KATE BUSH – Director’s Cut

KBKate 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 is 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 previous vocal line is substantially altered. Whereby in the original version ‘Whap bam boom’ appears tagged on the end of a line, almost as an after-breath, here, Kate delivers the line at full pelt and then loops it so it becomes impossible to miss.  It’s a mistake; a very bad idea, which spoils anything which has gone before. Unless you’re Richard Penniman, there’s no excuse for ‘whap bam boom’.

‘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

12 thoughts on “KATE BUSH – Director’s Cut

  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.

  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").

  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.

  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.

  5. "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).

  6. 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.

  7. 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".

  8. This will undoubtedly be dismissed as a fan’s “hissyfit”, but what the hell – I am convinced most people’s problem with Director’s Cut is that, before we knew her new album 50 Words For Snow was being worked on concurrently, people were angry because they thought Bush had squandered her talent by spending six years songs she had already recorded. People wanted her to make new music. Now we know that the new album was always imminent and in progress and that Director’s Cut was just a side project I wonder if it’s reputation will shift? It is, like most director’s cuts on DVDs, a bonus. It isn’t a substitute for the old albums or for the new. It is a bonus, extra takes on songs that do, in my view, breathe new life into them. There are some sumptuous recordings here if you put your issues aside and just listen. Don’t blame her for getting old, don’t blame this album for supplanting the next one, don’t get angry that she’s pissing on her legacy, don’t have a hissyfit of your own. Just listen to some beautiful music.

    • Breathe new life into them? No, I have to disagree. I will, of course, approach ’50 Words For Snow’ with an open mind. Let’s hope it’s at least as good as ‘Aerial’…and her voice isn’t as horrible as it is on bits of ‘Director’s Cut’. Thanks for stopping by, ‘anyonymous’ [sic].

  9. IN AGREEMENT~!!!!!!

    I didn’t think it was possible, but Kate has turned herself into George Lucas! LOL Why did he mess with Star Wars? Why did she mess with her own music?

    I’m a 45 year old woman who has loved Kate to the point of obsession ever since New Year’s Eve 1985. Friends had exposed me to her for the first time as we were figuring out what to do for the night, and even though the club we were visiting was great, I just wanted to get back to their house to listen to this fascinating woman again. The album? Hounds of Love.

    In the morning (OK, it was really 5 in the evening) when I woke, as everyone slept, I put on the headphones and listened to that album over and over and over. Upon returning to my own hometown, I stopped in a record shop and bought every Kate Bush album they had. She became a lifelong obsession.

    That is—until Aerial. I detest that album, and tried so hard to love it. My family will tell you. My son was dissing it,and he’s a Kate fan, my husband was dissing it, and he’s a Kate fan, and ultimately, I had to agree. She was terribly unfocused on that record, and the whole thing feels like she was just putting material out there to get her label off her back. I remember saying at the time that she should just enjoy what she’s accomplished and spend her time raising Bertie.

    Some of her songs have very special meaning for me, like “Never Be Mine,” and to go back over it the way she did makes the song sound unprofessional, as if it were written by someone who has no idea how to write a good, solid song.

    I detest what she’s done with “Deeper Understanding,” not because the chorus has Bertie’s voice on it (which is a neat idea, but she could have written a NEW song just for his participation), but because she used a damn AUTOTUNE!!! What the hell? Really? We can’t get away from the damn autotune, and I was hoping she’d be the ONE artist who would resist using one, but no, there it is… Ugh.

    She even changed the words to “And So Is Love”. What’s up with that? When she recorded The Red Shoes, she was experiencing the death of her mother, and the breakup with her longtime partner, Del Palmer. Of COURSE she’s going to write, “And now I see that life is sad, and so is love.” The woman was in PAIN. I got it, and wow, did I ever feel for her. The song brought tears to my eyes, I loved it so. Now? It’s all fluffy bunnies and fairy dust, “And now I see that life is sweet…” WHAT?? She couldn’t just leave the original song alone and write an entirely new song to convey how much better her life is now? She’s CHEATING! She’s taking the cheap way out!

    Many, many years ago, I read everything I could find on Kate, and someone suggested her reclusive lifestyle would eventually be a detriment to her music. At the time, I thought the reviewer just didn’t “get” Kate and her brand of art. Now? He’s right. She seems to spend too much time in her own head, tossing around dumb ideas and no one can reach her enough to say, “Look, honey, step back, this idea sucks major ass.”

    I wish I could look forward to her new record, but I can’t. I’m utterly apprehensive about hearing it, and fear it will suck just as much as this new crap.

    And here lies my blog post about the new Kate music! hahaha. I’m just gonna copy/paste this into my journal, tweaking a few things here and there.

    MAN, this new stuff just pisses me OFF. Ugh. LOL

    Anyway… there’s the long winded version of, “I agree with your review.”

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