Mid-20s Malaise

Struggling against the inevitable since 1986!


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

3 Responses

  1. The new song doesn’t do much for me at the moment, though many of her songs are growers. Like you, I LOVE KATE BUSH. Running Up That Hill is a particular favourite. I know you say the clip looks dodgy, but when I was 19 or 20 when it came out, it was pretty amazing. It was also great to have some experimental pop that you could get into on the dance floor. Army Dreamers, Women of Ireland and The Dreaming are probably my all time faves, and I still listen to the B-side of Hounds Of Love and almost wet my pants it’s so good.

    • Liam says:

      Well, the clip doesn’t look dodgy to me, but some good advice a friend gave me when delving into her back catalogue was to not be alarmed by the 80s sheen covering some of her work. I first heard Running Up That Hill in 2003, when it (and I!) was 17, and it still sounded amazing, like it had been beamed from the future!

  2. Ian Higham says:

    I made all my university friends learn the “Wuthering Heights” choreography freshman year. There are now a significant number of George Washington University gays & hags who know just how to twirl their arm when they hear the word “wuthering”

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