An artist reborn, Bush tinkers with back catalogue cuts, producing great results.
Martin Aston 2011-05-09
When Deeper Understanding emerged as the first evidence of Kate Bush’s new album of revisions, the instant reaction was surprise tinged with anger. How dare she play with our memories? How dare she use Auto-Tune on the chorus vocal? "Butchered" and "almost unforgivable" cried the fansites. But as Bon Iver and Sufjan Stevens have already shown, Auto-Tune – a pitch-shifting tool typically used to mask defects – can also be used for beauty. It’s not as if Bush’s own vocal was altered. Instead, it’s just the song’s computer voice, which now resembles 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL 9000 rather than a demo on a kid’s Casio. A bonus two-minute coda of Talk Talk-style folk-jazz floatiness extends the mood of blissful angst. Butchered? More like reborn.
The problem is less that Bush’s new album consists of old songs than the fact she’s only released one album of new ones in 18 years. She’s had the urge to tinker before, sprucing up Wuthering Heights for her 1986 greatest hits, The Whole Story. All the vocals and drums on Director’s Cut – totalling four tracks from 1989’s The Sensual World, seven from 1993’s The Red Shoes – are new; if such a term existed, you could say the overall execution has been to ‘de-80s-fy’ the originals. Gone are the gated drums, the keyboard presets, the Synclavier washes; in comes a softer, golden glow. Minus the choc-box orchestra (plus subtly altered lyrics), the rest of Moments of Pleasure emerges into the light, shaded by a solemn choir. Rubberband Girl, which in context sounds like a knees-up down her local boozer, comes over like the work of a totally different band (weirdly, that band is now The Rolling Stones).
The Sensual World’s title-track, now re-named Flower of the Mountain and borrowing Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from James Joyce’s novel Ulysses as Bush intended (she was originally denied permission), is another major alteration. Yet, musically, it’s rather more cosmetic. Just as Bush sounds in great voice – richer, bolder, brighter, wiser – so the re-cast Lily and The Red Shoes’ title-track follow suit, but they’re hardly re-inventions. As much as it’s fascinating to hear Bush the Elder look back at Bush the Younger, is the tinkering worth a full album? Yes, because it’s a sign Bush the Artist is still alive (she’s working on new songs too) and Director’s Cut (a less prosaic title would have been nice) is a gorgeous body of work. No, because it’s writer’s block by any other name. No, because it’s not radical enough a move. But if Deeper Understanding raised hackles, imagine if Kate had gone dubstep or collaborated with Odd Future. World wars have broken out over less.