Monday, 23 May 2011

KATE BUSH - Director's Cut

KB

Kate Bush is a brilliantly talented, unique individual who has provided inspiration to thousands of musicians and singer-songwriters. She’s recorded a handful of the best tracks of the 1980s, with her 1985 album ‘The Hounds of Love’ being not far short of a masterpiece. However, such talents bring with them an artistic temperament. Her first (and so far only) greatest hits package, 1986’s ‘The Whole Story’ features a re-working of her classic ‘Wuthering Heights’, since Kate was unhappy with the already brilliant original. The ’86 version, featuring a significantly lower and more limited vocal range – isn’t a patch on the original, despite what KB herself thinks. She’s also gone on record stating how much she dislikes her earlier work. Presumably, then, this is why we’ve been denied a fully comprehensive DVD of any kind, even though her promo videos and her only filmed live show from Hammersmith ’79 have been treasured by fans for years on old VHS releases. If we take into account the never-officially released stuff like the mimed performance at the Efterling theme park for Dutch TV or the 45 minute 1979 BBC Christmas special featuring Peter Gabriel – both of which have been widely circulated over the years - that’s a world of stuff which has never seen the light on day on DVD...

After the late 80s, she was rarely seen in public and appearances on television were just as scarce. We can guess that this is because she no longer looked like the 20 year old who pranced around in leotards, an argument given some weight by the ridiculously airbrushed promotional photograph accompanying this ‘Director’s Cut’ release. Has most of Kate Bush’s career hinged on how she feels she is perceived by the public? Possibly. What’s definite though, is that her striving for perfection – to obsessively airbrush the bits of the past which make her unhappy - leaps to new heights on ‘Director’s Cut’. It’s not a best of; nor it a remix project. ‘Director’s Cut’ features a selection of songs originally released on Kate’s 1991 and 1993 albums ‘The Sensual World’ and ‘The Red Shoes’; and for better or worse, they’re re-imagined here in a way which pleases Kate - though they’re unlikely to be favoured over the original cuts by anyone else.

At first, ‘The Song of Solomon’ doesn’t appear to veer too far from the original version. The bass has a bigger role, bringing a slightly dubby quality and Kate’s vocal doesn’t appear as prominent, and then we get to the end where a new vocal line is added. Did she say ‘Whap bam boom?’ Surely some mistake...? Seems she did – and then used it as a sample. That’s a bad idea, which spoils anything which has gone before. Certainly not the strongest of openings, but ‘Lily’ is a little better. Gone are the late 80s synthetic sounding drums, they’ve been sidelined for something more natural. The production sounds a little compressed, Kate’s voice is a little lower, but the performances themselves are commendable. ‘Never Be Mine’, ‘Top of The City’ and ‘And So Is Love’ each get a dusting down which doesn’t improve the original cuts in any obvious way and as before, Kate’s vocals aren’t as powerful; even so, they’re not objectionable, just a little pointless. Thankfully, Kate has opted to keep Eric Clapton’s guitar leads from the latter intact. Since those guitar lines provided one of the original version’s best features, to replace them with something different would have been madness.

‘Deeper Understanding’, meanwhile, has been completely butchered. What would improve the atmospheric, multilayered original with its fretless bass parts? Nothing. ...But clearly, Kate’s opinion differed. She’s wrong. Maybe she should have had someone to tell her that once in a while. The keyboards are the same as before, but the bass is buried in the new inferior mix and what’s more, the track features a truckload of auto-tuned elements. Granted, the song is – at least in part – about computers, but that’s no reason to think your audience would want to hear it sang by an emotionless robot. ‘The Red Shoes’, meanwhile retains a fair amount of its original bounce, but not all of its original spark, due to a smoothing out of the 80s edges and Kate’s re-recorded vocal not quite hitting the marks of the ’91 model.

Alongside these tweaked cuts, ‘Director’s Cut’ features three tracks which have been totally re-recorded. The steamy ‘Sensual World’ (now re-titled ‘Flower of the Mountain’) reinstates words from James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ which Kate had been refused permission to use back in 1991. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but everything else about it really awful. The drums have been removed, the bass turned up and the production has a nasty, muddy sound. Kate’s vocal in a lower key really doesn’t match the dreamy performance on original cut of ‘The Sensual World’; in fact, it sounds like a warbling noise from an old lady. This is supposedly one of ‘Director’s Cut’s greatest achievements, but frankly, this has the sound of a middling demo take. If you hadn’t already lamented the fact that Kate’s voice isn’t a patch on its ‘Sensual World’ era equivalent you certainly will here. By the time she reaches the last verse, it feels like she’s barely trying to put in any effort at all. She’s absolutely deluded if she thinks this is an improvement.

