Late last year, Parlophone unveiled a series of lavish box sets on both CD and vinyl collecting the complete works (to date) of Kate Bush. The enigmatic singer-songwriter oversaw the remastering of these sets as well as their visual presentations; indeed, each album has been newly adorned with the logo of her own Fish People label. Today, we're taking a look at the first two vinyl box sets!
The four LPs of Remastered in Vinyl 1 takes listeners from The Kick Inside (1978), housed in its original U.K. sleeve, through The Dreaming (1982). Recorded and released while Bush was a mere teenager, The Kick Inside introduced her coquettish voice and precocious talent. Its spellbinding stories in song proved an oasis from the day's twin poles of disco and punk. Produced by veteran Andrew Powell (Alan Parsons Project, Al Stewart) and championed by Pink Floyd's David Gilmour (thanked in the credits for "rolling the ball"), Bush's debut found her supported on largely lean arrangements by tight musicians including mandolin and harmonica player Paddy Bush of her old KT Bush Band and drummer Stuart Elliot, soon to become a primary figure on her recordings.
While The Kick Inside remains her most overtly romantic album, it still bore the hallmarks of an artist for whom "the norm" was never an option. Within a conventional, piano-driven, pop-rock framework, Bush nonetheless pushed the envelope with her daring, imaginative, and revealing lyrics - alternately surreal and direct. Like Laura Nyro before her, Bush conjured up a distinctly feminine, mystical quality in her mesmeric soundscapes. The Kick Inside revealed an already brave and forward-thinking artist comfortable with addressing her sexuality in frank and erotic terms, delving into the female body and its mysteries from various points of view on "Strange Phenomena," "The Kick Inside," and "Room for the Life," or exploring desires on "The Man with the Child in His Eyes" (awash in orchestral splendor), the carnal, confident (and Nyro-esque) "Feel It" and equally lustful "L'amour Looks Something Like You."
British listeners immediately cottoned to her unusual sound. "The Man" earned Bush a prestigious Ivor Novello Award, so named for the composer of such musicals as The Dancing Years and Glamorous Night. She became the first woman to reach No. 1 on the U.K. charts with a self-written song thanks to "Wuthering Heights," her choice for single release over the more rock-oriented "James and the Cold Gun" (the record label's pick). Throughout this truly immersive listen, Bush's narrators and perspectives strikingly shift from song-to-song. She would continue to explore various characters and moods on her sophomore effort.
Lionheart (1978), released just months after The Kick Inside, continued in the vein of its predecessor. It's presented on vinyl in a handsome, embossed gatefold sleeve. Andrew Powell returned as producer-arranger while musicians including Stuart Elliot, David Paton, Paddy Bush, and Ian Bairnson also reprised their roles. A shimmering and often mellow quality infused the production, while Bush's vocals (and immaculately-arranged backgrounds) were as ethereal as ever on her beguiling and sometimes puzzling compositions.
As on The Kick Inside, Bush tapped into a potpourri of literary and cultural influences. "In Search of Peter Pan" quoted the "second star on the right, straight on 'til morning" as well as the Disney anthem "When You Wish Upon a Star" from Pinocchio. Peter Pan recurred in the earnest "Oh England My Lionheart," on which Bush's vocals and piano are gently accompanied by recorders and harpsichord. Other film allusions come in the Pink Floyd-influenced "Wow" and "Hammer Horror," both of which were released as singles in the United Kingdom. Bush adopted a huskier tone in parts of the latter, just one of many tracks in which her chameleonic vocals stand out.
She also once again was open about sexuality on such tracks as "Symphony in Blue" and "In the Warm Room" and painted a sympathetic portrait of a gay couple in "Kaskha from Baghdad." ("Wow" also touched on homosexuality.) "Don't Push Your Foot on the Heartbrake" was more pop-flavored, while a fusion jazz sensibility informed "Fullhouse," a fascinating monologue of inner struggle. The album's overall eclectic nature allowed for an offbeat, theatrical tune like "Coffee Homeground," with its circus-style arrangement, to not seem jarringly out-of-place. Notably, bassist Del Palmer (of the KT Bush Band) made his first appearance on a Kate Bush record with Lionheart.
1980's Never for Ever proved just how much Kate Bush had captured the zeitgeist in her native United Kingdom. Yielding three top 20 single hits, the album became the first ever original studio album by a female solo artist to reach No. 1 on the albums chart, and the first by any female artist to enter the chart at that coveted spot. Though far from a "confessional" album, its songs and production by Bush and Jon Kelly felt more personal than her first two LPs. It was also the first Bush album to employ synthesizers and drum machines, lending the album a dreamy quality.
