Aerial is Bush's first double album, and was released after a twelve-year absence from the music industry during which Bush devoted her time to family and the raising of her son, Bertie. The anticipation leading up to the album's release was immense, with press articles devoted to Bush being printed months, even years before. Like Bush's previous album, The Red Shoes,Aerial does not feature a cover photograph of Bush, but rather one that is emblematic of the album's celebration of sky, sea, and birdsong. The cover image, which seems to show a mountain range at sunset reflected on the sea is in fact a waveform of a blackbird song superimposed over a glowing photograph.
Aerial is one of Bush's most critically acclaimed albums. Musically, the album is a multi-layered work, incorporating elements of folk, Renaissance, classical, reggae, flamenco, and rock. As with 1985's Hounds of Love, the album is divided into two thematically distinct collections. The first disc, subtitled A Sea of Honey, features a set of unrelated songs including the hit single "King of the Mountain", a Renaissance-style ode to her son "Bertie", performed with period instruments, and "Joanni", based on the story of Joan of Arc. In the song "", Bush sings the number to its 78th decimal place, then from its 101st to its 137th decimal place. The piano and vocal piece "A Coral Room", dealing with the loss of Bush's mother and the passage of time, was hailed by critics as "stunning" in its simplicity, "profoundly moving" and as "one of the most beautiful" pieces Bush has ever recorded.
The second disc, subtitled A Sky of Honey, consists of a single piece of music reveling in the experience of outdoor adventures on a single summer day, beginning in the morning and ending twenty-four hours later with the next sunrise. The songs are saturated with the presence of birdsong, and all refer to the sky and sunlight, with the sea also featuring as an important element. Beginning with solo piano, doves cooing, and Bush's son saying, "Mummy, Daddy, the day is full of birds," the piece begins with an early morning awakening to a beautiful day of sun shining "like the light from Italy"; it proceeds through a visit with a painter who is working on a new piece of sidewalk art ('An Architect's Dream and 'The Painter's Link') and then passes on to a crimson 'Sunset.' The interlude 'Aerial Tal,' consists of Bush imitating various samples of birdsong, while 'Somewhere in Between' celebrates the ambiguous nature of dusk. 'Nocturne,' features a pair of lovers bathing in the sea after dark under a star-studded "diamond sky." The song cycle ends with 'Aerial' and its euphoric welcome of the following morning's sunrise with the refrain "I need to get up on the roof...in the sun."
On 13 November 2005, Aerial entered the UK Albums Chart at number three, selling more than 90,000 copies in its first week on release. In Canada, the album was certified Platinum (100,000 copies sold). On 10 January 2006, Bush was nominated for two BRIT Awards for Best British Female Solo Artist and Best British Album for Aerial. On 27 January 2006, the album went up against Demon Days by Gorillaz and Coles Corner by Richard Hawley in the pop category of the South Bank Show's Annual Arts Awards, but was beaten by Hawley. UK music magazine Mojo named it their third best album of 2005, behind I Am a Bird Now by Antony and the Johnsons and Funeral by Arcade Fire. Rob Chapman, writing in The Times stated that "...its closing triptych, Somewhere In Between, Nocturne, and Aerial, represents the most joyous and euphoric finale to an album that you will hear all year."
The only single from the album was "King of the Mountain". The song makes references to Elvis Presley and the film Citizen Kane. The track was played for the first time on BBC Radio 2 on 21 September 2005, and was made available for download on 27 September. The B-side (or second track) of the single was a Marvin Gaye cover, "Sexual Healing", recorded in 1994, and is not available on any of her albums. The single entered (and peaked in) the UK singles chart at no.4, and gave Bush her first top-five hit in twenty years and her third-highest singles chart placing. The song also peaked at no.6 on the UK download chart.
As of mid-May 2010, Aerial was released for the first time on iTunes. The second disc, An Endless Sky Of Honey, now runs as one continual track. In August 2010, the CD version was reissued by Sony Legacy in the United States.