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Kate and her Director’s Cut

13/05/2011
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I was going to break one of my personal rules and write a track-by-track review here. I normally dislike such things but it felt like the right thing to do in the case of Director’s Cut, Kate Bush‘s new album of remade songs from two of her previous albums: comparing between the original and the new version, deciding which one’s better, all that sort of stuff. Eventually I decided against it, not because of any loyalty towards the album format (with what the past two albums being bodies of work and this one is essentially just a weird compilation), but moreso because I don’t think I could have ever actually written anything meaningful about everything here. Director’s Cut boils down to a very few, simple observations: “This Woman’s Work” and “Moments of Pleasure” are improvements over the originals, “Rubberband Girl” and “Flower of the Mountain” (or “The Sensual World”, as it was originally known) are clearly inferior, and the rest is very much give-and-take where the whole thing boils down to just possible subjective gut feel. It’s not an album of revelatory new reimaginations, instead the main gist seems to have been in ironing out some of the (possible) flaws in sound. Most of the songs here are taken from The Red Shoes which in its original form boasted a very slick 90s rock production, after all.

It is somewhat amusing that the two clearest improvements on Director’s Cut deal with the most stripped-down songs. Both “This Woman’s Work” and “Moments of Pleasure” were, and still are, songs that relied primarily on Kate and piano with little to no accompaniment. It’s perhaps the reason why the new musical decisions show up so clearly on them – when you’re stripped down to begin with, even the smallest element shows up as something far larger. “This Woman’s Work” is the more radical of the two, switching the piano to an electric keyboard. “Moments of Pleasure” on the other hand does away with the grand string sections of the original, replacing some of it with brief choral cameos but otherwise giving the spotlight solely to Kate and her piano. Both become far more mesmerising than their original versions: This Woman’s Work has a new haunting beauty to it whilst Moments of Pleasure sounds intimate and personal in the most resonant way. They’re absolutely wonderful, and their placement back-to-back on Director’s Cut makes you yearn for an album with just Kate and her piano.

Perhaps amusing in a somewhat similar fashion is also the fact how the two weakest moments of Director’s Cut are the ones that come closest to signifying the reason behind the album or people’s expectations from it. “The Sensual World” has finally been given the chance to appear the way it was meant to be, after being denied to use James Joyce’s texts as its lyrics the first time around. Now redubbed “Flower of the Mountain”, it’s finally the way it was meant to be, but the new arrangement decisions have made it sound lacking in comparison to the dreamy, lush original. It’s a bit… empty, to put it one way and while the lyrics are now what they were supposed to be, the music seems to have lost a part of its charm along the way. “Rubberband Girl” on the other hand is the only song on the album that has gone through a complete reinvention, morphing from a jangly 90s pop/rocker into a country-influenced honky-tonk stomper. It’s not very good, if we’re honest.

The rest… well, they’re there. Some of the changes are noticeable, some aren’t. Some sound better and some sound lesser but not to any extent where you’d be able to definitely say which version is better. The much-talked about new version of “Deeper Understanding” that switches choral trios to vocoders and adds a couple of minutes of spacey jamming in the end is a great example of this. The more I hear the new version, the more natural it feels and the idea of a computer singing the computer’s lines fits the song’s surreal dreaminess in a great way. But at the same time, the original is one of my favourite Kate songs and it has a specific type of grandness and ache that the new version lacks. They both have their place in the world and can coexist in peace. Same applies to most of the new versions here, or at least the ones where there are actual changes beyond simply replacing the old production with new. You can go round and round about the differences and respective strengths forever without any big results. It’s more about the intrigue and fun, rather than creating new definite diamonds.

The fact that this album’s genesis is in the general remastering and re-release process of the original The Sensual World and The Red Shoes drives further the point of Director’s Cut and why it’s there. It’s not any kind of mindblowing new take on old songs or an attempt to set right what once went wrong (after all, this is only a compilation of eleven songs from both albums). It’s simply a perfectionist looking back at some old moments, thinking that she could have done something different here and there, and then doing it for fun. Director’s Cut isn’t by any means an essential listen or anything that provides a fan with new wonders. It’s a bit disjointed as well and sounds more like a bonus disc than a work of its own. But the songs here are still mostly great songs, much like they were on their original releases, and while there’s only a few clear highlights on either direction the rest are an enjoyable pick-n-mix where the differences serve as great conversation fodder and can easily result in finding new, fun takes on things you already like (or good versions of things you didn’t like before, if you’re so inclined). It’s a bit inessential but the songs are good and who knows, you might hit something special.


Deeper Understanding

Also: This Woman’s Work original & new

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