Stan Deely on The Red Shoes
KATE BUSH – THE RED SHOES
I think I’ve had a cassette of this knocking about since around 2010 or thereabouts but only listened to it a couple of times.
On giving it a proper listen I thought “I like this” I like the more laid back, slightly maudlin nature of much of the album, I like the production – to me it sounds less 80’s and in your face and a bit more mellow. It’s a bit long at 55 minutes but that’s okay.
I made the mistake of having a quick peek at Graeme Thomsons ’Under the Ivy’ biography in the library (I was planning to save it as a treat for when I had finished the series of reviews) to find out that a) it is regarded as the runt of her litter (which I kind of knew already) and b) To find out he doesn’t really rate the album. I read his criticisms which didn’t make me reconsider but made my doubt my judgement a little bit.
Anyway, here’s a bit of what I gleaned from Thomson. When starting on the album there were initially plans to tour again so some of the songs were written with this in mind and the plan was to record this one quickly. However this didn’t happen and the recording process turned long and difficlult. Kates mother died during the recording process, setting Kate back a bit, and there was also the loss of a few key members of her team during this period..
Eventually released in 1993. .I think the initial reception was favourable and the album was well reviewed but sales were down compared to the last two.
Kate came up with RUBBERBAND GIRL at the start of the recording sessions and unlike the rest of the album it was written and recorded quickly. Continues the tradition of strident album openers that were also released as single. It seems a manifesto of resilience which is possibly wishful thinking on Kate’s part. Starting off fairly conventional it gets a bit wacky – horn lines that sounds like synths and Kate doing her an Ofra Haza style counter melody. Doesn’t really go anyway but a satisfying groove. Sets me in mind of the Talking Heads of Speaking in Tongues.
AND SO IS LOVE.starts in a minor key. It’s stripped back and down beat. Kate sounds intimate. Organ by Gary Brooker and ‘tasteful’ guitar by Eric Clapton. I’m not a fan of Clapton, but disagreeing with Thomson, I think it sounds okay and suits the song. The stripped back arrangement foregrounds Kate’s vocal. I prefer her voice in these mid period albums to the more histrionic style she could slip into on earlier albums. Another groove. Less going on than in previous work which suits me. I can see why long term fans might not be impressed but it ticks my boxes.
Another change next with curveball EAT THE MUSIC – a feelgood calypso – who saw that coming? Not as authentic as Paul Simon’s forays into South American music this Latino pop conconction reminds me more of those cheesy 80s bandwagon jumping groups – Modern Romance (formerly the Leighton Buzzards) or Matt Bianco. She could have called this one the Sensual World if that title hadn’t been taken already as it takes the oft used adage of eating food, especially ripe and juicy fruit as a sexual metaphor. The album artwork is based on this theme so in a way this is like an alternative title track.
Comptetent yet slight I could see long term fans not being too impressed but I like it fine enough. So far all three opening songs could have benefited from being a bit shorter.
Another sad song, MOMENTS OF PLEASURE is just Kate and piano and orchestra arranged by Michael Kamen. The orchestral players don’t seem to be credited on the sleeve. Written about memories of her mother and others she has lost it is very much in the minor key, sad, regretful style of This Womans Work on the last album. Gets a bit histrionic in the chorus but it’s a sentiment I can relate to. I’m going to quote a lyric here – “Just being alive It can really hurt And these moments given are a gift from time Just let us try to give those moments back To those we love To those who will survive” This would have made a good funeral song if it hadn’t namechecked various people close to her. Some enterprising person should cover this with a gap left for people to namecheck things about their lost one.
THE SONG OF SOLOMON is another sad maudlin one. Is this her ‘ditch’ album? Muted percussion. Backing vocal by the Trio Bulgarka who are a bit underused as they sound a bit like Kate multitracked but together the effect is a pleasant middle eastern sounding stew of sounds. I find this style affecting and reckon it suits her. They get to stretch out a bit towards the end on the fade out coda. Very lovely.
It occurs to me that BBC 6 Music music is nowadays full of young women singers operating vaguely in this area that critics love and I find a bit indistinguishable. (Names are escaping me at the moment but I would say Phoebe Bridgers, Julia Jacklin, there’s another one with a funny name who had a very catchy one that got on end of year lists and CD’s a year or two ago. They always seem to be on about their fourth album and it is the breakthrough one and then they play the BristolFleece and disappear for another three years or so. Kate got there first and with distinction.
