Kate Bush – Director’s Cut (Fish People/EMI) CD REVIEW

REWRITING YOUR own history is a tricky business, especially if that history is a recording, whether it be an album or a film. George Lucas got himself into a ton of strife with ardent Star Wars fans when he altered details of the 1977 film in the digital age, and I tend to side with the fans: while Lucas may have been unhappy with aspects of the original motion picture, it existed as a piece of art in time and space (haw-haw).
Kate Bush is renowned more for her flights of fancy than her sense of logic, so it’s just mad enough that she decided to re-record parts of two of her lesser albums almost 20 years later.
At least in her case, the original versions of those albums are available (apparently it’s impossible to find an “authentic” copy of the original Star Wars, since Lucas withdrew them all from circulation), and in fact, she’s included them in this beautifully presented hardback collector’s edition.
Oddly, while The Red Shoes (1993) is graced with a remastering, The Sensual World (1990) isn’t. Bush explains in the liner notes that she found the original digital mastering of The Red Shoes too “edgy”, but I find that ingenuous. Comparing the original CD issue with the remaster, it’s a little less glary and considerably more pumped-up in the bass department, but the differences aren’t compelling. The Sensual World, on the other hand, could do with both a remaster and a remix. Like so many of Bush’s otherwise brilliant albums, it sounds thin, and her voice is way, way back in the mix. Of all the major artists, it’s Bush’s catalogue that desperately needs a remix/remaster overhaul that has never quite happened, and there’s no sign that it will: all her albums have this year been reissued on her new label, Fish People (still through EMI) but they’re all the original CD from vinyl masters, apart from Hounds Of Love. Interestingly, that album’s remastering (from the late ’90s) is problematically harsh and digital.
But the main reason anyone would buy The Director’s Cut is for the re-recordings. In the liner notes, Bush explains her reasoning: “For some years I had wanted to revisit a selection of tracks from the albums The Sensual World and The Red Shoes. Keeping the best original performances from the musicians but stripping out the tracks, adding new scenes and textures before sewing it all back together, it has become something of a director’s cut but in sound – not vision.”
Hmm. On a positive note, she’s cherry-picked the best songs from both albums, and in a couple of instances (‘The Red Shoes’, ‘Rubberband Girl’) improved on songs that weren’t stand-outs previously. Both The Sensual World and The Red Shoes – especially the latter – are somewhat blighted by their weaker tracks, and some tasteless performances, so The Director’s Cut gives Bush the opportunity to recast the best songs in a more sympathetic environment. Sometimes it works, almost. It’s certainly great to hear stripped-back versions of songs that sometimes just had too much going on, or horrid rockist guitar ragouts, or (in the case of much of The Red Shoes) a rather florid soup of faux world music grooves.
The trouble is that she’s trying to sing these songs anew, using some new materials and some old, and a lot of the time it just doesn’t feel quite right. Her voice used to be unique, but she’s clearly not been singing much, and now in her late 40s, it lacks much of the firepower that made it such an extraordinary instrument. The real problem isn’t so much that her voice is showing her age; it’s that it sounds like it’s been sung over old backing tracks.
And there are tracks that simply don’t need reworking. ‘Deeper Understanding’ is a gorgeous and predictive piece about one’s relationship with one’s computer, and was perfect the first time round. ‘Moments Of Pleasure’ was pretty lush with Michael Kamen’s orchestral backing, but that helped to make it one of her most spine-chilling songs. The new versions just sounds okay.
I’m sure Bush felt compelled to undertake this rewrite of history, and fans (like me) who have for so long been starved of new work will doubtless find some comfort in anything, even this. But really, it’s just a footnote. GARY STEEL
Music = 3/5
Sound = 3/5

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