Editor's note: Atlanta-based Collin Kelley is, in addition to being a fantastic writer, a dear friend of, and oft-contributor to, soldout. When he wrote saying he'd done the deed--contextualized, properly, Kate Bush's Director's Cut, soldout welcomed it eagerly. Collin's also provided a healthy essential guide to Kate's work, posted as an addendum/follow-up to this review.
Kate Bush – Director’s Cut (2011, Fish People)
Iconoclastic Kate Bush recently released her ninth studio album, Director's Cut, on her newly created label, Fish People. When Bush announced that her next album would be re-workings of songs from 1989's The Sensual World and 1993's The Red Shoes, fan reaction was mixed. When the track-listing was made public, there was collective apoplexy that Bush would have the temerity to monkey with classics like "This Woman's Work," "The Sensual World" and "Moments of Pleasure." How very dare she!
Bush was never happy with those two albums, lyrically or sonically. A fan of recording on analogue tape, Bush jumped into digital recording (everyone else was doing it, so why shouldn't she?) but the results were a mixed bag, especially on The Red Shoes, which was often criticized for its combination of both shrill and murky sound quality. A big fan of film, Bush said her thought process was to re-imagine the songs in a cinematic way, but in sound rather than vision. On top of that, she received permission from the estate of James Joyce to use Molly Bloom's soliloquy from Ulysses to craft her original vision of the song, "The Sensual World." In 1989, the estate had refused her, so she paraphrased Molly and created a hit song anyway.
Director's Cut opens with Bush's ode to Joyce in the now retitled "Flower of the Mountain." It's the album's most startling lyrical departure from the original. With her now huskier voice up front in the mix, it's almost like Bush is in the room telling you about long kisses, sharing tastes of seed cake, feeling her perfumed breasts and "yesssss." It's intimate and downright sexy.
Another revelation is "Song of Solomon" with Bush's and the Trio Bulgarka's fluttering vocals rescued from the mire. The song is stripped of unnecessary flourishes – and lyrics – so that the refrain "Don't want your bullshit, just want your sexuality" is not only an utterance but a command. "Lily" gets some of the same treatment, with Bush unleashing a vocal performance of maniacal proportions not heard since The Dreaming. Acrobatic "whooos!" and the particularly batshit screaming of "Who's on the left, who's on the right?" while soul diva Mica Paris wails is one of the album's finest moments.
On "The Red Shoes," based on Michael Powell's film about a ballerina possessed by cursed ballet slippers, Bush doesn't radically depart from the original, but invigorates the lyrics with cries of "whoop, whoop" and a demonic breakdown at song's end where she growls, "I'm gonna dance the dream and make the dream come true."
The album's lowlight is "Deeper Understanding," which features the computerized voice of Bush's son, Albert, singing the chorus and a free-form jazz riff at the end. Released as a single ahead of the album's release, here was a moment when even the most die-hard fans thought she had potentially lost the plot. The original version of "Deeper Understanding" from The Sensual World is one of Bush's best songs, eerily prefiguring our obsession with the Internet and computers. The new version sounds like Laurie Anderson noodling around in 1977 and is the project's weakest song.
Luckily, the suite of songs at the center of the album – "This Woman's Work," "Moments of Pleasure" and "Never Be Mine" – are easily the best music of Bush's career. Created specifically for John Hughes' "She's Having a Baby", "This Woman's Work" has become one of her most beloved, heart-rending songs and a highlight of The Sensual World. How could she better the original? Well, she has – and it's epic. The song, now clocking in at more than six minutes, floats in the same body of water as her drowning figure hovering between life and death from The Ninth Wave conceptual suite from the Hounds of Love album. It's ambient, celestial and full of silence and space that adds to the bittersweet lyrics. Grab a hankie.
Similarly, "Moments of Pleasure" gets not only a lyrical trim, but is stripped of Michael Kamen's syrupy string arrangement and replaced with spare piano and a hymnal chorus. Bush's lament to friends and family who have passed on goes from mawkishly depressing to beautifully elegiac. The lyric "He meets us at the lift, like Douglas Fairbanks waving his walking stick, but he isn't well at all" may not sound like much on paper, but the way she sings it against the descending melody of the piano is positively shiver-inducing. It's better than the original and one of her greatest achievements. "Never Be Mine," a tale of an ending love affair, is set free from the darkness and when Bush sings about the "thrill and the hurting" it cuts like a knife.
