You may have heard the increasingly persistent rumours that Kate Bush will do something for the Olympics closing ceremony on Sunday, August 12. Fans have been going mental over it, but if they're anything like me, they'll have mixed feelings about how it all works out. Kate Bush has only performed live a few times after her only tour in 1979. Here are two of her post-1979 performances:
Kate performing "Running Up That Hill" live with David Gilmour in 1987.
While not a perfect performance, this shows a confident artist on top of her game. You wouldn't know that Ms. Bush hadn't toured for a few years. If a performance at the Olympics was as good as this, the only reason a person could have for disliking it was if they're not into Kate Bush's music, and that's fine. Some people just can't be helped.
Kate performing "Comfortably Numb" with David Gilmour in 2002.
This is not a confident artist on top of her game. It isn't, by far, the worst performance of Comfortably Numb; I like it better than the performances by Bob Wyatt and Bob Geldof that have made it onto David Gilmour DVDs, especially because Kate keeps the original phrasing intact. But it is a hesitant, strained performance. Compared with how David Bowie made this song his own when he was the guest, it falls far short of that.
While the latest live clip is not bad, it's not at the level you need to be when you're performing in front of a billion people. However, if Kate can rise to the level of the first clip, that would make a great impression on at least half of them.
Anyway... the rumours keep changing by the hour. Kate may choose to lip-synch (the organisers apparently prefer this for all artists as they want a glitch-free ceremony), there may be a videotaped performance or (the latest rumour has it) she may not perform at all. We won't know until it actually happens.
August 13, 2012: and now we know. For the benefit of those poor benighted sods who had to watch the ceremony on NBC, Kate Bush did not appear in person, but a new mix of Running Up That Hill, with a rerecorded vocal, was played over a complex dance routine/sports montage. NBC, apparently cut it, along with Ray Davies' appearance, for an ad.
Kate Bush covers have been turning up on talent shows every once in a while. This is the best one I've seen in a talent show context yet, even in its abridged form clocking in at 2:09 including the surrounding video jingles. In fact, it got praise from Kate Bush herself, saying she found it "really moving".
With only three days to go before the Dutch release of Kate Bush's next album, 50 Words for Snow, I'd better hurry up and get this review out. Seven months is plenty of time to write a considered review; I've played the album or its individual songs about 20 times during that period, which is about 15 times more than Robert Christgau gives an album, and 18 times more than some schlub who just has to churn out copy for a music rag. 20 times more, in some cases.
And in the age of Spotify, that's what you need! There is no point in anyone writing a review based on two or three listens when you can just link the reader to the Spotify URL. Indeed I've already heard most of 50 Words for Snow through the NPR First Listen stream. For a quick first impression, the album itself will do quite nicely, thank you very much. But living with the songs for months and giving a considered opinion on them, is still useful.
Let it be known than that I've found Director's Cut alternately uplifting and infuriating. I would hate it on one listen, then put it on again a day later and find it not so bad, then put it on again and hate it again. Over time, most of the songs grew on me, but some utterly fell flat over time.
The fact that these are songs I've lived with in their original form for much longer doesn't help. Every change in nuance gets filtered through the comparison with the originals. Where Kate's voice is a bit weaker, where a favorite bit of instrumentation is missing, the new version is the one that suffers. Only over time did I find that stripping down the old layers of instruments gave the remaining ones more time to shine, and that the vocal changes, while sometimes highlighting a loss of range and power compared to the original versions of the songs from 1989 and 1993, were largely well-considered and the work of an artist very much in control of what she wants out of her instrument.
That isn't to say it always works. "Flower of the Mountain" continues to suffer from the comparison with the original "The Sensual World" - the lyrics Kate wrote when she wasn't allowed to use the Molly Bloom soliloquy in 1989 fit and flowed better, her voice was (not to put too fine a point on it) sexier and the production didn't have a hair out of place. On "Deeper Understanding", Kate articulates like K9 from the classic Doctor Who series and the track doesn't get off the ground until after the vocal part is over. And let's not get started on "Rubberband Girl": there is a decent musical jam hidden under the mumbled vocals, with drummer Steve Gadd and bass player Danny Thompson giving it their best, but it's hardly audible under the muffled production.