The brilliantly played piano part of ‘Moments of Pleasure’ gets a slower arrangement here to the point where it’s almost unrecognisable. Again, this has a lot to do with the lower key. Kate’s vocal is okay but certainly not outstanding. The bouncy pop of ‘Rubberband Girl’ appears as an odd shuffling number combining a Rolling Stones inspired rhythmic twang with brushed drumming. A potentially good idea is made unlistenable by compressed production which makes everything sound underwater, while Kate’s vocal is understated and somewhat mumbly. It’s like listening with your fingers in your ears. A brief bass line which sounds like a stretching rubber band provides a great moment but it’s really fleeting.

We all change. Change is natural. We change as people – our personal views change, our tastes in music change. Slowly over time, everything about us changes. Kate Bush needs to accept that too and not indulge in exercises of warped revisionism. The overtly narcissistic ‘Director’s Cut’ only exists to massage Kate’s ego and to give her many sycophantic fans something to get excited about, since they don’t have anything wholly new. The past is the past, you can’t change it; you certainly shouldn’t attempt to rewrite it. The world doesn’t need the musical equivalent of plastic surgery, especially when such surgery brings little to no improvement.

‘Director’s Cut’ isn’t the work of the once brilliant and unique Kate Bush...it’s a totally misguided affair, presenting the ugliest face of vanity. If Kate wants to piss on her legacy that’s fine – after all, they’re her songs to mistreat as she wishes - but she shouldn’t expect everyone to still love her unconditionally afterwards.


May 2011

10 comments:

  1. Great review, and one which chimes with my thoughts more or less exactly. I listened to this for the first time yesterday and my initial thoughts were... well, "ugh".

    I spent the entire album trying to convince myself that my problems were simply down to my having lived with these songs for - oh god, over twenty years in the case of the stuff from "The Sensual World". Eventually, I had to conclude that I was wrong, and that what we were presented with was - and it hurts to type this in connection with the beloved Kate - just not very good.

    "This Woman's Work" isn't half bad - it has a moody, swirling feel that actually complements the original version rather than marching straight over the top of it, but the rest, I can't come to grips with at all and I don't feel inclined to try.

    "Flower of the Mountain" and "Deeper Understanding" in particular take a long hard look at everything that made the original tracks work... and throws it all away. "Flower..." in particular is offensively perfunctory.

    Taking the nuts and bolts of a song and fashioning something new out of it can work wonderfully. When Marillion turned their "This Strange Engine" material over to The Engine Room, we got versions of "Estonia" and TSE themselves that almost outstripped the original.

    This, on the other hand, just proves the old maxim that sometimes - and McCartney springs to mind as an example - the worst judge of an artist's work... is the artist themselves.

    I'll keep listening, in an attempt to tease something more out it, but for now, this goes down as a colossal misfire from someone whose work I've loved and cherished my whole life. A shame.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Director's Cut isn't an attempt to rewrite the past or to replace The Red Shoes and The Sensual World albums. If Kate Bush had wanted to replace the original albums, she wouldn't have included them in the 3-CD edition of Director's Cut or had them reissued this month. The title "Director's Cut" also doesn't mean that she thinks that these are necessarily the "best" versions of these songs. In cinema, the "director's cut" is traditionally NOT, by definition, the director's ideal or preferred cut (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Director%27s_cut). In interviews, Bush has stated that she feels that these are just interesting versions of how she would do these songs NOW. Bush has also said that she does not necessarily feel that the new vocals are improvements over the originals: “the original vocals had an awful lot of work put into them at the time, and I wasn't really sure that I could better them-- I don't know if I *have* bettered them” and “I don’t know if the new vocals are better, but they are different”.

    You may not like the album, but to characterize Bush as “deluded” and “narcissistic” is way off the mark. There is nothing unusual in artists revisiting their earlier work: most artists do this all the time in their live work. The versions on "Director's Cut" are simply alternative versions that stand alongside the original versions (and this is literally the case with the 3-CD edition of “Director's Cut").