A bit of internet investigation tells me LILY is dedicated to,about and has a spoken introduction from Lilly Cornfield, a noted spiritual healer and friend of Kate’s. Pretty straightforward song about the Lily’s spiritual guidance that Kate says provides her with protection in her line of work. The band hit a languid groove. Sort of Peter Gabriel meets Talking Heads. Solid. A bit unremarkable. Can’t decide if this is quietly good or uninspired.
Title track THE RED SHOES starts a bit hurdy gurdy swirly, probably Paddy Bush’s mandola. Insppired by the film which is inspired by the fairy tale. This album’s only foray into trad Irish land. It’s a bit like a Hound of Love song given an Irish arrangement. Quite reserved at first and I’m waiting for it to kick off. It does pick up when the rhythm kicks in but unfortunately for me it doesn’t turn into the crazy hoe down I was anticipating instead we have an unsatisfying fade out. It’s a bit frustrating that the first few songs went on a bit too long and the next few seem a bit short.oo long, next few a bit too short.
TOP OF THE CITY’s theme of transcendence and escape versus mudaneity is mirrored in the contrast between the laid back sedate verses and the vocal refrain where she strains at the top of her range – bringing out a bit of the “Its me Oh Kathy” style. Its fairly standard Kate by numbers like the sort of song she would write on an earlier album but now more relaxed. Kate and the band are comfortable in their skin, making me thinking of an affectionate middle aged marriage.
CONSTELLATIONS OF THE HEART is squelchy funk and the most dated production. A bit Prince and a lot Peter Gabriel, Big Time etc. Chorus sounds like lots of people although only two people are credited. I can see people might think she was running out of inspiration and following trends. Nothing wrong with this but then again nothing too exciting. Some nice audio touches. I suppose it’s a bit of an audiophile record. File alongside Dire Straits and the Blue Nile for playing through you flash hifi system.
BIG STRIPEY LIE
Probably the most avant garde thing here – more Dreaming crazy lady Kate doing a bit of a Prince by playing the guitar, bass as well as the keyboards Its not too bad at all. Nigel Kennedy on sad violin which seemed beamed in from another song. In fact the whole song seems a bit disparate and disjointed although I think it works well
WHY SHOULD I LOVE YOU
The one that she sent to Prince to sprinkle some fairy dust which he did. It’s a bit hard to work out what it was like before he got his hands on it. Still much as one would expect. Melancholy verses that recall This Womans Work a bit but then into a classic Prince chorus that could have come off Around the World In a Day. Overall it sounds more Pirnce than Kate really. Pleasant but she’s a bit lost in it all. Features the Trio Bulgarka but I can’t really make them out. A competent even superior album track but lacking a bit of magic.
YOU’RE THE ONE
Quite AOR. Like Supertramp or something. Pleasant 70s style song describing the break up of a relationship. Possibly autobiographical. I’m trying to think what does this remind me of, and it’s that Prince fella again. It’s very Purple Rain both in his verse and also sense of organ led (Gary Brooker) power ballad. Jeff Back as well with some tasteful Clapton esque geetar. A bit hokey but it works. Possibly a bit overlong at 6 minutes. Also a bit out of time in 1993. Screams the 80’s to me. Slightly maudlin and depressing way to end the album but there we go.
I like this album. I like its subdued tone. Whilst I love Hounds of Love for its sheer sonic bonkerness (and great song writing) I think I would also be returning to this as its quite even and a more relaxing listen. Hounds of Love is a housework album whilst this is more of a sit and read album or have on in the background whilst half watching something with the sound turned down and subtitles on the telly.
Dipping into Graeme Thomson’s book has given me some doubts. There’s an argument that its a bit ‘business as usual’ and is she running out of inspiration on her seventh album but I think of it more a comfortable consolidation.
Where do you all stand. Know the album? Like the album or not? Unflashily competent or running out of ideas? And any opinions on the accompanying film, ‘The Line, the Cross and the Curve’ which Kate was to describe as “bullshit” shortly after its release.