The rest of the album, though, is pretty good, and once I made an abbreviated playlist of it without the songs that didn't work, I found myself playing it regularly over a sustained period of time. "Lily" sounds less urgent but more claustrophobic and builds up its energy slowly over the course of the track. "The Red Shoes" now sounds like something you actually want to dance to. "Never be Mine" has layers of artifice stripped from it, all the way down to simplifying the chorus. It wears its emotion on its sleeve instead of dancing around it. "Top of the City" and "And So Is Love" are more subtly reworked and are musically hard to tell apart from the originals (even after seven months!), but do appear to have a little more breathing room to them.
"This Woman's Work", one of three completely re-recorded songs, is a completely different song now. With its chiming, reverberating, minimal keyboard accompaniment and desperate, yearning vocals it sounds bleak, raw like an open wound. "Moments of Pleasure", on the other hand, has been changed to be more uplifting - compared to the original, it is like a scar that has healed up. Kate's vocal on this new version is jazzier, and looser, sounding like she's singing for the joy of singing. These two tracks must have been where things started to fall into place for the next album. The same glee can be found in "Song of Solomon", my favorite from the album. It's lost a little in subtlety, but it's gained in momentum, with Kate pushing herself through an abrupt sonic shift in the bridge to that raucous "Wop-bam-boom". Here, Kate's aged voice is sexy, succeeding where "Flower of the Mountain" didn't do the trick.
Taken as a whole, Director's Cut is a fine record in its own right that has proven to be a grower. I now rate it above Aerial, reversing a twenty-five-year trend in which each new Kate Bush album did less for me than the previous one (to be fair, she only released three albums during that period). But did it need to be made at all?
Back in April/May, that question was a real poser. Knowing what we know now, it's easier to answer. Director's Cut was a dry run, a test for Kate's new studio setup and record label. It also scratched an itch that needed to be dealt with before she could move on to the next record. From interviews, it turns out that Director's Cut was very difficult to make, but once Kate was done, the next album was very easy. Recording this album jumpstarted the creative process and resulted in a new album within a year. As new Kate Bush records are normally so rare, that alone should make it worthwhile. That the actual album is listenable at all is a bonus - that 75% of it is this good is a blesssing.
Trying something different: I got Spotify back in April and it's really helped open up my listening habits. I've since become a paying subscriber, because even though I only have it on my computer at home, it's helped me find new (to me) music and touch base with old favorites, while keeping cost down compared to buying records.
Spotify has playlist sharing as a feature, and I've enjoyed some blogs that use sharing to spread, such as Spotify Classical. I think even more than YouTube, this feature will change how people write about music, with 'music criticism as consumer advice' becoming completely obsolete, and 'music commentary as swapping notes' replacing it. So heres an attempt, and if it's not too much work I'll do it every week or so. Here are some songs that caught my attention in the past few weeks.
This is the playlist and because I don't expect everyone to have Spotify, I'll try to find alternate links for the songs as much as possible.
1. Nicole Atkins: Brooklyn's On Fire off Neptune City, 2007.
The opening bars of this, after the instrumental intro, just fill me with joy every time I hear them. While I'm still gushing over those chanted phrases, the song develops into a lush 6/8 melody with even lusher strings. And what a voice. The one thing I am not sold on is the lead guitar, but I can ignore it easily.
2. Kate Bush: The Song of Solomon off Director's Cut, 2011
The second song on Director's Cut, and the second song I ever heard on Spotify as the main trigger for me getting Spotify was to hear this album the moment it was available. As long-term readers may have guessed from the lack of a review of the album, I'm lukewarm about Director's Cut as a whole. Some of the songs work, some don't. "Song of Solomon" is one of the songs that do deliver on the album's promise: Kate has succesfully shaken the cobwebs off the original production and added gorgeous, sexy new vocals and understated live percussion. If all of the album was this good, I'd be all over it.
3. Unicorn Ensemble: Nevestinko Oro off The Glory of Early Music, 1997.
This instrumental tune is the traditional dance that Kate Bush based "The Sensual World"/"Flower of the Mountain" on, and it's quite gorgeous in its own right. The Glory of Early Music is a Naxos compilation of music from before the era of the Classical composers, and that colours this interpretation. The version in the Youtube vid is the same one, even if credited differently.
4. The Damned: Grimly Fiendish off Phantasmagoria, 1985.
(This is an actual video, so I'm showing it larger)
I saw this on Shakesville and loved it from the opening bars on. I did find myself checking the video to see where Captain Sensible was, before concluding that evidently he wasn't on it. That shows how little I knew about the Damned: I had some inkling that they'd had a bunch of line-up changes, splits and reunions, some of which did and some which did not include the Captain. I also knew that they were one of the legends of punk rock, that they'd changed styles a lot, and that they'd made quite a few albums that didn't live up to the group's reputation. But I was fuzzy on the details, and hadn't actually heard much of their music. After hearing this, I'm trying very hard to catch up.
