Monday, 23 May 2011
KATE BUSH - Director's Cut
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.