When Kate Bush returned to music in 2005 after a 12-year absence, about all that could be expected was the unexpected…and the sonic auteur, naturally, delivered. Her 21st century work and assorted ephemera has been collected by Parlophone as one box of remastered CDs and two box sets of remastered vinyl LPs.
Aerial opens Parlophone’s CD Box 2, and Remastered in Vinyl Box 3. The record was conceived as two halves, one on each disc. The first, A Sea of Honey, is a collection of finely-wrought songs with familiar Bush touchstones (romance, obsession, sex, Hollywood), while the second, A Sky of Honey, is a more conceptual song suite.
On the opening “King of the Mountain,” Bush posits the question “Elvis, are you out there somewhere/Looking like a happy man?” with references to Citizen Kane‘s Rosebud and musings on fame and celebrity. Entering the U.K. Singles Chart at No. 4, the unconventional yet entrancing single became Bush’s first top ten single in nearly 20 years, a feat that didn’t require her to making any artistic compromises. Taking in pop, rock, folk, and reggae, as well as both electronic and acoustic instruments, Aerial explores love in many ways, from the sharp imagery of “King of the Mountain” depicting hollow forms of love (“Could you see the aisles of women? Could you see them screaming and weeping?” or “Another Hollywood waitress is telling us she’s having your baby…”) to a mathematician’s love of numbers (“Pi”) and most affectingly, a mother’s love for her son (the classical-flecked “Bertie”). Lust may or may not go hand-in-hand with love, but Bush addressed that, too, on the vivid story of “Mrs. Bartolozzi.” Accompanied by her stark piano, never overplaying her hand, Bush recounts the titular character’s erotic experience set to the “slooshy sloshy” of a washing machine. Bush had long chronicled the extraordinary in the everyday, often reveling in its mysteries – as on the fantastical “How to Be Invisible” (the title of which would lend itself to Bush’s 2018 volume of collected lyrics). Joan of Arc, a natural subject for the singer-songwriter, is evoked on the moody “Joanni” (with its icy electronic sound) before A Sea of Honey concludes with a poignant, heartfelt piano-and-vocal memory piece, “A Coral Room.”
The 42-minute A Sky of Honey runs as one continual piece of music, though the CD iteration is indexed as nine individual tracks. (A 2010 digital release was issued with all of the music as one flowing track.) A meditation on one 24-hour cycle, it begins with one day’s sunrise (“It’s gonna be so good now/It’s gonna be so good”) and end with the next day’s (“The dawn has come and the wine will run…”) Nature and birdsong figure in the opening and closing passages, as well as in “Aerial Tal.” Bush finds the beauty in the mundane as the narrator watches a painter at work as the light changes (“An Architect’s Dream”) and then assures the painter, as the rain washes away his work, that “so all the colors run/See what they have become/A wonderful sunset.”
Accompanied by gentle keyboards, loops, and light electronica as well as traditional instrumentation, much of A Sky of Honey is a warm, bucolic listen. Bush explores the mysteries of dusk on the jazz-influenced “Sunset,” the track from which the titles of both parts of Aerial are derived. Flamenco guitar infuses “Sunset” with a burst of unexpected joy; the tempo picks up for the erotic “Somewhere in Between” as the night calls to lovers. They answer in “Nocturn,” communing with nature under the stars and in the ocean. The climactic “Aerial” greets the break of dawn with the suite’s most rocking track, a powerful paean to feeling at one with nature and life: “All of the birds are laughing/Come on, let’s all join in…” It would prove an invitation hard to pass up. [Note that disgraced entertainer Rolf Harris’ spoken-word performances on “An Architect’s Dream” and “The Painter’s Link” have been re-recorded by Bush’s son, Albert “Bertie” McIntosh. The liner notes indicate that the latter track has been replaced with the version from live album Before the Dawn, though sans applause. This was likely due to Bush’s wish to replace Harris’ instrumental performance on digeridoo, as well.]