To some people, this early goth hit off 1985's Phantasmagoria will be among the records that don't live up to the group's reputation, but I can't get enough of it. Musically, it sounds like a cross between Adam Ant and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, with harpsichords for extra colour. The delivery is confident, like a group on top of its game, and the singer's voice just fits. Phantasmagoria as a whole doesn't convince me yet, but this single is one I can listen to over and over again, and have.
5. Martyn Joseph: Giant Panda's Giant Thoughts off The Wildlife Album, 2005
I found the The Wildlife Album compilation while looking for Roy Harper songs on Spotify. The Wildlife Album is an acoustic, singer-songwriter oriented charity compilation including some big names such as Harper, Bert Jansch and Jan Akkerman, some second-tier names like Gordon Giltrap and Steve Ashley, and some artists that I hadn't heard of before at all. Martyn Joseph is in the latter category for me, and stood out because of his bluesy, tasty guitar playing. Nothing special, just very well done. Oh, and the lyrics made me laugh with their panda's-eye-view. I could not find this one on YouTube, sorry.
6. Movits!: Äppelknyckarjazz off Äppelknyckarjazz, 2008
My old friend DFG sent me this and I loved it at once. Sweden's Movits! Seem to be the missing link between Caro Emerald and Kaizers Orchestra - more polished than the latter, more edgy than the former.
7. Janelle Monáe: Tightrope featuring Big Boi, off The ArchAndroid, 2010 Video here, embedding disabled
Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon repeatedly praised Janelle Monáe's concept album The ArchAndroid as the best album of 2010. I don't know if it's quite that good; it's not exactly genre-defying and the album drags a bit in the second half. But knowing me, the time to ask me what the best album of 2010 was will be around 2015. The ArchAndroid is good enough, though, to break my resistance to contemporary R&B, and this track in particular, with its funky beat, smooth bass line and Monáe's vocals, is one of the things that have been bringing joy to my life lately.
8. Corvus Corax: Satyricon, off Seikilos, 2002
Another band that I've known about for years now, but never got around to digging into. Aggie's seen these guys live in Germany and reports that they're very good and entertaining live. I now have a Spotify playlist for this genre of music, containing about 200 tracks. This instrumental is one of their most popular and it did jump out at me at first listening. I expect there'll be more of this type of music in Saturday Spotify posts if I do more of them.
9. Happy Rhodes: Ra is a Busy God, off Many Worlds Are Born Tonight, 1998
(Video is not the studio recording, but a live recording from one of Happy Rhodes' house concerts. These have probably reached more people than the concerts originally did).
I purchased about 60 Happy Rhodes tracks in one swell foop from both iTunes and Spotify, after doing price comparisons for each album to get the cheapest combination. This did result in me getting Happy Rhodes overload, and I still have a hard time identifying which of these 60 tracks are my favorites. This track from Many Worlds Are Born Tonight, her only album that charted, is a contender. But it doesn't really matter anyway, because what I love about Happy Rhodes is her voice. I don't really care what she sings, as long as I can listen to her singing.
10. Siousxie and the Banshees: Cities in Dust, off Tinderbox, 1986.
For years I had this mentally misfiled as being by Sinéad O'Connor. Upon hearing it again, it doesn't sound as big as I remembered it, but I also find it a lot more enjoyable now that I've stopped fetishising guitar-based rock like I used to. The mid-eighties generally were a much better musical period than I remembered them being.
11. Amy Winehouse: Rehab off Back to Black, 2006.
You know this. You've probably heard it enough to get sick of it. I for one am not sick of it yet. After Amy Winehouse was found dead in her hotel room, one of my Facebook friends referred to it as an "unintentionally ironic anthem to denial and an unexamined life" (among other unkind words), which did not make sense to me until I realised that what he actually meant, whether he realised it or not, was that "Rehab" was a completely flawless creation: a work of art so perfect that all the self-observation, self-reflection, and self-interrogation that went into making it have become invisible. What a compliment to pay to an artist on the occasion of her death! The song also has a good beat to it.
(This was written over the course of an afternoon inbetween doing about 500 other things, because there are two people in the house who are sick and neither of them is me. Perhaps I'm better off posting vids to Facebook/Waffle in drips and drabs like that Facebook friend does)
The two covers below were songs I could not find on Youtube, Myspace or Soundcloud, so I'm doing the next best thing: posting them as Spotify links. If you don't have Spotify yet, you will have to get an account and install the client on your computer or mobile device, and you only get limited free service, so it's a little more awkward than using those other services. But for checking out new music, I've found Spotify very worthwhile to use, and may even upgrade to the paid service eventually.
Wow by Liza Lee is a jazzy cover of the Kate Bush classic from Lionheart. I like it, right until the point where the chorus starts; Lee's interpretation of the chorus lacks expression and sounds rushed. It's like she was at home with the verses but did not know what to do with the choruses. I still bought it off iTunes, as a) it's interesting; and b) part the proceeds of the record it's on, Anima, go to charity. Lee, who had a stroke at an early age, is dedicating the record to stroke research.
Running Up That Hill by Kevin Slick was one of my favourite versions of 'Running Up That Hill' when I started the series, and I was very disappointed that I couldn't find it on YouTube. After hearing too many stripped down versions of 'Running up That Hill', I'm not quite as enthusiastic about it anymore, but it's still a nice version for those long, hot, lazy summer nights where you also dig out the Fleet Foxes albums.
Now to find the Danielle French version somewhere. That still is a solid favorite.
'Be Kind to My Mistakes' is a bit of a rarity now. It was originally part of the soundtrack for the Nicholas Roeg film Castaway which has not been commercially available for years and has never had a DVD release, to the best of my knowledge. It was included in the boxed set This Woman's Work, which has not been commercially available for years, but can be found on the used record market and through the Bittorrents. Though recorded after the release of Hounds of Love, it was tacked on to the 1997 reissue of that album as a bonus track, but that version is also no longer currently available. The current Fish People reissue of Hounds of Love has no bonus tracks. For the purpose of keeping score, the cover version is tagged as a song from This Woman's Work.
Er... yeah. So my original plan was to follow up the famous Kate Bush covers, the ones by Maxwell, the Futureheads, Placebo, what have you, with an encore round. I was going to return to some artists featured earlier that had done multiple Kate Bush covers and select another one that they had done.
Then over the weekend, I got so busy with working on my comics that I just forgot, and from Monday through Wednesday, my day job kicked my ass so hard I'm going to be reeling from it through the Ascension Day weekend, and I was happy to just have dinner and crash every day. But I have a day off, and the Kate Bush and Homeground news and information forum just alerted me to this, which is rather nice.
A nice electronic version of 'Suspended in Gaffa' from The Dreaming by Chrome Canyon, bringing the original song up to date with some interesting vocal work. It's in the spirit of Director's Cut, which I will review any week now, and is apparently released in honour of Director's Cut. I like it. A lot.
I'm winding down these series by finally featuring the Kate Bush covers that were big successes in their own right, because I want to spend less time YouTube-surfing and more time working on my art. Which is what I did today, and I almost forgot to actually write a blog post featuring Placebo's version of 'Running Up That Hill'. So, here it is, and now I'm going back to working on art.
OK... OK, I'll actually say something about it. It sounds like a Placebo song. It's neither a slavish imitation of Kate's sound nor a generic solo cover with acoustic guitar or piano. It's good if you're into this sort of thing; I'm not, but I have to commend this group for making this, the most-covered Kate Bush song, their own.
(Because I'm winding down this series of Kate Bush covers of the day, I am finally posting the ones that I believe everyone already knows.)
Now this one I know is famous! The Futureheads pretty much made this their breakthrough song, and their high energy treatment with added guitar chords is still one of my personal favourites. While sounding very different from the original with its cello drone and pounding beat, it still manages to convey the original's giddy excitement if not its claustrophobic anxiety. Yes, the original communicated those two emotions at the same time, and this one only communicates one. It's still plenty effective at that.
Live video from July 2006. The single was from February of 2005, which I'm using as its official date for tagging purposes.
Like I wrote yesterday, I've started simply running the "famous" Kate Bush cover versions that everyone knows, because I need to cut down on my YouTube surfing in search of Kate Bush covers. Actually, though, I'm not that sure if this qualifies as a famous cover. I thought everyone knew this one, but maybe I just heard it for the first time at a time when lotsa people I knew were pointing it out simultaneously.
The Puppini Sisters do "Wuthering Heights" in the style of the Andrews Sisters and... er, that's just about it. I love it, but there's not a lot more to say about it. There were some other YouTube videos showing them do the song live, complete with the dance routine including the windmilling gestures, but I picked this one with the studio recording because it had much better sound. If you like this recording, do seek out those live vids for yourself though.