Mid-20s Malaise

Struggling against the inevitable since 1986!

Grace Jones

The other week, I won tickets to go and see Grace Jones. Woo hoo! I’d been thinking of going, but the $150 tickets were a bit of a turn-off.

I’d seen her a few years previously, performing at the Sydney Festival First Night. (For non-Sydney readers, the First Night is the opening night of the Sydney Festival, the city’s biggest arts and theatre event. A lot of the artists perform for free in the city’s thoroughfares and parks – Martin Place, Hyde Park, the Governor’s Domain – and it turns into a big street party!) She was wonderful and, as a friend pointed out, danced just like me – all limbs and wild enthusiasm. Her core costume consisted of high heels, fishnet stockings, a black corset and a black g-string! To that, she added sculptural hats, billowing capes and other costumes to dramatise each song, and went up and down and around on a hydraulic stage.

The hydraulics were missed at the Enmore Theatre last Tuesday, and she completely changed outfits several times. This meant longer changes, but more dramatic costumes. Below is one of my favourites. She sang one song (Sunrise Sunset) while wearing it and sitting on a stool, a spotlight on just her face. Then she got up and swayed in it while she sang La Vie En Rose. Towards the end, she began spinning, revealing the fact that the dress was just strapped to her front: her back and buttocks were bare, and she looked amazing for 62!

Other costumes included: a tribal-print bodysuit with a butt-length white headdress; a black-and-red PVC catsuit with a dozen whips attached to it; a beaded skirt in the colours of the Jamaican flag (which also showed off her butt as she flicked it around); a black-and-gold skull mask; diamante-studded disco pants and a matching hat that acted like a disco ball when hit by a laser.

It was a really creative production. Not all of the experiments worked, but I liked the way she played around with the conventions of a stage show. For example, she had a video screen, but for one song, she danced behind it like a wayang kulit (Indonesian shadow puppet). The theatricality was often broken, though, when she’d continue chatting to us as she was off-stage, changing. And goodness me, she was all kinds of crazy, and full of who-knows-what substances. Lonh, meandering stories, told in her deep accented voice and punctuated with belly laughs. It felt a bit like a drunk aunt having a conspiratorial chat at Christmastime.

Anyway, great show. Below is the video clip for Williams’ Blood, one of my favourite tracks from her latest album, Hurricane. It’s made up of footage from the tour, which gives you a bit of an idea of the craziness.

Filed under: music

Ugh

So, you may or may not know that I love Kate Bush. Love. I’ve learned the choreography from her video clips, trawled record stores for old vinyl singles. (This was in the olden days, before Limewire and iTunes made finding b-sides easy.)I’ve written essays on her, read books on her.

However, I understand why some people don’t. One friend described her work as “exhausting”, and it’s pretty apt: with her art school aesthetic, her busy sonic production, her earnest lyrics, she can come off like an irritatingly precocious teenager. But I think she’s brilliant. I read an article today which described Kraftwerk as having “basically invented the future”. That’s quite an apt description, but I think Kate Bush really saw where things were going. While Kraftwerk and the New Romantics who followed were busy fiddling with synthesisers and drum machines, Bush was merging computer-generated music with organic sounds. She stretched traditional instruments like piano and even her voice to their extremes, foreseeing the way pop music would evolve after the plasticity of the 1980s faded away.

Anyway, nowhere was her vision of the future more apparent than on Deeper Understanding a track from her 1989 album The Sensual World. In that song, the protagonist “turned to [her] computer, like a friend”, predicting the rise of the MySpace generation. Now, Deeper Understanding is the first single from the forthcoming Director’s Cut, an album on which Bush recontextualises songs from The Sensual World and its follow-up The Red Shoes, while keeping elements of the original recording. I approached this project with caution: Bush has never been one for looking back, and these two albums are probably the weakest in her ouvre. That said, they’re also the most in need of an overhaul.

So here’s the new Deeper Understanding.

If you listened to it, you will be aware that it is terrible.

In 1985, Bush rerecorded her hit 1978 single, Wuthering Heights, because its production sounded dated, and yet here, she inexplicably keeps that elastic 1980s bassline. She’s also kept the dial-tone of a modem, a long-dead sound in the mix, and added bursts of static, a remnant of analogue technologies. Catch up, woman; it’s the twenty-first century!

Bush used to do incredible things with her voice¬†(on one of my favourite tracks,¬†Leave It Open, Bush recorded a phrase, played it backwards, learned to sing it backwards, recorded that and played it backwards, resulting in a very wobbly effect); now, it sounds like she just selected the “underwater” effect on ProTools. She stripped out the otherwordly vocals of the Trio Bulgarka, a Bulgarian folk group she admittedly overused on these albums, and replaced them with a fucking harmonica solo. Her voice sounds haggard, too: of course, her voice has aged (it was beautifully mellow on 2005’s Aerial), but this performance gives none of the charisma we’ve come to expect from her. It sounds like she recorded the song sitting in bed.

So my hopes are low, but any Kate Bush album is better than none at all…right?

N.B. If you haven’t encountered this woman, here she is at her most magical. Ignore the dodgy video clip, and hear the warmth Bush brings to this ballad constructed around nothing but a simple drum pattern and synth line.

Filed under: music