Bush's mastery of her malleable voice grew, as did her confidence in unusual melodic forms and arrangements. "Babooshka" went to the top five of the U.K. Singles Chart, its bouncy melody and catchy chorus offset by the story of a paranoid wife testing her husband's loyalty. "Blow Away," with its Nyro-esque piano chords, namechecked many of rock's fallen including Sandy Denny, Sid Vicious, Minnie Riperton, and Buddy Holly in its musical dreamscape - a tribute to Bush's late lighting director, Bill Duffield. Some of Minnie Riperton's beguiling sweetness is evoked by the track, too.
More cinema references found their way onto Never for Ever. "Delius (Song of Summer)" was reportedly inspired by Ken Russell's 1968 film Song of Summer about the titular composer; the melodically and vocally shifting "The Wedding List" (one of the tracks to effectively incorporate orchestration) took its dark, violent cues from Truffaut. The horror film The Innocents gave Bush fodder to write "The Infant Kiss," about a nanny experiencing adult feelings for the infant in her care - who just happens to be possessed by the spirit of a grown man. Clearly, Bush was ready to push the limits with her theatrical and often surreal songwriting as on the slightly naughty ode to "Egypt." "My Pussy Queen knows all my secrets," she insinuatingly cooed.
A vaguely Eastern sensibility was present on "All We Ever Look For" while Bush rocked out on "Violin." The pensive waltz "Army Dreamers" with its unflinching portrait of a mother's child gone to war not destined to return, was perhaps the most unlikely hit off this album (No. 16). Bush returned to the subject of birth on the hypnotic "Breathing," albeit in a post-apocalyptic world. Despite - or perhaps because of - its piercing lyrical details and striking imagery, it notched her another hit at the same No. 16 position. Bush acknowledged a debt to her old friend Gilmour and Pink Floyd's The Wall on the track.
As adventurous as her first three albums had been, nothing could have prepared listeners for the dense, experimental art-rock of The Dreaming (1982). Bush's first entirely self-produced album, it was one in which she confidently indulged her growing taste for expanding the boundaries of pop-rock production. She utilized more sound effects and unusual instrumentation including mandolin, bullroarer, didgeridoo, pennywhistle, pipes, and bouzouki, and made prominent use of the Fairlight CMI synthesizer. The resulting album was fittingly titled, its songs going one from one offbeat dream to the next.
"Sat in Your Lap," the leadoff single released more than a year prior to the album, was a clattering, rhythmic explosion with Bush adopting different voices as the jagged melody turns and curves, a musical representation of the quest for knowledge described in the surreal lyrics. The pounding drums and insistent piano contribute to its schizophrenic feel. The album's title track was also issued prior to the LP itself. "The Dreaming" has Bush adopting an Australian accent to tell the story of the indigenous Aboriginal lands being destroyed by white Australians. (The disgraced entertainer Rolf Harris' didgeridoo is intact on the new remaster.) It got as far as No. 48 on the U.K. Singles Chart.
The world music themes continued on "Night of the Swallow." Bush was backed by traditional Irish musicians on the track, in which she took on the roles of a smuggler and his significant other. The Dreaming's third single became Bush's least successful to that point. "There Goes a Tenner," with its light Kurt Weill overtones, is a kooky comic chronicle of a bungled robbery complete with references to Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, and James Cagney. ("Suspended in Gaffa" was released in Europe outside of the U.K., instead.) Far more serious was "Pull Out the Pin," a hallucinogenic journey with disturbing wartime imagery; the dark shrieks of "Leave It Open" (with the repeated refrain "Harm in us but power to arm") certainly "lets the weirdness in," as one of its lyrics goes.
A strong fantasy element pervades The Dreaming. "Houdini" (the song depicted on the album cover) is Bush's take on the famous escape artist. "Get Out of My House" was reportedly inspired by Stephen King's The Shining, with its haunting wails of despair and defiance, not to mention demented animal sounds. Love it or loathe it, The Dreaming remains an unforgettable aural journey.
