Once an archetypal old-school major-label star, Kate Bush is now the world’s most improbable indie artist. Having regained full ownership of her back catalogue, Bush launched her own Fish People label in 2011, releasing remastered version of her full set of studio albums five years ago. Through a new distribution deal with London-based independent outfit The State51 Conspiracy, these remasters are now back in deluxe repackages, including handsome coloured vinyl pressings. These “indie” editions cover every Bush album from The Dreaming onwards. Due to different rights agreements in the UK, her first three will only be available as American imports.
Coincidentally, these latest reissues also coincide with the 30th anniversary of The Red Shoes. It’s still an unloved outlier in Bush’s canon, but also an admirably ambitious move into mature adult-pop terrain and certainly more of an exotic oddity than its patchy reputation suggests. Overstuffed with guest players from Prince to Eric Clapton, Nigel Kennedy to Jeff Beck, Bush’s seventh was a lushly produced, sprawling epic that drew inspiration both from the magical 1948 Powell & Pressburger ballet film of the same name and the macabre Hans Christian Andersen story that inspired it.
Bush even directed a 45-minute film to accompany the album, The Line, The Cross And The Curve, a promo-video collection framed within a fanciful fairy tale co-starring Miranda Richardson and Lindsay Kemp. Many of the songs obliquely addressed a turbulent period for the singer, including the death of her mother Hannah, the end of her long relationship with bass player and sound engineer Del Palmer, and her new marriage to guitarist Dan McIntosh. Both Palmer and McIntosh play on the album.
The Red Shoes arrived in November 1993 to respectable chart success but unusually muted reviews for an artist accustomed to being routinely branded a genius. The shift towards uncharacteristically straight pop-rock arrangements, embraced by Bush for a planned live tour that never happened, and the clinical, digital-heavy production were key criticisms. For some, the album was an uneasy mix of muddled literary folly and musically bland compromise, stepping off the page into the sensible world.
It seems Bush herself concurred with these negative takes. Indeed, she later remixed and re-recorded the bulk of The Red Shoes in warmer, less cluttered, emphatically analogue arrangements on her 2011 album Director’s Cut. In interviews, the singer claimed she was “trying too hard” with the original’s “edgy” digital audioscapes. Winningly, she also dismissed her accompanying film as “a load of old bollocks”.
Played back to back today, The Red Shoes and Director’s Cut make for an interesting dialogue. Indeed, Bush’s improvements have not all aged gracefully. The original album’s lead single “Rubberband Girl”, a hymn to resilience that bounds along on a chugging locomotive rhythm, is not quite vintage Kate but still a pretty solid effort. In stark contrast, the rootsy 2011 remake is a mullet-haired, saloon-bar blues-rocker, easily one of Bush’s worst ever decisions.
In fairness, most tracks are transformed for the better. Like the tearful heartbreak ballad “And So Is Love”, a shimmering Talk Talk-ish confection in its original form, the wounded cry of a 35-year-old woman waking up to the cruel transience of love and life. Pitched at a lower register, the updated version is luminously lovely but less emotionally raw, a world-weary rumination on midlife melancholy as much as romantic desolation.
Another notable upgrade is “Moments Of Pleasure”, Bush’s wistful piano-led tribute to loved ones who died during the album’s gestation, including her mother Hannah, her former guitarist Alan “Smurph” Murphy and The Red Shoes director Michael Powell. Couched in Michael Kamen‘s cinematic string arrangements, the original borders on syrupy melodrama while the pared-down remake is hushed, spare and fragile. “The Red Shoes” itself, and the raunchy “Song Of Solomon” (“don’t want your bullshit, just want your sexuality”) also benefit from more experimental takes, shaking off their tasteful Peter Gabriel-isms to embrace ambient drones, percussive twangs and melismatic warbles.
Director’s Cut is not a track-by-track remix of The Red Shoes, ignoring some key original compositions altogether. Assembled remotely via transatlantic tape-swapping, Bush’s Prince collaboration “Why Should I Love You” hardly qualifies as a career peak for either artist. Even so, The Purple One’s surging, warm-blooded contributions on backing vocals, keyboards and guitar still provide an irresistible serotonin rush. As an added Stella Street bonus, comedian Lenny Henry is part of the background chorus here.
Bush also declined to remake “Eat The Music”, an effusive exercise in Afro-pop fusion full of sexually suggestive food imagery, which features the singer’s brother Paddy on backing vocals and his Malagasy musician friend Justin Vali on the zither-like vahil and boxy, guitar-like kabosy. Some critics derided this as a reductive detour into Graceland territory, but it remains the most unashamedly sunny, joyous song on The Red Shoes.
Director’s Cut also features a handful of reworked tracks from Bush’s 1989 album The Sensual World. Of these, the most fruitful is the title track, now called“Flower Of The Mountain”, which restores the direct lyrical borrowings from Ulysses that James Joyce‘s estate previously blocked. But an ambient remake of “This Woman’s Work” is wholly superfluous, softening the original’s heart-piercing piano treatment into a twinkly John Lewis Christmas advert. Kate Bush may be the last true born-again indie maverick in British pop, but her best work, like her worst, has always straddled the fuzzy border between eccentric genius and overripe indulgence.