By Darren Waters
BBC News entertainment reporter
Kate Bush's new album has 16 tracks (Photo: Trevor Leighton)
Kate Bush releases her first album in 12 years next week but has it been worth the very long wait?
When EMI invites a group of journalists to the Royal Academy of Music, in London, for a one-off listen to Kate Bush's new album, they are sending a clear signal - this album is not to be dismissed lightly.
Aerial is in two distinct halves - the first side, A Sea of Honey, is a collection of distinct, highly personal, sometimes impenetrably personal, songs.
Side two, A Sky of Honey, is an old-fashioned concept album - complex, layered, perhaps pretentious, but also a dazzling aural masterpiece.
A Sea of Honey has seven wildly different songs which touch on aspects of her daily life, both public and personal.
Single King of the Mountain opens the album full of swelling synthesizers and pounding beats and with its almost cryptic lyrics sets the tone for side one.
All of the songs have a swirling, almost uncontrolled creativity as if Bush has had these songs bottled up for more than a decade.
Her voice escapes, rather than emerges, in that familiar part-piercing, part-haunting tone that uniquely can carry across consonants and vowels with seductive ease.
Bertie, about her young son, has a simple, pleasing folk melody but lyrically feels slightly mundane.
Fans have waited a long time for the album
She sings: "Here comes the sunshine, here comes the son of mine. Here comes everything, here comes a song for him."
"You bring me such joy. Then you bring me more joy," she recites, almost unconvincingly.
How to be Invisible is side one's stand out track, with a real sense of menace in its driving beat.
"I found a book on how to be invisible. On the edge of the labyrinth," she sings.
The strangest song on the whole album is Mrs Bartolozzi, a plaintive wail seemingly about domestic chores.
"Washing machine, washing machine, washing machine," she cries. Listening to this, I felt like I was trapped inside the washing machine on the spin cycle.
The final song of side one, A Coral Room, is a deeply moving elegy about her mother's death that is so private it feels almost intrusive to listen in.
Seven songs in and it seems a poor return on a 12-year wait. It also gives little clue to the sheer majesty of side two.
A Sky of Honey is, in a sense, a lyric poem set to music. Full of lush, fecund melodies which swing from jazz to rock, it is threaded through with bird song and chatter and feels distinctly organic and earthy.
There is also a painterly quality to the nine linked songs, a feeling which is enhanced by the appearance of Rolf Harris who both speaks and sings - thankfully briefly - on two tracks.
Side two is the album Pink Floyd might have made if Kate Bush had been their lead singer and lyricist in 1979.
Many people will hate the concept album feel to the songs and it is an acquired taste but is both sonically and lyrically a fine achievement.
It takes the listener on a journey - from a young boy's innocent statement of "Mummy, daddy, the day is full of birds" to a dynamic conclusion more than 40 minutes later where Kate Bush herself seems to have become the birds and takes flight.
"I want to be high up on the roof," she sings.
Often playful, Bush seems aware of the reaction some listeners will have.
"What kind of language is this? Tell me are you singing?" she asks.
Musically the nine songs of side two - which are parts of a whole rather than distinct tracks - are splashes of piano, bass and drums, layered with 1980s synthesizers which give the album a retro quality.
It is a very English album, with the rural feel of a John Betjeman or AE Houseman poem.
"All of the birds are laughing. Come let's all join in," she sings as her voice emerges from the sound of birdsong.
A Sky of Honey is a celebration of song itself, which has a child's joyful lack of inhibition about it - Kate Bush is heard laughing freely towards the end while a young child, possibly her son, is heard several times.
Wild guitars, pounding drums, dashing across the left and right channels of speakers, carry the album to its conclusion where both bird chatter and the sound of a cuckoo rise and then fade away.
It is difficult to know how successful the album will be - certainly it is not for the iPod generation - but Aerial stands alongside The Hounds of Love and The Kick Inside as her finest work.
Aerial is released on 7 November.