The Meaning of “Love and Anger” by Kate Bush and Why It Was One of the Most Difficult Songs She’s Written

She may have become a global household name in 2022, but enigmatic British singer/songwriter Kate Bush was initially a cult figure in America, starting with her 1978 debut The Kick Inside until her fifth album Hounds of Love in 1985. That latter release hit No. 12 on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart, boosted by the modest hit “Running Up that Hill (A Deal with God).” Yes, it’s hard to believe that one could call a song that’s been streamed a billion times a modest hit, but back in the day it only hit No. 30 on the Hot 100 singles chart. The Stranger Things phenomenon was 37 years away.

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“Love and Anger” was a bigger game-changer, pushing Bush to greater heights on her next album The Sensual World in 1989. Released as a single in early 1990, it was an energetic and uptempo rock track that was piano-driven and underscored by percolating hand percussion, funky basslines, and restrained yet piercing guitar playing from Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour. He had originally heard Bush’s music when she was 16 years old, helped her get a demo produced in 1973, and suggested to his label EMI they should sign her, which they did three years later. Gilmour was a big advocate for her when the suits did not understand what talent they had been presented with.

A Game-Changer

More successful in Europe back then, Bush was never an easy artist to define as her work has spanned and blurred multiple genres. Some constants have been a lush sound to much of her repertoire, the use of classical instrumentation, and her distinct vocals. “Love and Anger” likely clicked strongly because it was more direct, danceable, and radio-friendly. It was dramatic, uplifting, and cathartic as Bush sang about grappling with difficult emotions.

Take away the love and the anger
And a little piece of hope holding us together
Looking for a moment that’ll never happen
Living in the gap between past and future
Take away the stone and the timber
And a little piece of rope won’t hold it together
We’re building a house of the future together
“What would we do without you?”

While the song feels like it is about the fear of telling someone how you feel about them, it is also open to interpretation. Bush herself stated that the lyrics for “Love and Anger,” which she said was one of the first songs to be written for The Sensual World and one of the last to be finished over the album’s nearly two-year creation period, did not come easy to her. She actually struggled with the meaning of her words throughout the songwriting process.

“It’s one of the most difficult songs I think I’ve ever written,” Bush told Boston rock radio station WAAF in 1989. “It was so elusive, and even today I don’t like to talk about it, because I never really felt it let me know what it’s about. It’s just kind of a song that pulled itself together, and with a tremendous amount of encouragement from people around me. There were so many times I thought it would never get on the album. But I’m really pleased it did now.”

Like many of her other videos, the clip for “Love and Anger” featured ballet dancers, and it also showed Bush performing in front of her band and Gilmour. It combined her signature video artiness with her bouyant presence as she danced joyfully before the group.

Bush’s Lone U.S. Gold Record

While it did not hit the Hot 100 singles chart, “Love and Anger” rocketed to No. 1 on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart, where it resided for three weeks at the tail end of 1989. Meanwhile, the video received some airplay on MTV. While the album peaked at No. 43 on the Top 200 chart, it would be her lone album to be certified Gold for sales of half a million units. That occurred in 1993, the same year her next album The Red Shoes arrived.

It was nice to see an artist as arty and eclectic as Bush reach that sales peak, and she did it without touring. In fact, Bush only ever toured once, in spring 1979, and played one UK residency in 2014 before she purposefully removed herself from public view. (Even with the Stranger Things boost, she made press statements without doing any interviews.) Her career always thrived more in her native England—“Wuthering Heights” went No. 1 there, as did the 2022 reissue of “Running Up that Hill,” and she had six Top-10 hits and nine more Top-20 singles there. She also had six songs that were hits in different European countries.

“Love and Anger” is a career highlight for Kate Bush. Even if it is more “commercial” than other songs in her catalog, it still stands out for the time period while not sounding dated. Bush always stood on her own as an artist, ignoring trends and following her heart. Her output slowed down considerably after The Red Shoes. She only released three more studio albums: The atmospheric double album Aerial from 2005; the Director’s Cut collection of reworked songs from The Sensual World and The Red Shoes in 2010; and her last album 50 Words for Snow in 2011. She did release the live album Before the Dawn, culled from her UK residency performances in 2016, but there has been no official video release yet. “Love and Anger” did not make the setlist.

Feeling the Music

When interviewed for The Fader in 2016 and asked if she felt frustration over lyrics being misinterpreted as confessional rather than being from the point of view of a song’s character, Bush replied, “I’m really very happy if people can connect at all to anything I do. I don’t really mind if people mishear lyrics or misunderstand what the story is. I think that’s what you have to let go of when you send it out in the world. I’m sure with a lot of paintings, people don’t understand what the painter originally meant, and I don’t really think that matters. I just think if you feel something, that’s really the ideal goal. If that happens, then I’m really happy.”

The combined success of “Love and Anger” and The Sensual World, videos that accumulated millions of views, and the massive resurgence of “Running Up that Hill” two years ago, certainly proves Kate Bush’s music remains eternally resonant.

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Photo by David Redfern/Redferns

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