When Bush returned six years later, in 2011, with Director’s Cut, it was hardly the album anyone expected. “For some years I had wanted to revisit a selection of tracks from the albums The Sensual World and The Red Shoes, she wrote in the liner notes. “Keeping the best original performances from the musicians but stripping out the tracks, adding new scenes and textures before sewing it all back together, it has become something of a director’s cut but in sound – not vision.” Yet Bush’s vision rang through loud and clear as she re-examined the original recordings through a new lens.
With four tracks repurposed from The Sensual World and seven from The Red Shoes, Director’s Cut was no ordinary remix. Most noticeably, numerous vocals were wholly re-recorded and new musicians including drummer Steve Gadd were enlisted. Bush’s voice had changed substantially in the intervening years, and so her new vocals were more burnished than purely ethereal. The changes throughout were plentiful, perhaps nowhere more glaring than on the title track of The Sensual World. Here, it was reinvented as “Flower of the Mountain,” finally incorporating the words of James Joyce, for which she was denied permission when recording the original album, into the lyrics.
Never one to adhere to the sounds or styles of the past, Bush gave a number of the tracks a fresh electronic sheen; on “A Woman’s Work,” the original’s band performance and string arrangement were jettisoned in favor of a stark electric piano which emphasizes Bush’s voice and her lived-in reading of the song. The strings have been dropped from a restructured version of “Moments of Pleasure,” too, again highlighting Bush’s mature voice. “A Woman’s Work” is just one of the tracks taking advantage of stereo sound with distinct panning between channels to create a vivid ambience.
“Lily” gained a darker, more metallic, theatrical edge; “Rubberband Girl” lost its ’80s pop sound in favor of a Stones-esque, guitar-heavy raunch. “A Deeper Understanding” was not only extended, but replaced the computer’s original vocals (a choir) with a Vocoder-style voice performed by her son. (The artist had always envisioned a single voice for the computer.) While mileage will vary on all of the changes made to the classic versions, Bush succeeded mightily as she made Director’s Cut a new experience, which is what fans have long expected of each of her releases.
2011’s 50 Words for Snow, which originally arrived mere months after Director’s Cut, remains Bush’s final original studio album to date. The layered production of albums past was stripped down and replaced by a spare, ethereal sound anchored by Bush’s acoustic piano and Steve Gadd’s drumming, with orchestral and electronic flourishes also appearing. Every lengthy song – just seven, for a running time of roughly 65 minutes – evoked the titular precipitation, whether in the realm of nature or fantasy (or, as has long been Bush’s wont, both). If an album could be both defiantly artful and touchingly accessible, that would be 50 Words for Snow.
Bush’s lyrical gift for imagery is undiminished on this hypnotic, thematically-linked song suite. Albert McIntosh shares the lead with his mother on the quiet, pensive opening “Snowflake,” sung from the perspective of a falling flake on its journey from the sky. The fantastical elements come to the fore on the ambling “Lake Tahoe,” about a drowned woman who may still haunt the lake that proved her demise, and “Misty,” in which Bush relates a tryst with, yes, a snowman (“Sunday morning/I can’t find him/The sheets are soaking and on my pillow…”). The pulsating “Wild Man,” the first single, features the voice of Andy Fairweather-Low (Amen Corner, Fair Weather) as it conjures the legend of the Yeti with a sympathetic lyrical twist.
The familiar voice of Elton John joined Bush on “Snowed in at Wheeler Street,” sharing a romantic, desperate duet that captivatingly crosses the boundaries of time and space. Bush enlisted Stephen Fry to recite, yes, 50 words for snow in various languages and phrases in the title track, a rhythmic spoken-word/musical hybrid. The album concludes with the grace note of “Among Angels,” a piano-and-voice ballad evoking snow angels. 50 Words for Snow is a collection of deft, original art songs, not grounded jazz, pop, and rock but fusing them into a mélange a la Bush.
