||13 May 2011
||Fish People, EMI
The history of art has found people reinterpreting their previous work looking for improvement, mischief or sometimes out of utter boredom. No one complained when an artist like Vincent Van Gogh repainted his sunflowers or when Miles Davis played with the timing of a signature tune on a new recording. Some people may have been irked by messing with masterpieces but in general secondary work has been seen with validity. So when Kate Bush decides to revise The Sensual World and The Red Shoes material on her new album Director’s Cut, why the fuss and furore? Why indeed?
Pop and rock music can be seen as a cynical enterprise in its endless cycle of re-issuing and cover versions. There is scepticism especially when an artist like Kate Bush, revered by her disciple like fans and critics, decided to revisit old recordings. Catch calls of laziness and commercial exercises arise in the midst of the new release. So why the repetition from a queen of innovation? The original tracks on The Red Shoes and its companion album are too ‘hard edged’ according to Bush and she wanted to give them a ‘warmer fuller sound’. Now you can’t improve perfection in some cases but on the whole she has produced her desired effect and for virgin listeners of these tracks it has turned out to be revelatory.
The biggest change is to the opening song, the somewhat legendary 'The Sensual World' which is now renamed 'Flower Of The Mountain'. Bush had initially wanted to use the Molly soliloquy from Ulysses when she recorded the song in 1989 but was refused by the Joyce estate. This time she is granted permission but whether the song is improved is debatable. The production is fuller and possibly more atmospheric with the bells at the beginning but it is not an entirely convincing reworking.
Bear in mind that all of the lead vocals and some of the backing vocals have been re-recorded which is vital in interpreting the album as a somewhat triumph. 'Song of Solomon' has always reminded me of Peter Gabriel in its layered world music strangeness. This time a creamy vocal sheen has been added without losing its spooky scattiness. On the contrary her vocal stylings are just as idiosyncratic but have a more piercing, forceful nature. This is just as evident in her authoritative mature take of 'The Red Shoes' itself.
'Lily' has its devotees but it doesn’t really displace that overly eighties drum production sound that it had previously been built upon. Closer to the litmus test for the album is the controversial redressing of 'Deeper Understanding' the lead single that was ahead of its time in its depiction of the human relationship with computers and technology when first released. The song’s chorus used to have a slightly treated vocal to resemble a computer voice. The main human singing and the electronic parts were ambiguously close in effect but now with some autotune thrown in to the mix the division is obvious. Both versions are brilliant on different levels but the latest production is eerier and has a timeless quality to it.
Reworking 'This Woman’s Work' has had fans up in arms but despite being such as a purveyor of innovation, Bush intuitively knows when to tweak rather than demolish. The original beauty and rawness is emphasised through this slower jazzier version that evokes soul and sadness through the dripping piano and stark vocals. A great choral backing vocal and ghostly keys makes the song its own piece rather than an improvement on source. What it does lack is the drama of the first version but it makes up for that in its further otherworldly feel to an already transcendental song. Again the artist refuses the theatrical sweep of the original on 'Moments Of Pleasure' and infects a stoicism and bittersweet into this version which is just as beautiful as the first one.
If you are only discovering songs for the first time like 'Never Be Mine' the maturity in Bush’s voice is rapturous. Like on 'Top Of The City' whose pulsing beat is undermined in favour of a meaty and histrionic vocal that lend an added pathos. A woman with experience on her side, Bush pushes this once more on 'And So Is Love' which has its affinity with the torch song but you feel she really means it this time in her maturing years. Also it is less fluffy and airy than the original production wise.
The only wrong note as such here is 'Rubberband Girl' which felt dated even when it came out first in 1994. Although Clapton’s guitar is a welcome release from the pulsing beats, the song in all its forms is stilted and prone to cheesiness that is beyond any repair. It finds itself out of the loop and sentiment of the album overall, if you could call this an album.
I certainly will call this an album and whether you listen to it in the context of time or as songs on their own merits, it has many charms and treasures. Although there is nothing new here for fans there is so much thought and heart put into this selection that future omens are good. Here’s hoping Kate Bush takes the feel and essence of this towards some new material as soon as possible. The world awaits her sensual breath.
- Tim Gannon