The 3-LP Remastered in Vinyl 2 begins with Bush's U.S. breakthrough Hounds of Love (1985) and continues through The Red Shoes (1993). With Bush having firmly established her creative autonomy, she took a full three years (almost to the day) after The Dreaming to release her fifth LP. Hounds of Love became the album that most defined the artist to the casual fan - and it, indeed, picked her up quite a few of those. Not only did it restore Bush to chart-topping supremacy in the U.K., but it established her in the United States. Her best-selling album, Hounds of Love was recorded at her home studio on her 48-track machine, with orchestral arrangements by Michael Kamen and instrumental contributions from Paddy Bush, Del Palmer, Stuart Elliott, and others.
Hounds of Love was divided, by side, into two suites, with the first also titled Hounds of Love. In structure and style, it was no less ambitious than her previous efforts, but also seemed comfortable as a pop album - one which bucked conventions and was the most focused work by Bush yet in music, lyrics, and production. The opening track, the gleaming yet intensely personal "Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)," boasted Bush's strongest vocals yet and a powerfully of-its-time dance/synthpop style. It's no mistake that it became the most successful of four U.K. top 40 singles from the album, and a top 30 U.S. hit as well.)
Those hallmarks continued throughout the expressive LP, chockablock with rich melodies, unexpected turns, and bold arrangements incorporating folk and progressive touches. The title track "Hounds of Love" used clever imagery to convey the fear of falling in love, and worked in a sample of Reginald Beckwith's dialogue from the horror film Night of the Demon. The wide-eyed side of Bush shone through on "The Big Sky," filled with ebullience at simpler pleasures even as the singer ruefully notes, "You never understood me/You never really tried..." Only an artist with Bush's confidence could successfully follow "The Big Sky" with the spare, stripped-down, metallic clatter of "Mother Stands for Comfort," dripping with irony as she proclaims, "Mother stands for comfort/Mother hides the murderer..." The Hounds suite concludes with the hypnotic, martial "Cloudbusting," EMI's first choice for lead single. Dave Lawson's string arrangement gilded the track inspired by the memoir of Peter Reich, son of controversial psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957).
The seven-song The Ninth Wave, on Side Two of the original album, explored the notions of birth and rebirth (recurring themes in Bush's oeuvre) while not losing sight of the album's pop feel. With subtle accompaniment from bouzouki, whistles, and piano, Bush's voice is strong and piercing on the suite's quiet opener, "And Dream of Sheep." The austere "Under Ice" and horror movie dialogue "Waking the Witch" epitomize Bush's fragmentary approach to songwriting, their middle-of-the-story impressionistic lyrics drawing the listener in with powerful imagery yet without revealing too much. (The latter is laden with effects and voices and samples - a haunting mélange from Bush the producer.) The coolly insinuating "Watching You, Watching Me" works on a much more intimate relationship level as does the striking Irish folk of "Jig of Life," a look at aging featuring fiddles, whistles, Uillean pipes, Bouzouki Bodhran, and digeridoo. "Hello Earth" is one of Bush's movies in miniature, and the closing "The Morning Fog" ends the suite on a bucolic, almost calming note. Hounds of Love left no doubt that Kate Bush was one of the U.K.'s most innovative artists.
Over four years passed before Bush followed up Hounds of Love, though the interim release of the compilation The Whole Story notched her another chart-topper on the U.K. Albums Chart. When Bush did release her next studio album, it was one that encapsulated all of the themes and stylistic hallmarks that had preceded it. The Sensual World was filled with theatricality, literary allusions, and yes, sensuality and reflections on love and all its forms from the supreme musical seductress. The title track, with bouzouki, uilleann pipes, and fiddle wending through its groove, imagines James Joyce's Molly Bloom of Ulysses stepping out of the book and into real life. Though Joyce's estate wouldn't let Bush use his words (that would come later), she evoked the literary titan while staying true to her own lyrical proclivities. "He said I was a flower of the mountain, yes/But now I've powers o'er a woman's body, yes," Bush intones, her still-girlish voice exuding a celebration of femininity itself, and all its strength.
Bush welcomed a number of guests to The Sensual World. David Gilmour added a rock edge with his searing guitar on the driving yet reflective "Love and Anger," while Nigel Kennedy added his violin to "The Fog," a rumination on growing up, and "Heads We're Dancing," a techno-pop track imagining what might inadvertently happen when one comes face to face with a Devil. Michael Kamen added the cinematic orchestrations to both songs as well as "A Woman's Work," which actually appeared in a film: She's Having a Baby. Written for the situation onscreen in which the character portrayed by Kevin Bacon learns that the lives of his wife or unborn child are in danger, the song served as a mature inner monologue and a turning point for the character as he's forced to grow up. The version on The Sensual World is a re-edit from the original recording on the film soundtrack album. (Bush would do further remixing on the single version, and would later re-record the song.)
