Kate Bush’s watershed moment is and always will be 1985’s Hounds of Love, and rightly so, but this week we focus on a song from The Sensual World, the follow-up to Hounds and her first album for Columbia. Why this album wasn’t a bigger hit we’ll never know. Coming out in the fall of ’89, right as the modern-rock scene was starting to explode, and a year after her instant classic “This Woman’s Work” made its debut in John Hughes’s She’s Having a Baby, the album seemed tailor-made to launch a crossover hit or two.
Oh wait, that’s right, it’s Kate Bush we’re talking about. Americans just never “got” her. She’s too quirky, too theatrical, too British. Whatever.
“Never Be Mine” is just what the title suggests: the story of a woman who still pines for a lover who’s moved on. The chorus is the song’s biggest hook, where Kate lays it all on the table by admitting, “This is where I want to be, this is what I need / But I know that this will never be mine.” However, she does something even more clever in the first verse:
I look at you and see, my life that might have been
Your face just ghostly in the smoke
Theyâ€™re setting fire to the cornfields, as youâ€™re taking me home
The smell of burning fields, will now mean you and here
By associating a sensory perception with a memory, she has guaranteed that people will do the exact same thing with this song. Music of all kinds always reminds people of a time and a place, and Kate is basically doubling down that you will do the same. And sheâ€™s dead right. I, for one, cannot hear this song without thinking of a specific time — and person — every time I hear it, regardless of how much time has passed since the year and girl in question. That’s powerful stuff, kids, and it doesn’t hurt to have the fabulous Trio Bulgarka doing the heavy lifting with the backing vocals.
The opening lines to the second verse have a certain brazen honesty to them as well: “I want you as the dream, not the reality.” Is she saying that she understands why she and her beloved are not together but still pines for the pipe dream anyway? Wow. Show me a pop song today with that much self-awareness and maturity. Okay, I’m kidding, stop looking. It doesn’t exist.