Kate Bush: Director's Cut - review

Kate Bush rerecording her own songs doesn't sound too promising, but it works, says Alexis Petridis

On YouTube, a fan has posted various TV clips of Kate Bush. They come from the first stage of her career, when the general public's perception was of a dippy woman who waved her arms around in videos and said "wow" a lot, rather than, say, the already glaringly apparent fact that she was an artist so unique as to be literally incomparable. In one, Sat in Your Lap blares madly from studio speakers, as strange and adventurous a single as anyone released in 1982. But interviewer Richard Stilgoe has more pressing matters on his mind: "You don't have any spots or pimples! What's your secret?" In another, she is prevailed upon to promote Breathing – a single, it's worth remembering, about an unborn baby slowly dying of radiation poisoning – by explaining her vegetarian diet to Delia Smith. They stare at a profoundly unappetising pot of carrot and tomatoes. "You can even cook them in Marmite," offers Bush, brightly. "I really do think there's a lot in vegetables."

In the solitary phone interview she gave to promote her first album in six years, Kate Bush offered these TV appearances to explain why she was only giving a solitary phone interview to promote her first album in six years. Under the circumstances, she suggested, wouldn't you push off to the land of do-as-you-please as soon as possible? Nothing, it seems, inspires inscrutable behaviour quite like the bloke off That's Life! quizzing you about your pimples.

In 2011, with the whole nonpareil musical genius/dippy woman who says "wow" issue firmly sorted out in most people's minds, her behaviour seems to grow more inscrutable still. Her new album, which admittedly took only half as long to make as its predecessor, isn't actually a new album, despite Bush's insistence to the contrary: it consists entirely of new versions of songs from 1989's The Sensual World and 1993's The Red Shoes. In fairness, you can see why she's chosen to point them up. They tend to be overlooked in her oeuvre, more because they separate her twin masterpieces Hounds of Love and Aerial than because of their content, although The Red Shoes is perhaps more muddled than you might expect, given her legendary perfectionism. Nevertheless, the decision seems to have bamboozled even her diehard fans, whose trepidation was not much mollified by the single Deeper Understanding. Again, you can see why she wants to point it up: its lyric about abandoning social interaction in order to hunch over a computer seems very prescient in the age of Facebook and Twitter. But the new version's decision to overwhelm the haunting vocals of Trio Bulgarka with Kate Bush doing one of her patented Funny Voices through an Auto-Tune unit seems questionable at best.

In fact, it's the only moment when you can honestly say the rerecording pales next to the original. At worst, they sound as good as their predecessors, which leaves you wondering what the point is, even as you succumb to their manifold charms. It was obviously a bind that the Joyce estate refused permission to use Molly Bloom's concluding soliloquy from Ulysses as the lyrics to The Sensual World, but whether it's a vastly better song for finally having them in place of Bush's facsimile is rather a moot point. Song of Solomon, on which Bush finally abandoned her apparently bottomless store of metaphors for female sexuality in favour of a direct demand for a shag – "Don't want your bullshit," she cries, "I'll come in a hurricane for you" – is a fantastic song whether the rhythm track features pattering tom-toms or a lightly brushed snare. Occasionally, the changes genuinely add something, usually by taking things away. The force of The Red Shoes' depiction of Bush's troubled relationship with the creative impulse was always a little blunted by its presentation as a kind of perky Irish jig: with the Celtic pipes shifted to the background, it sounds sinister and more urgent. Moments of Pleasure's rumination on death is more introverted and affecting stripped of its dramatic orchestration, while This Woman's Work – the rerecording of which caused the most unease among fans – is amazing: emptier, darker and quieter than before, it's even more heart-rending. Given that the original was heart-rending enough to soundtrack a charity campaign against child abuse, that's no mean feat.

Is it worth spending six years making an emotionally wrenching song slightly more emotionally wrenching? Hmm. If Director's Cut really was a new album, if you were hearing these songs for the first time, then it probably would be considered among Kate Bush's masterpieces: certainly, the sheer quality of the songwriting makes every recent female artist who has been compared to her look pretty wan by comparison. But you're not, which means the Director's Cut ultimately amounts to faffing about, albeit faffing about of the most exquisite kind. Still, as anyone who's watched her putting up with Richard Stilgoe will tell you, Kate Bush has earned the right to do whatever she wants.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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