Review Summary: A slightly throwaway album that never quite escapes its own obvious limitations.
There can't be many better ways to diffuse excitement about a new album than realizing you already know all the songs on it; it's remarkable how quickly the buzz about new material dissipates once you find out that it's actually a covers album, a live album, or worst of all, an album of re-recordings. Director's Cut
is the latter.
In fairness to Bush, it's crystal clear that this is no cash-cow or vanity project. Director's Cut
draws all of its material from her two most maligned albums, The Red Shoes
and The Sensual World
- this is all about re-writing history, asking her audience to find something of worth in two albums that were written off by so many. So the motive behind Director's Cut
makes perfect sense, at least. What doesn't make sense is the way the album pans out; it's a bizarre listening experience, because the tracks that should be highlights are flops, and the ones that should be poor are great.
Take, for instance, "Deeper Understanding". I imagine that if you'd taken a straw poll of Kate Bush's fans and asked them which songs from the two source albums they'd like to see reworked, "Deeper Understanding" would finish near the top of the list, perhaps even at the very top. It's the story of the song that makes it such an appealing one to rework in 2011 - its message of a man falling in love with a machine to the exclusion of his friends and family has gained more and more relevance with each passing year. Shame, then, that the version here is such a clunker. Plenty of critics and fans have already pinned the blame entirely on the heavily autotuned hook (sung by her son Bertie), which has sparked a debate about the value of the instrument itself - it's arrived at the point where, if you read something like the comments section under The Guardian's review of this album, you'd be led to believe that every disgruntled Kate Bush fan just hates autotune as a whole, and every supporter of autotune hates Kate Bush (and by implication, any music that's 'real' or 'organic' or whatever bullshi
t word your average old person uses to justify their snobbery). All of this talk clouds the real issue with the song, which is that it's just not very good from the ground up - remove the autotune and it still wouldn't work. It has to be said, though, that the hook is seriously grating, and the autotune is so overbearing that it feels like it's being used for the sake of a fetish rather than a musical device; the '00s equivalent of a wanky Malmsteem-esque guitar solo in a power ballad. And I say this as somebody that quite likes T-Pain.
In direct contrast to that is "This Woman's Work". As the only song from either The Sensual World
or The Red Shoes
to enjoy any sort of fame or lasting acclaim, it's probably one of the last songs she should have touched - why risk ruining it and casting a black mark over not just this album, but also The Sensual World
? And yet, the version here is an improvement on the original - it's much more stark and sparse in its arrangement, and Kate's vocal performance is even more desolate. You wouldn't think that taking a song so closely associated with child abuse (thanks to the NSPCC adopting it as their theme tune) would be improved by becoming even more despressing, but it is; when the first chorus is over and the song slides through a few airy arpeggios, it's magical.
Yet it's just one moment of magic on an album that, for the most part, sorely lacks it. This is certainly a good album, but it's good for unexciting reasons - when it comes to re-recordings, there are only two questions you can ask, and that's whether the songs are better this time around and whether they've been put together in a way that flows like an album should. The answer to both questions here is ultimately 'yes, just about', so it's hard to complain too much. Yet the appeal of a new Kate Bush album lies in the discovery, the way it encourages you to immerse yourself in it and discover all its secrets. Director's Cut
doesn't do that, and nor can it - if you've heard the albums it's drawing its material from, you've already got all of those secrets figured out. Ultimately, that renders this album as a novelty of sorts, a release that should only have a footnote in the story of her career rather than its own chapter.