This week saw the release of Director’s Cut, the first new album from Kate Bush since Aerial in 2005. Not a collection of new songs as many fans were hoping for, but a reworking and reimagining of songs taken from across two of her older albums, The Sensual World and The Red Shoes. It also marks the first release from Kate on her own label Fish People, owned by her company Noble & Brite Ltd. but still distributed by EMI. An odd decision to many, but considering the two aforementioned albums rarely feature highly in her fans eyes either, perhaps not. So, is it worth parting with your cash for? Does it have the ‘wow!’ factor, or is it a case of ‘there goes a tenner’?
Whatever the wisdom in embarking on such a project, and the challenge involved for the artist herself, I have to say that Director’s Cut is definitely a challenge to listen to if you’re familiar with the originals. Just hearing another artist cover a song you love can often be hard to get to grips with, but by the same artist is possibly an even weirder thing, especially with a voice that is now more than twenty years older. Kate Bush’s artistry often requires many listens to get a full appreciation of it, so don’t expect anything different here. I don’t think anyone will ‘get’ this album on first listen. Some will persevere and hopefully find rewards within, some may unfortunately give up at the first hurdle. The first many may hear of it is likely to be the album’s first ‘single’ (or more precisely – download) Deeper Understanding, which is accompanied by a rather wonderful video starring Robbie Coltrane and Noel Fielding. It’s very entertaining visually, and gives the song’s lyrical content a platform to be easily understood.
So I’ve now given the album a few listens, and as I probably should have guessed, it’s starting to sound better than it did initially. It opens with what is possibly it’s biggest selling point, Flower Of The Mountain, which is a new version of the The Sensual World with completely new lyrics. New lyrics, but not in fact new words, as they are unusually taken from the famous poem Ulysses by Irish poet James Joyce. Bush originally asked for permission to use it way back in 1989 when it was first released, but the poet’s estate refused as they normally do historically, so she had to write her own lyrics to fit around the same subject matter. This time around, Kate was as surprised as anyone when the estate this time gave it their blessing, so it now reclaims it’s original working title. Where the new lyrics add a new layer to the song though, Kate seems to have stripped down the music making it much sparser. The result? Well, it’s sort of six of one, half a dozen of the other.
And that’s what really pervades a lot of Director’s Cut throughout it’s eleven tracks. Things changed ever so slightly, with light touches. Instruments taken out, or pushed further down in the mix. Different for sure, but not neccesarily better. Doing a side by side comparison (for the benefits of this review), I sometimes forgot which version I was listening to, much more noticeably on the tracks originally on The Red Shoes. Those tracks reworked from The Sensual World fare far better in my view, tending to actually gain a new arrangement in many cases, rather than just a new performance. Deeper Understanding and This Woman’s Work are two of the best examples here. I’m still not sure if they’re ‘better’ in any way, but at least I understand why I’m listening to them on a basic level. They at least have a different feel to them.
I can see the point in this “project” in that respect, whereas I’m just a bit puzzled as to what she was trying to achieve elsewhere. What was her thought process for the changes she made? Some brief explanation in the sleeve notes would have been nice in that respect, otherwise the whole thing just falls flat in many places. Yet however baffling this album is throughout, it chooses to end on what has to be said is a dreadful version of Rubberband Girl. It just sounds like a very basic (and bad) demo recording. The sort of thing record companies usually add on to a re-release as a bonus track as filler. All the reviews I’ve read so far seem to agree here, and it almost certainly the most baffling track featured.
So as I come to sum up if this experiment is a success or not, I find I can’t answer as I still don’t understand what she set out to do. I applaud her for the bravery to attempt it, but for now, it’ll be sitting at the bottom of the list of my favourite Kate Bush albums, replacing either of the albums these songs are reworked from. If Director’s Cut only achieves one thing, it may ironically turn out to be giving a greater appreciation of the aformentioned two albums that she was supposedly not happy with. It isn’t a bad album by any means, but I think very few will be hailing it as a classic once the dust settles on it.
Kate has said that she is working on a new album of (brand) new material, but doesn’t say quite when to expect it. Her fans should be used to that by now, and at least Director’s Cut can serve to take their mind off the long wait for that to appear in the short term if nothing else.
You can download Director’s Cut from iTunes here