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For all that Lionheart is positioned in the shadow of The Kick Inside, it diverges from its predecessor in significant ways. The Kick Inside is more or less an art rock album — a much quirkier art rock album than something like The Wall or Low, but nonetheless in a tradition that houses Pink Floyd, Roxy Music, and Genesis. There are certainly strands of art rock in Lionheart (which are most prominent in “Wow,” “Hammer Horror,” and “Symphony in Blue,” all the singles), but it’s frayed at the edges and beginning to pull away from its obvious tradition. There’s an edge of darkness to Lionheart, which wasn’t as prominent in Bush’s debut. It’s almost a Gothic album with a healthy dose of the pastoral thrown in. There’s also a folk touch to it, with its increased use of acoustic instruments (down to the influence of Paddy Bush). Lionheart is lonely, and its singer is left in France to ruminate on cultural fragments of England.
One of the quietest songs on the album is “In the Warm Room,” also one of the album’s acoustic songs. It fills the “Feel It” spot on the album, the one exclusively-piano song. “Feel It” used its slot on the album to explore sexual desire and seeking pleasure in ambiguous circumstances. “In the Warm Room” is just a dead end — a treacly, inept dirge of a love song. It actually is what male rock critics (a tautology if ever there was one) said her other songs were. It’s the nadir of the album, and a self-evident career low for Bush.
“In the Warm Room” is that ever so ubiquitous and banal staple of popular music, a song where a man is encouraged to think about an offstage woman dying to sleep with him. The woman is typically voluptuous and seductive, a femme fatale of the highest pedigree: “she’ll tell you that she’ll stay/so you’d better barricade the way out,” “she’ll touch you with your mama’s hand” (which… ew). Women become a way to keep score, and the lady in the warm room is the ultimate conquest. It’s creepy and an indulgence of Bush’s most obsequious catering to misogyny.
If this song sounds male gazey, that is intentional. Bush claimed she often wrote songs for men, giving them what they want, specifically citing “In the Warm Room.” Such a decision is backwards for Bush, who’s always been a tad conservative in her outlook but manages to hides it behind radically conceptual songwriting (she’s stronger at navigating aesthetics than politics). And it’s just banal here — it’s depressing to see someone who once wrote a musical suicide note for an incestuous woman settling for writing a song about a dude who likes to get laid with spooky dames.
Bush plays it with such po-facedness too: the song crawls, shapelessly wandering in various modes of A (switching between major and minor) as Bush croons the lyrics in a warmed over Billie Holiday impression. It’s terribly lumpy too — it’s difficult to outline a verse-and-chorus structure for this because there’s no tension or reward. “In the Warm Room” is trying incredibly hard to do nothing at all, while coming across as extremely self-serious.
This is what tips it over into the sublimely ridiculous. I mean, who can sing these lyrics with a straight face? How can you make “you’ll fall into her like a pillow/her thighs as soft as marshmallows/say hello to the warm musk of her hollows” work? This is a patently awful lyric and the best singer in the world couldn’t (and indeed can’t) make it work. It doesn’t help that the rest of the lyrics are nonsense like “but when you do/it’ll feel like kicking a habit.” “In the Warm Room” crawls, but it’s gobsmackingly silly.
The most spot-on diagnosis of the song’s failure comes from a friend of mine who’s described the essential problem with “In the Warm Room” as being that Kate Bush is so straight she has no idea what it’s like to desire a woman. So, what we have here is a woman trying to recreate the male gaze. Is that better or worse than a man doing it? Hard to say. But it’s not enough to salvage “In the Warm Room,” which is more fun to mock than listen to. This is a rough patch on the album, and thank god we’re going to see better fare from Bush before this album is over.
Recorded July-September 1978 at Super Bear Studios in Nice. Performed live on the Tour of Life in 1979. Personnel: Kate Bush — piano, vocals.