As a precocious and determined 19-year old, Kate Bush was exactly what pop music needed in 1978. Against the back-drop of the violence and revolution of the rapidly exploding punk scene, Bush showed the world that pop music could be as experimental, vibrant and vital as anything coming out of a bondage boutique on King’s Road. The bombast was there from the start, but it was matched with insight, ambition, eccentricity and an undeniable ear for melody that led to some of the greatest songs of the era. For fifteen years she rarely hit a bum note, scoring success after success with music that remained uniquely fresh. After the release of The Red Shoes in 1993, it would be 12 years before anyone heard from Bush again. Aerial was released in 2005 and showed that the intervening years had not dampened her talent. Now, with rumours of new songs in the works, Bush has taken something of a glance backwards with Director’s Cut, deciding to re-imagine 11 tracks from The Sensual World and The Red Shoes through re-recording, remixing and re-arranging them in new ways.
The first track to get the re-invention treatment is the title track from The Sensual World, known here as ‘Flower of the Mountain’, and it is the one that has caused most excitement since it was made known that Bush had obtained the rights to use text from James Joyce’s Ulysses for part of the song. The song itself is a mix of traditional Irish sounding instruments and ’80s production, taking in billowy keyboards and bell noises. The vocals for all the tracks here have been re-recorded and they take centre stage throughout. In the case of ‘Flower of the Mountain’, those vocals are strange, haunting noises, often devoid of melody and sometimes unintelligible. It’s an unusual atmosphere to begin a record with and a tough one to shake.
‘Song Of Solomon’ gives it a good go though, relying on the groove to carry it through for its duration. It’s a warm track with a ferocious chorus, only added to by the new vocals. Bush’s voice has lost none of its power, that much is clear. Things build nicely through the next few tracks, until it all falls apart with the entirely re-recorded ‘This Woman’s Work’. The song is a work of beauty, stark and open, full of regret and tales of sacrifice. Reflecting on the sacrifices demanded by her lifestyle at the time, Bush has rarely sounded so honest and vulnerable. A Rhodes keyboard resonates below the desperate vocals – “Make it go away” she sings, “Give me my moments back”. It is the highlight of the album.
The following song, ‘Moments of Pleasure’, runs in a similar vein, being as close to Joni Mitchell as Bush has ever gotten and sounding great for it. Once again she lays bare the sadness and loneliness of her life as a pop star, dwelling on moments missed and now irrecoverable. She lists the people she can not get back to, finally calling out “Hey there Michael, did you really love me?”. A choir of what sounds like hundreds of people hum the melody, a mass of bodies wordlessly expressing the personally inexpressible.
There is no way back after this and the final third of the album is no match for what has come before. It plays out relatively quietly, solid songs that, although worthy of inclusion, feel a little empty. The closing brace, ‘And So Is Love’ and ‘Rubber Band Girl’, are strange beasts, one featuring panpipes and the kind of lead guitar work no one has heard in 25 years (with good reason many would say), while the other is a thin, bluesy rock and roller that is utterly out of place. It’s a weird finish to a weird album, but you could expect no less with Bush. This will not be the watershed moment in pop music in the same way that much of it was originally, but it is a useful addition to the canon of one of Britain’s most talented living musicians. It will certainly tide us over until we get something new, which hopefully won’t take another 12 years.