Another Michael, Nyman, arranged the strings on the contemplative "Reaching Out," a lovely, melodic item anchored by Bush's piano. Much of The Sensual World is relatable and, indeed, accessible. Bush anticipates the age of iPhones and Siri with "Deeper Understanding" and tackles the delicate balance of a relationship on the earthy "Between a Man and a Woman," while "Never Be Mine" explores fantasy vs. reality.
1993's The Red Shoes marked the end of an era. It was Kate Bush's final album for twelve years, and so it appropriately closes out Remastered in Vinyl 2. A No. 2 album in the U.K., it also reached No. 28 on the U.S. Billboard 200, besting the performance of Hounds of Love to become Bush's most successful album in America. The artist behind The Red Shoes, named for and inspired by the 1948 film adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen story, might have shared some qualities with that story's protagonist - namely a dancer possessed by her art. Bush even musicalized the tale in the rich title track. But more than simply being possessed, the singer-songwriter-producer exuded confidence. That quality was manifested, in part, by a leaner "band" sound, bolstered by the presence of some A-list guest stars.
Eric Clapton lent his scorching guitar, and Procol Harum's Gary Brooker his evocative organ, to the bittersweet "And So Is Love," and Brooker returned for "You're the One." Prince played keyboard, guitar, and bass on the uptempo "Why Should I Love You?" as well as adding vocals and co-writing the arrangement with Kate. The result sounds like a true collaboration between both artists, with Prince's imprimatur particularly evident in the chorus.
The album's lead single in the U.K., "Rubberband Girl," was a play for the dancefloor: brassy, punchy, and altogether irresistible. In the U.S., the calypso-flavored "Eat the Music" was selected. Its earthy lyric juxtaposes images of love and lust with food-based metaphors - the epitome of Bush at her quirkiest. Like "Rubberband Girl," it has big horn riffs, though the hook is less insistent. The lusty side of Bush also comes through on the frank, Biblically-inspired "Song of Solomon," in which the chorus proclaims, "Don't want your bullshit, yeah/Just want your sexuality."
"Moments of Pleasure" is a tender respite on The Red Shoes dedicated to fallen friends and family, its alternately gentle and soaring music supported by Kate's piano and Michael Kamen's lush orchestra. Lily Cornford, a spiritual healer, is the subject of "Lily," featuring a dramatic spoken introduction and spiky pop arrangement. The dark plea "Top of the City" ("I don't know if you'll love me for it/But I don't think we should suffer this/There's just one thing we can do about it/Take me up to the top of the city") employs religious imagery and references to strong effect as do a number of the album's tracks: not just "Why Should I Love You," Song of Solomon," and "Lily," but also "Constellation of the Heart" and "Big Stripey Lie."
Both Remastered in Vinyl boxes boast quiet pressings with crisp detail, primarily remastered by James Guthrie, Joel Plante, and Bernie Grundman, with Doug Sax also credited on The Red Shoes. The sleeves for each album have been painstakingly recreated, with different textures for each jacket as called for. The slipcases housing the albums are sturdy and elegant, incorporating artwork from the LPs within. All that's lacking in these exquisite remastered editions is a booklet of liner notes (ideally from the artist) to put the contents in historical perspective. Happily, lyrics and credits are included with each individual LP. The seven albums represented on Remastered in Vinyl Boxes 1 and 2 are also available as a CD box set.
Kate Bush didn't return to music until 2005, when she re-emerged with the double album Aerial. To be continued...
LP 1: Lionheart (EMI EMA 787, 1978)
LP 2: The Kick Inside (EMI EMC 3223, 1978)
LP 3: Never For Ever (EMI EMA 794, 1980)
LP 4: The Dreaming (EMI EMC 3419, 1982)
LP 1: Hounds Of Love (EMI KAB 1, 1985)
LP 2: The Sensual World (EMI EMD 1010, 1989)
LP 3: The Red Shoes (EMI EMD 1047, 1993)
CD 1: Lionheart
CD 2: The Kick Inside
CD 3: Never For Ever
CD 4: The Dreaming
CD 5: Hounds Of Love
CD 6: The Sensual World
CD 7:The Red Shoes