The Kick Inside begins with a brief recording of whale song; once the actual music starts, it wastes no time. Piano, voice (ooooh, what a voice), half a verse before the band kicks in with a Pink Floyd-like tempo. "Moving" doesn't linger either: 3 packed minutes, then it's over. " The Saxophone Song" recorded three years before most of the rest of the album, lasts a little longer, almost four minutes, but still makes its point succinctly. Both tracks wear their influences on their sleeves – the shadow of David Gilmour, who discovered Kate and produced the early sessions, practically looms over the opening sequence – but are distinctly Kate, not just because of her piercing, love-it-or-hate-it soprano voice and piano-driven songwriting, but also because they already show her use of repetition and timing to build tension between sections of the songs.
But it gets even better with song number three, "Strange Phenomena". Where the first two songs stick closely to late 1970s, late-night soft-rock style, "Phenomena" takes the album in a more uncomfortable direction. It's the earliest song in which Kate uses the lower end of her vocal range, creating an eerie, witchy sound. Unlike on her later albums, the menace is relieved by an anthemic chorus. "Kite" then establishes her long-standing relationship with reggae music. Of course, in 1978, there was practically a law requiring each new album to have at least one reggae-oriented number on it, but Kate would return to reggae throughout the rest of her career. It's a catchy tune as well. A mood of Gothic romance dominates the next two tunes, "The Man With The Child In His Eyes" from the Gilmour sessions, and Kate's famous debut "Wuthering Heights". The two songs are two sides of the same coin, in a way: in one, the protagonist, let's call her Fictional!Kate in the tradition of contemporary fannish criticism, has a night-time, possibly imaginary visitor who seems haunted; in the second, Fictional!Kate is Kathy, the protagonist of Emily Bronte's novel, haunting her lover.
The mood shifts radically with "James and the Cold Gun" violent lyrics and Thin-Lizzy-style hard rock. It worked better on Kate's one tour than it does on the album, but it's another signpost – another idiom that Kate would later return to and develop more sophisticated variations on.
Sex and infatuation are the themes of the next three songs, "Feel It", "Oh, To Be In Love" and "L'Amour Looks Something Like You". On "Feel It", Kate allows herself to sing off-pitch in the descending lines of the chorus, as if losing control at the end of each line. It doesn't quite work for me, and this trio of tracks doesn't quite live up to the standards of the rest of the album; however, the record as a whole has such momentum that it can survive a three comparitively weak songs in a row. What they does show is that Kate was fearless even then, singing about after-party quickies and taking her voice places where nice, obedient, record-company-groomed girl singers don't go.
Reggae gets another outing in "Them Heavy People", another catchy, memorable tune if not the sort of thing to hit the listener in the gut like much of Kate's later work.
The album is closed with two songs refering to pregnancy, and again, they seem deliberately paired. In the up-beat "Room for the Life" the ability to bear children is treated as a source of feminine pride; in "The Kick Inside", Fictional!Kate is impregnated by her brother and kills herself. "Kick" is a much-overlooked track, probably because it comes at the end of a rollercoaster of an album. Listen carefully and it's gut-wrenching.
I have no memory of a world without Kate Bush's music. I suppose it must have been 1978 or 1980 when I first heard "Wuthering Heights", and my musical memories simply don't stretch back much further. I've pretty much always been a fan of her work, even when I only knew it as "that strange song with the high voice".
I was born too late to be aware of the musical landscape before Kate arrived on the scene. My interest in classic rock has made up for a lot, but I simply am not equipped to tell what, if anything, the impact of The Kick Inside must have been. I've been told that it affected one or two people.
Today, I tried to listen to it as if I heard it for the first time, giving it multiple spins in one day like I do with all records I review. I don't think I quite succeeded - I just know this album too well.
And you know what? It's damned good. One of three essential albums that Kate has made so far.