The Red Shoes

Kate Bush

1993: Columbia CD 53737

  1. Rubberband Girl
  2. And So Is Love
  3. Eat the Music
  4. Moments of Pleasure
  5. The Song of Solomon
  6. Lily
  7. The Red Shoes
  8. Top of the City
  9. Constellation of the Heart
  10. Big Stripey Lie
  11. Why Should I Love You?
  12. You’re the One

I couldn’t write about this one until I had heard Bush’s 2011 re-release of the album in its analogue-tape-backups form. Mostly my hesitation about writing about it was based on the fact that I just didn’t like it much overall despite the presence of some exquisite moments: I’ve never been able to reconcile those aspects. But the re-release (as part of the Collector’s Edition of Director’s Cut) finally gave me an occasion to really listen to the whole thing through as if with fresh ears.

I still think it’s a very flawed album, but thanks to the backup-tapes version I can now discern just where and why I find it flawed. More importantly, I now enjoy it more because of that version: the beauties of the original album are more sonically rich. Bush is completely correct in the dissatisfaction she describes regarding the original release’s digital-recording sound—it really was far too “sharp” in that sense, on the ear—but on the other hand the re-release suffers from some murky high-range territory (not as bad as on Director’s Cut itself, however). While the tape versions lack a certain crispness that one is accustomed to hearing from CD releases, they have MUCH more bass power, much deeper sound, and above all much more “present” Kate. In 1993 it sounded like a new album; in this edition, it sounds like a continuation of The Sensual World, which I loved.

My impressions of this album are somewhat colored by the ill-advised film Bush made at the time (The Line, the Cross, and the Curve), which was, well, pretty bad. I remember the moment when Miranda Richardson’s character said “she caaaaaaan’t!” in one particularly drawn-out bad stretch, and the audience at our screening of the film finally gave up and laughed at how bad it was, even some of the Kate Bush fans.

Rubberband Girl
I loved it back in 1993 and I still love it. The lyrics are a great reinforcement sometimes when I need to remind myself that I need to allow for psychological rebound in my journey through life and my dealings with others. The backup-tapes version (BTV hereafter) seriously beefs up the bass! Spare yourself the video, however. <yawn>

And So Is Love
Sad and beautiful and sad. Lovely, profound, personal, and universally shareable. On Director’s Cut Bush tweaked it with one significant word change—“sad,” describing life, became “sweet.”

Eat the Music
Ya know what? This interminable track has never done a damned thing for me. It’s tedious and uninteresting. Let’s move on.

Moments of Pleasure
Man, what a weeper. And if you cried upon hearing the original version, double your supply of Kleenex before listening to the BTV, because Michael Kamen’s orchestration absolutely RULES the latter. I don’t know of another song in which Bush has so relentlessly jerked our tear-ducts, “Watching You Without Me” being so much more abstract and removed. For bonus points, get another box of Kleenex and listen to her version of it on Director’s Cut, where she ends with not Bill but Michael…and does so without any of Michael’s contribution present. I can only speculate about that rather heavy nuance’s rationale.

The Song of Solomon
When I first heard this track, I hadn’t read the Book of Solomon in the Bible; since then, I have done so…and I still have no sense that this song represents it at all. It seems to extrapolate, at best, some aspects of the Song of Solomon; what I find, rather, is that it’s an interesting song that is better appreciated on its own without the Solomon references. This is probably a failing on my part.

This is a tough track to enjoy: on one hand, it has lyrics and vocal performance which should intrigue and which imply fascinating depth, but on the other hand the instrumental track is ponderous, almost monotonous, in effect, and goes nowhere. What’s behind it all? I have no idea, but it IS interesting. I find that I always sing along with the chorus, but I think that’s because of Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni novels, which introduced me to the four-archangel-stations concept and that of Uriel. Would it stand on its own as just a song? Not really, I think.

The Red Shoes
As long as I can disassociate this track from the aforementioned film, I truly enjoy it. The rhythm and pace are infectious, the structure is compelling, the storyline is just enough to get the point across without belaboring anything, and the energy is STRONG. If you take it as a representation of the film, it’s probably not great; if you treat it as a Kate Bush song referencing a known popular-culture identity such as Houdini or Citizen Kane, it’s just dandy.

Top of the City
A Kate Bush classic—pure and poignant. The BTV has a little more resonant “oomph,” especially on the chorus arrivals, which only makes it more of a tearjerker. In my mind I tend to unintentionally populate it with images from Annie Lennox’s “Precious” video of the previous year, with Lennox in raccoon-eye makeup (in one persona) as a half-human, half-pigeon incarnation. Bush’s choruses blow the roof off, taking us up into the big sky astonishingly and then eagle-eyeing the cause of all the drama, and I am just in awe of her for having given us this jewel to study.

Constellation of the Heart
It…just…goes…on…forever…. I wish I could be more positive about this track, but it makes its point soon enough and then repeats that damned instrumental loop seemingly endlessly while a few additional lyric ideas are explored atop it; it never develops. That is not a formula for a good song.

Big Stripey Lie
This one remains a big question-mark to me. I don’t actually dislike it, because the lyrics and the clunky sonic grab-bag of the instrumental track do intrigue me somewhat, but DAMN it’s some weird shit. And, perhaps more importantly, in the end it just seems kind of pointless. My impressions of it were only underscored by hearing the BTV, where it was somewhat less enjoyable than the original was, somehow. When Bush “sings” the line “sometimes they blow trumpets,” it sounds like such a throwaway stopgap that I usually laugh.

Why Should I Love You?
Hated it in 1993; hate it now. This sounded like Kate doing an extended guest appearance on someone else’s song. I just don’t like Prince, nor his music, and although I couldn’t say this was representative of those, it CERTAINLY wasn’t Kate Bush’s music I was hearing. There are interesting threads of lyrics in the verses, albeit not terribly profound at times, but then the choruses come crashing in with inane irrelevance. A lot of work obviously went into this track, and it all came out like sausage meat.

You’re the One
While I wouldn’t call this a great Kate Bush song, because it’s not particularly quirky or otherwise Bush-stamped, it *is* a beautiful song which solidly and beautifully expresses a sentiment I suspect nearly everybody has had—that of intense lingering affection after a romantic breakup. Hearing Bush sing it just nails that feeling, and she does it terribly superbly. I mean, it hurts to hear her sing this, because we’ve all been there, haven’t we? The BTV completely redeems the original recording’s flaws (aside from the pitch-swooping synth element): the organ sound is now a rich spine for the song, there’s a clear distinction between the two “voices” at the end (one intimate/vulnerable, the other manic/desperate), and it finally gets the immediacy and tenderness of the in-person vocals to last to the end of the album instead of sounding like some thrash-out jam session dragging on. Regardless of the version, “Sugar…? Honey…?” packs some serious, almost scary punch.

On the whole, this album doesn’t quite “arrive”—some tracks are interesting, and some are downright magical, but the ones which fail drag the rest down with them to a level of dissatisfaction which lingers at the end (despite the actual closing track’s power).