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yes, artists revisit their work all the time in a live setting. Shame Kate couldn't have done just that. Might have been better than spending half a decade on this paltry offering with muddy production and middling vocal performances.

    ReplyDelete
  4. ...As for "standing alongside the originals", they really don't. By including the original albums in this package, all that does is highlight that The Bush just doesn't have the same magic she once did.

    Hope the supposedly forthcoming proper new album is better than this; especially if we have to wait another half-decade for it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm confused by the "whap bam boom" comment. That's in the original too, surely?

    And the new vocal of 'Wuthering Heights' is better.

    ReplyDelete
  6. The 'whap bam boom' from the original version of 'Song of Solomon' occurs once, as a mumbled comment tagged on the end of the line. It's easy to ignore since it's really not a feature.

    My comments were designed to highlight what an ugly, misguided feature 'Director's Cut' makes of such a previous insignificance. The mumbled refrain is taken and thrown in our faces in all of it's ugliness. Unless you're Richard Penniman, there really is no use for 'whap bam boom'. Ever.

    As for thinking that the 'Whole Story' version of 'Wuthering Heights' is better, it's you and Kate agains the world there...

    ReplyDelete
  7. "Underrated" by most old farts journos and their likes. Seriously, I discovered her back catalogue in the early 00' and had she been a man... well, let's just say, I'm SURE Rolling Stones magazine would have rated "her" just as highly as Bob Dylan and all the other geezers. I'm not too keen on all these "re-recordings" and different versions though. - Urban. (@rockunited).

    ReplyDelete
  8. What a ludicrous and unnecessarily spiteful "review".

    This album was never going to be the "return to form" you're holding her teenage years hostage too. In lieu of a live outlet, the album settles personal scores well enough overall, and is an interesting studio experiment in combining the old with the new; often with unique results. On it's own merits, the new 'Moments of Pleasure' is as monumental as the likes of 'A Coral Room', for example.

    Leave it at that, and take the gun away from the 52 year old's head for not being 19 any more, and allow an artist an opportunity to be picky about her own personal mistakes.

    Whether liked or not, consider yourself lucky we've actually been given a unique insight into exactly that, and not just a typical "best of" or remix collection. If you didn't like it, the originals have been conveniently included to highlight that she hasn't tried to replace or nip/tuck them... simply to review them. A point you clearly missed.

    One last thing...

    Try proof reading the mistakes out of your work before publishing it. I'll have my red pen on stand-by for your "Director's Cut" edition of this review, sans the mistakes.

    Good luck with erasing the hypocritical irony out of that.

    ReplyDelete
  9. My review is still a review, whether you agree with my opinions or not, so there's no need for the sarchastic quote marks. Also, if you don't agree with me, that's fine - it's just opinion; not necessarily right or wrong.

    Although I expected my opinions to incur the wrath of fanboys who go into a giant hissyfit every time anything negative gets said about Kate, I'm not sorry. I love most of Kate's work - and some is untouchable - but this just doesn't work for me. Hearing these songs with a new voice just dulls the magic for me.

    If by "hypocritical irony" you're referring to my comments about change, yes, I can see Kate has changed too; however, where most of us change by moving forward, KB has embraced the changes by looking back and forward at the same time, in a way. I just can't see any real point.

    While I didn't enjoy 'Director's Cut', I eagerly await her next fully new work, just as I eagerly counted the days until 'Aerial' was released. Thanks for stopping by, "Anonymous".

    ReplyDelete
  10. Frankly as a huge, huge KB fan I was terribly unimpressed. My first thought was she probably's spent too much time with Peter Gabriel (this reminds me of PG's awful Scratch My Back). Like the latter, the new versions have sapped the life out of the originals, to quote one reviewer of Scratch. And perhaps Kate might listen to her own advise in Architect's Dream, all mistakes become beautiful. Perhaps this will, too, but with Sensual World and Red Shoes hanging over this, I can't see it beocoming more than a curiosity. I've had more enthusiasm for her extended remixes as they truly brought something fresh to the originals, but somehow this bunch seems very insipired, and uninspiredly sung. Kates mature voice needs new material, methinks, which was where Aerial scored. And lastly, taking the best thing in Red Shoes out of the songs, the wonderful Trio Bulgarka, surely is a huge, huge mistake. For me they're the biggest thing that keeps me hooked to that album.

    ReplyDelete