Ever the perfectionist, Kate Bush has revisited earlier songs, the first-time recordings of which didn't reflect her original vision. The resulting revamps are satisfying, rounded - and occasionally bizarre
Kate Bush: Director's Cut
Fish People, 12.99 ****
SINCE we are dealing with a self-styled director's cut, picture this scene: a record company office sometime in the late 1970s, where the 18-year-old Kate Bush is practically in tears over her label's preference for her first single. James And The Cold Gun, the most conventional rocker from her debut set of recordings, just will not satisfy her for her maiden voyage; it has to be Wuthering Heights, a thoroughly weird song inspired by the book (actually by a TV movie version of the book) of the same name. As we know, Kate gets her way, becoming the first woman to hit the top of the UK charts with a self-penned song, the rest is history, and all that.
Kate Bush has always done exactly what she wanted. It's part of what makes her the singular artist she is, one whose increasingly rare musical outings have become so revered that there are many, many fans who would prefer to hear anything rather than nothing from her. So if Kate wants to revisit a selection of songs from two of her previous albums, The Sensual World and The Red Shoes, then so be it.
Director's Cut is an unexpected move from an artist whose passion is to create new music rather than go back over old ground (unlike some of her 80s contemporaries) and who has even gone as far as to say that she doesn't like her old material any more. But it is not entirely the retrograde step it might at first appear.
Bush now feels that back in the late 80s and early 90s she was too easily persuaded by the brave new dawn in digital recording, so she has decided to remodel some of her songs from that era as she had originally envisaged them, using analogue recording techniques to give softer, more organic results.
Some tracks have been reworked completely; on others, she has re-recorded the drums and her vocals - an experience which, she explains, felt initially "like trying to open a door with the wrong-shaped key. So I changed the key and the door began to open."
Bush's vocals may be lower pitched but other elements remain untouched to discover afresh: that wonderful plangent bass sound which is all over her albums, her world of esoteric influences, from the Bible's love poetry to Hindu mantras, from dark, demented fairytales to classic cinema, and her lyrical meshing of the spiritual, sexual and sensual.
These themes come together on the opening track, Flower Of The Mountain, which was something of a catalyst for the project.
Back in the 80s, the James Joyce estate had originally refused Bush permission to use Molly Bloom's words from the end of Ulysses as the basis for her song The Sensual World.
Now that permission has been granted and the song has been renamed, it is interesting to compare Joyce's words with Bush's interpretation of their sense, even though its Macedonian-inspired folk melody, Bush's soft, brooding vocal and Davey Spillane's Middle-Eastern-influenced arrangement of pipes and whistles seem just as crucial to the fabric of the track.
Bush seems happy enough to stick to her own interpretation of the devotional sex poem on Song Of Solomon, featuring the elemental vocals of the Trio Bulgarka. But the trio get a rawer deal on the new version of Deeper Understanding, Bush's presaging of the omnipresence computers would come to have in our personal lives, on which her 12-year-old son Bertie sings the part of the computer through a vocoder, reducing their original haunting contribution to a sonic footnote. This Woman's Work, a great fan favourite, is completely re-recorded and expanded by three minutes with added angelic ambient washes now that the piano part is played on a keyboard. At its heart, though, it is still all about Bush's haunting, plaintive performance.
Elsewhere, it is great to hear the return of the possessed Bush vocal on Lily and, in contrast, the sparse purity of Moments Of Pleasure in its new piano incarnation, with a softly humming choir. Other refinements include a more expansive and dramatic Top Of The City, which taps into that urban melancholy which The Blue Nile once made their own, the medieval-sounding mandolin mazurka mania of The Red Shoes and a lyric change from "life is sad" to "life is sweet" on the exquisitely agonised And So Is Love.
Most bizarrely, an all-new Rubberband Girl has been reworked as a copycat Stonesy jam with guitars lifted straight from Street Fighting Man, harmonica solo and Bush's vocals strangely muffled in the mix - the album's most surprising track, but not for the best reasons.
Regardless, Bush fans will want to hear this album, even just as an intriguing stopover while we wait however long for the album of new material she is reportedly working on. Anything is better than nothing, after all.