When Kate Bush announced her return to the stage after a 35-year absence for 22 performances of the show known as Before the Dawn, tickets were immediately snapped up. Those fans not lucky enough to attend naturally hoped for a document of the production. The 2014 residency was finally released two years later in audio (though, alas, not video) formats in 2016. Its three acts eschewed Bush’s early material, opening with selections from Hounds of Love, The Sensual World, The Red Shoes, and Aerial before devoting one act apiece to Hounds of Love (the full Ninth Wave suite) and Aerial (the complete A Sky of Honey). The highly theatrical Before the Dawn hasn’t been remastered for this reissue series; while the original 2016 master originally released on Concord Records appears in the CD box set, it’s been left off the vinyl collections altogether.
Remastered in Vinyl Box 4 is wholly devoted to the collection that appears as part of CD Box 2: the four-CD or LP The Other Sides (now available as a standalone set). While not a complete account of Bush’s non-album recordings, it’s nonetheless a boon for collectors and fans who have been waiting for such a remastered anthology. (Longtime fans may have many of the dropped tracks on CD via the long out-of-print 1990 box set This Woman’s Work.) Disc 1 has five extended 12-inch mixes, four of which were spun off from Hounds of Love. The fifth, “Experiment IV,” was issued as a single prior to the compilation The Whole Story on which it also appeared. Whereas the 12-inch version is on Disc 2, the new-to-CD video version of “Experiment IV” is among the twenty tracks comprising The Other Side I and II. These discs bring together B-sides, soundtrack selections, and other assorted non-LP sides and remixes originally issued between 1980 and 2012. Most tantalizing is one previously unreleased song, “Humming,” which was recorded in 1975 during The Kick Inside sessions. An apparent tribute to David Bowie, it owes a musical and arrangement debt to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” with its loping country-rock vibe.
The fourth and final disc of The Other Sides affords the opportunity to hear the artist interpreting the songs of other writers including two by Elton John and Bernie Taupin which bookend the disc: a beguiling “Rocket Man” with a world music flavor, and the shimmering “Candle in the Wind.” As Bush’s voice is so intrinsically linked to her own compositions, it’s fascinating to hear her deploy her instrument in a variety of unusual settings. On George and Ira Gershwin’s torchy “The Man I Love,” as produced by George Martin, Bush becomes a jazz age coquette, while on Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” she’s a breathy, sensual chanteuse.
A lovely orchestral reading of the traditional “Mná na hÉirann” (“Women of Ireland”) and a cappella “My Lagan Love,” the latter in English, are both love letters to Irish music; a fine complement is her recording of the English sea shanty “The Handsome Cabin Boy.” The most grandiose track here is the transporting, lavishly-orchestrated “Brazil.” Bush’s rendition of the Ary Barroso classic was introduced on the soundtrack to the film of the same name. Folk-pop hero Donovan joined Kate to sing background vocals on her spectral interpretation of his “Lord of the Reedy River.”
All of the albums and bonus material (save Before the Dawn) has been remastered by James Guthrie and Bush for optimal sound; the vinyl LPs are appropriately quiet, and the CD sound crisp. All of the discs, save those on Aerial, have been newly adorned with labels from Bush’s Fish People imprint, and packaging is top-notch. Each album has a different style of digipak, and all that’s truly missing is a book with liner notes. Lyrics are happily included.
CD Box 2 and Remastered in Vinyl Boxes 3 and 4 bring the Kate Bush story up to date…perhaps for now? It’s impossible to take in the diverse and rich material on these sets and not wonder what she’ll dream up next. Here’s hoping!
CD 1-2: Aerial
CD 3: Director’s Cut
CD 4: 50 Words For Snow
CD 5-7: Before The Dawn (not remastered for this set)
CD 8: 12″ Mixes
CD 9: The Other Side 1
CD 10: The Other Side 2
CD 11: In Others’ Words
LP 1-2: Aerial (EMI KBALP01, 2005)
LP 3-4: Director’s Cut (Fish People FPLP001, 2011)
LP 5-6: 50 Words For Snow (Fish People FPLP007, 2011)
LP 1: 12″ Mixes
LP 2: The Other Side 1
LP 3: The Other Side 2
LP 4: In Others’ Words