"And So is Love" and "Top of the City" shine with Bush's new vocals, but they seem to have lost something in the translation. "And So Is Love" particularly suffers from a change in lyrics. "Life is sad and so is love" has become "life is sweet..." gutting the admittedly depressing song of its intent. "Top of the City" has gone from a wistful meditation on love to something verging on Broadway bombast. The new version is compelling, but isn't a patch on the original.
That leaves us with "Rubberband Girl," the frenetic pop song from The Red Shoes album that was a hit single for Bush in the UK. Bush drains the energy from the song and turns it into a slurring, bluesy rock song that sounds like she might have had a bottle – or two – of wine at karaoke night at the local boozer. It's hilarious, but such a departure from the rest of Director's Cut that it probably should have been a b-side.
In a recent interview, Bush diplomatically said if fans don't like the new versions the old ones are still available. This unexpected exploration of old material has set the stage for a new album that is currently being recorded. Perhaps this was Bush's way of clearing a blockage to her new voice, and, if that's the case, she has done so in brilliant fashion.
Collin Kelley is a novelist, poet and a fan of Kate Bush since 1981 when he saw the videos for “Wuthering Heights” and “The Man With the Child In His Eys” on Night Flight. www.collinkelley.com
By Collin Kelley
The Kick Inside (1978): At just 19 years old, Kate stormed the British charts with the single, “Wuthering Heights,” and a debut album culled from years of writing lyrics and poetry. Her four-octave range, lyrical content far beyond her years (“The Man With the Child In His Eyes” for instance) and the now iconic video for “Wuthering Heights” of her spinning and somersaulting across a mist-covered stage set the bar high. Often copied, but never duplicated by more than 30 years worth of female singers.
Never For Ever (1980): The first album by a British female singer to hit number 1 on the UK charts, Never For Ever is a more sonically complex and lyrically challenging album, proof of a quickly maturing artist. Songs like “Army Dreamers,” “The Infant Kiss,” and “Breathing” cemented her storytelling ability, while the video for “Babooshka,” featuring Kate as a vengeful sword-mistress in a barely-there costume, surely kept British boys fiddling with their bits all night.
The Dreaming (1982): The first album Kate produced on her own, one can only imagine the looks on the faces of the EMI suits upon hearing this radical departure from Kate’s melodic sound. With instructions on the sleeve to “play it loud,” the buying public wasn’t sure what to do with this experimental side of Kate, who had discovered the Fairlight digital sampling synthesizer and used it liberally and to grand effect on the record. Songs about the plight of aborigines in Australia (“The Dreaming”), bank robbers (“There Goes a Tenner”), existential angst (“Suspended in Gaffa” and “Sat in Your Lap”) and the demonic, screaming finale of “Get Out of My House” were as thrilling as they were baffling.
Hounds of Love (1985): In the 80s, disappearing for three years was unheard of in the music business and a sure sign of career death. In the fall of 1985 Kate returned with the greatest album of her career. The stirring, urgent single “Running Up That Hill” finally saw Kate crack the American charts, while the album quickly went to number 1 in the UK, displacing Madonna’s Like a Virgin. With side A of the album full of hit singles – “Cloudbusting,” “The Big Sky” and the title track – the revelation was the conceptual b side of the album called The Ninth Wave, where Kate takes on the voice of a person hovering between life and death after an accident at sea.
Aerial (2005): After the success of Hounds of Love, Kate released two more albums – the lauded but underwhelming The Sensual World (1989) and The Red Shoes (1993) – before disappearing for 12 long years. Even the most die-hard fans were wondering if she had decided to call it a career, now that she had a family to take care of and her laurels to rest on. A stunning double album, Aerial proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Kate was still a force to be reckoned with. Similar to Hounds in strategy, the first disk featured a selection of standalone songs including first single “King of the Mountain” (an homage to Elvis and a clever repost to all those “mad recluse” rumors) and “A Coral Room,” a tear-jerking remembrance of her mother. The second disk was a conceptual, bird-song laced day at the beach with Kate melding flamenco, Renaissance and electronica into the tale of an artist working on a painting as evening falls. In a word – masterpiece.
Finding Kate Bush online:
Kate has a YouTube channel now with most of her old videos on there:
Follow her on Twitter:
Kate Bush Official Website: