At this point, I'm deliberately searching for cover versions to complete the full set of songs from Hounds of Love/The Ninth Wave. I'll be honest: I don't like the distorted and rather strained lead vocal in this one, and I don't think this adds a lot to the original version.
But what can you do with "The Morning Fog", really? It is the last song on the original album, the lollypop after the emotional rollercoaster ride of The Ninth Wave. Its function is to bring the listener back to earth and the means it uses to achieve that end are fairly basic: "The Morning Fog" goes is one of Kate Bush's most minimal compositions prior to 50 Words for Snow: just a drum beat, fretless bass and acoustic guitar over which Kate declares her love for everyone in her life. It's beautiful, but it's not intended to stand alone.
And boy does this ever stand alone! There's hardly any context to this at all. The YouTube upload is by a third party, who has posted a small number of unrelated videos over the past five years. It has only a static image. Sometree is almost certainly the German band described in this rather rambling Last.fm bio. I probably should have heard of them before, because they've been around for a while and have several albums out. As it is, like I said, I only found this track by specifically for it. Last.fm members have played "The Morning Fog" twice in the past six months. It seems the group has a following and probably deserved better than to fade away like they apparently did.
Anyway. A cover of "The Morning Fog" exists. I hope I can find one that I like better though.
Some ideas are obvious in hindsight. Translating "Mother Stands for Comfort" into Chinese is one of them - it has always sounded vaguely East Asian to me, anyway. This is apparently an all-YouTube collaboration that took two years to complete.
"Mother Stands for Comfort" was the only track on Side A of Hounds of Love that wasn't a single, yet multiple cover versions exist. Previous versions of "Mother Stands for Comfort": Jane Birkin; Michael Aaron.
Covers of "Under Ice" are just like busses: you think they don't exist, then suddenly two show up all at once. This version by Swedish singer Alice Genberg updates the original with a 2013-era sound palette but doesn't otherwise do an awful lot with it. That's not necessarily a bad thing though. Genberg's voice adds a more dreamlike tone to it.
I do think I could complete an Hounds of Love/The Ninth Wave in cover versions, including some bonus tracks. I still need "The Big Sky", "Hello Earth" and "The Morning Fog", and I'm pretty sure Theo Bleckmann did "Hello Earth", as it was the title of his Kate Bush inspired album/show.
Oh my God, this one made my jaw drop. "Waking the Witch" in its original form on Hounds of Love is a completely artificial construction, all Fairlight and multi-tracking and slowed down tape. Then in 2014, I stumble upon this, uploaded to YouTube while I was not working on this series: one man with an acoustic guitar and live loops, performing it live in a single take. It's stripped down, but it's still as eerie, even if it takes a smidgeon longer to get to the point. I'm in awe.
The Little Unsaid has also performed Running Up That Hill. Like everyone else, but I might come back to it later anyway.
I've featured Theo Bleckmann before in this series, very early on, but it's been three years, and as he did a whole project and album around the songs of Kate Bush, it was inevitable that he'd get featured again. This live recording combines "And Dream of Sheep" and "Under Ice" in a similar atmospheric form as his version of Running Up That Hill featured as the thirteenth entry in this series.
Via The Homeground and Katebush News and Info Forum.
Of the 11 songs on the Hounds of Love album proper, 789 have been performed live by artists who aren't Kate Bush (only one has been performed live by Kate herself, but that may change). I am still looking for "The Big Sky", "Under Ice" (see tomorrow's entry), "Waking the Witch" (see awesome entry for Monday), "Watching You Without Me", and "The Morning Fog" (see update for next Thursday).
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)