Long-time readers of this blog (and perhaps also newcomers) will know how much I love Kate Bush’s music. I listen to music a lot, and have somewhat ecclectic tastes. I like a lot of artists, but there are few who I have followed slavishly for years and years, and continued to love and listen to. Kate Bush is one of that select bunch. She doesn’t exactly rush the albums out — it’s 6 years since the last, Aerial, and that was quick by her standards — so you have plenty of time to absorb the music before the next album comes along. Each time an album comes out, I’m excited, but also nervous that I’m not going to like it. So far, that has never happened. I’ve loved every album, except ‘The Red Shoes’. I certainly didn’t hate that album, but I never grew to love it like the others, and apart from a few tracks on it (like ‘Song of Solomon’, and ‘And So Is Love’), I haven’t listened to it as much as all the other albums.
So I was intrigued to hear that she was bringing out an album of re-recordings of tracks from ‘The Red Shoes’ and ‘The Sensual World’. I was happy that she was going to re-work tracks on ‘The Red Shoes’, but midly worried that she was going to wreck some of my favourite tracks from ‘The Sensual World’. I became even more nervous when I heard a preview of the track ‘Deeper Understanding’ in which the Siren voice of the computer had been replaced by what sounded like an auto-tuned voice. It turns out that this part was recorded by her son (the Luverly, Luverly Bertie), which is great, but I can’t help but associate that sound with really bad pop songs. Anyway, when I got the album, I listened to it intently, and I’m glad to say that I was blown away by it.
One of the main problems with ‘The Red Shoes’ (and to a much lesser extent ‘The Sensual World’) was that they had a rather harsh, hard sound, and that seems to be the main thing that Kate has tried to put right, with great success. All of the re-recordings have a warmer sound, and are generally less cluttered sonically, with more space for each of the instrumental parts and the vocals to breathe, and that has made a tremendous difference. Interestingly, she has had to transpose some of the songs for which she re-recorded the vocals, because her voice has got deeper over the years. Some tracks (notably ‘This Woman’s Work’) have a slightly slower tempo, so again you get time to appreciate them, and there is more silence and depth.
That brings me ‘This Woman’s Work’, which I think is stunning. I loved the original, so I found it hard to see how it could be improved, but it is heartbreakingly good. The stripped-down synthesiser backing phases gently between the channels, so it is slight disorienting to listen to (in a good way!) on headphones. Her vocals are even more emotionally-laden than on the original (without being sentimental), and there is a moment when the backing suddenly pulls in and she sings very simply, “Make it go away” that just stops your heart. Gorgeous.
The track ‘Sensual World’ has now become ‘Flower of the Mountain’. Originally Kate had wanted to use Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from James Joyce’s Ulysses as the lyrics, but Joyce’s Estate denied her permission at the time. Instead she substituted her own lyrics, with the repeated “yes” which is such a big part of Molly’s soliloquy. It worked out very well, but it’s interesting to hear ‘Flower of the Mountain’ with the lyrics as she originally intended them. I was very fond of the original1, and those lyrics are so embedded in my brain that it’s a bit disconcerting to hear others in their place, but I like both versions. The new version is warmer and a bit less cluttered, and I was very glad that she didn’t drop the peal of bells at the beginning. It’s a pretty amazing song: Kate can make reciting the digits of Pi sound as if it should have an 18 certificate, so when she is actually singing about sensuality, well… Just keep a fire extinguisher handy in case your headphones catch fire.
That brings me neatly on to ‘Song of Solomon’. This was one of the few tracks from ‘The Red Shoes’ that I loved originally, but the re-recording has made it even better and more intense. I’m so glad that she kept the backing by the Trio Bulgarka, because the way that their voices open out of silence and soar in that unearthly way really makes the track. I think people sometimes find the lyrics a bit ridiculous, but I love them and think I know what she’s getting at. I downloaded the album this time from iTunes and it came with a digital booklet. It’s a rather crazy, beautiful thing, and has a great photograph to accompany ‘Song of Solomon’. It is set in a ruined house where Kate, dressed in a suit of armour and carrying a sword, is being embraced (face upturned serenely) by a man in Edwardian dress who has a huge pair of bat wings on his back raised up like an angel’s wings. It immediately made me think of some of Burne-Jones’ paintings in which Arthurian knights in armour are embraced by ethereal looking female angels, only with the roles reversed. And bat wings in place of angel wings. Oh, and a very well-constructed young man wearing only a loin cloth and a fish’s head who is standing in the fireplace. It’s very Kate Bush, but also somehow a perfect illustration of the song.
I could go on, but you’re getting the idea, I’m sure. I think that all of the tracks are at least as good as their originals (‘The Red Shoes’ and ‘And So Is Love’ are great), with the sole exception of ‘Rubberband Girl’. For some reason that sounds oddly muted, as if the lyrics have been pushed too far back. I’ve even come to like the new version of ‘Deeper Understanding’. I really respect Kate Bush for wanting to go back and ‘fix’ tracks that she wasn’t happy with. It was quite a risk, but I like the fact that she did it whether her fans liked it or not. She has said in interviews that we (the fans) still have the original versions, and no-one is going to take those away, but it was really scratching an artistic itch to go back to the two albums and re-work them.
1 The lines "Do I look for those millionaires/ Like a Machiavellian girl would/ When I could wear the sunset" are great and have become something of a personal mantra :-) ↑