or more affectingly than before.
Two in particular. If I hadn't gotten into terrible trouble from the Not Fade Away Standards and Ethics Committee for my 1982 Not Fade Away choice I'd be tempted to cheat and say I couldn't decide between my two favourites again.
But a man can only bear so many Chinese Burns, and so I have to decide. Between New Order's Regret and Kate Bush's Moments of Pleasure. On one hand I have my favourite song from one of my favourite bands. On the other, the most personal and most potent track of Kate Bush's career (IMHO and all that).You already know which way I've gone by the picture on top of the page but genuinely as I write this I haven't come down definitively on one side or the other.
Just being alive, it can really hurt ...
I'm not sure when I stopped listening closely to Kate Bush. Some time around The Sensual World, I guess. Loved the single but for the first time didn't feel the need to buy the accompanying album. Maybe the thought of contributions from Eric Clapton and Lenny Henry didn't stir me much (nor even a contribution from Prince). Maybe I felt that she was something of a teenage obsession for me and I'd now grown up a bit (a pretty poorly thought-through reason if it was true). I don't know.
All I know is that I wasn't playing her records much at the start of the nineties. And yet when one of her singles came on the radio I'd always turn it up.
So it was with Moments of Pleasure. From the minor key melancholy of those opening piano chords and the accompanying shiver of strings to the breathy shimmer of that familiar voice, it catches me every time I hear it (and not just because I get to hear Kate Bush say my first name near the end). I loved it at the time and as the years pass it has grown to be my favourite song from her catalogue.
It's a mournful thing, a catalogue of loss replete, as her biographer Graeme Thomson says of its parent album The Red Shoes, with "all the ache of letting go". A song full of ghosts. Her Auntie Maureen, guitarist Alan Murphy, lighting engineer Bill Duffield. It was only years later that I learnt that the man in the lift in the second verse was in fact an account of her meeting with the film director Michael Powell in a snowy New York not long before he died, a tribute to a peculiarly English artist by another.
The music is lovely, a beautiful swell of sound on which her voice - which travels back and forth between breathy intimacy and high drama - settles into. But it's the words that get me every time.
I would like a place I could call my own ...
By contrast, on Regret it's the music I respond to. From the bright ringing of that first note to the way Hooky's bass appears and sits underneath the guitar line (quick question: does anyone else think this is the most melancholic bassline in pop?), the sound of Regret seems to me now - and possibly then - some kind of culmination.
Throughout the eighties NME bands, for want of a better description, had been moving towards a notion of the mainstream and subtly pulling the mainstream towards them at the same time. The Cure, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys and New Order all helped rewrite what the sound of pop was in the UK. And for me this is where it peaks. I'm sure there are many who would argue that New Order's adventures on the dance floor is where you'll hear the best of them, or at least the band at their most innovative and adventurous.
But Regret for me is something better. It's the closest they ever got to that sonic chimera, the perfect pop song. Something that's both happy and sad at the same time. Something that hits you immediately every time you hear it. That doesn't need a particular mood to be listened to. Instead, it's a song that imposes itself on the listener. You have to respond to it.
Well, I do.
I'm a little vague as to what it's about, admittedly. Bernard Sumner was never one to worry overly about lyrics. But there's enough here to latch on to, to project yourself into. Perhaps because it reduces the pop song down to its essentials. "You were a complete stranger. Now you are mine." I think there's enough in the lyrics, too, to suggest, that for Sumner on this occasion that's not enough. That's Regret's ache, I guess.
In a way it's all the more remarkable achievement given the backdrop to its recording. Their record label Factory was falling apart at the time and the group wasn't in a much better state. As James Nice recorded in his book Shadowplayers, there was a lack of mutual respect at work within the band. "It wasn't the most fun album to make," Sumner said of the recording sessions for the Republic album. "It wasn't a good time. In fact, it was bloody awful."
Regret was worth all that, I reckon. In the South Bank Show film Paul Morley made about the band around this time Neil Tennant eventually decides it might be his favourite New Order song. I'm certain it's mine.
But we've reached decision time and today I'm going to choose Kate Bush ... I think ...
This is difficult. It means that I've chosen a Joy Division song for Not Fade Away but not a New Order one, even though, given the choice I'd always opt for the latter. Ask me tomorrow and I might reverse the decision.
But today I've been listening to Bush sing that verse about her mother Hannah who was ill when she made Moments of Pleasure and died shortly after. "And I can hear my mother saying/Every old sock needs an old shoe/Another great saying/Every old sock needs and old shoe." And then comes the line. That line. The one that breaks me every time.
In the end music is a consolation for all the things we love and all the things we lose in life. Moments of Pleasure knows this all too well.
Here come the hills of time.
Regret, New Order
Venus as a Boy, Bjork
Animal Nitrate, Suede
White Love, One Dove
Can't Do A Thing to Stop Me, Chris Isaak
For Tomorrow, Blur
Jump They Say, David Bowie
French Disko, Stereolab
Can't Do A Thing To Stop Me, Chris Isaak
C.R.E.A. M., Wu Tang Clan
Feed the Tree, Belly
Madame Yevonde, Animals That Swim
Fade Into You, Mazzy Star
Come Undone, Duran Duran
Stay (Faraway So Close), U2
The Next Life, Suede
Mario's Cafe, Saint Etienne
Inside Out, Shara Nelson
Ruined in a Day, New Order
Deep, East 17
NME Single of the Year Cannonball, Breeder
John Peel's Festive 50 Winner, Enough is Enough, Chumbawamba and Credit to the Nation
And the best-selling single of 1993: I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That, Meatloaf