Stan Deely on The Sensual World
Initial impression upon listening was that this album is sonically similar to Hounds of Love but with the 1980’s production dialled down a little and some songs having a more organic acoustic feel. However it seemed a bit one paced and opaque in the production making it initially a bit like hearing 10 versions of Cloudbusting, one after another. The title track, which I previously really liked, actually seems a bit diminished in the context of the album.
THE SENSUAL WORLD
Starts with bells. Then a jumpy rhythm. Sexy semi spoken vocals based on Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in Ulysses Feels to me like a counterpart to Running Up the Hill. Kate murmuring “Mmh Yes” indicating desire pretty well. Catchy Uilleann pipes. A few different melody lines going on. It has a shimmering weightless quality. A languid groove that benefits from being understated – less frantic andless urgent possibly means more sexy.
LOVE AND ANGER
Very much in the mould of the previous album. Tribal drums. Trademark Kate piano riff. Coquettish vocals. A catchy ear worm chorus with rock guitar – Dave Gilmour of course. Bit more piano, reminding me of Bruce Springsteen for some reason. Builds in layers. It seems Kate has found a style to settle in but I have to admit it’s a pretty impressive one. Picks up speed towards the end and then introduces a chorus of backing vocals. The production is pretty impressive, a full kitchen sink job. Sounds great on speakers and even better on headphones Even more hooks and ear worms in the extended coda. I could personally do without the guitar solo but its well done and not too off putting. Released as a single and I can see why.
Atmospheric low key start. Muted percussion. Synth. Kate does spoken word with sampled voices. Similar in style to the Ninth Wave songs on the last album. When the song proper starts Kate does her coquettish voice. She seems to have abandoned the more challenging vocal histrionics used on the Dreaming and to a lesser extent Hounds of Love and settled into something less confrontative. This is more of a mood piece with a pleasant groove and orchestra arranged by Michael Kamen, Nigel Kennedy on violin and various trad Irish musicians makes the sound very wide screen. Kate’s sounds a bit like Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. Can’t decide if it a work of genius or an overlong mood piece that goes nowhere fast.
Harks back a bit to the musical theatre/ story telling at the start of her career.
Less bombastic than most of the stuff on the last two albums. Low key start. Elton Johnesque piano and strings. Chorus contrasts the muted verses by being quite anthemic and stadium rock but has a mesmeric repetitive quality with a string section and Kate in fine voice. The shortest track on the album making an interesting interlude. The album could have done with a few more of these.
HEADS WE’RE DANCING
Bit of a weird subject matter that leaves me a bit cold. Clanky precussion at the beginning that sounds like an intro but continues throughout the song. Then piano chords. It builds with a sense of anticipation for quite a few verses and I am anticipating a big chorus. However that doesn’t really happen. It just sticks to the groove. Doesn’t really break out into the big chorus I was expecting. A bit of a breakdown after about 3 and a half minutes. From then on it introduces a nice little piano motif set against strings. Pleasant enough but not earth shattering.
Start of side two in the old and new vinyl iterations. A bit Peter Gabriel ‘Don’t Give Up’ in style with synths over pitter patter percussion. Subject matter is very prescient. People abandoning others and finding solace in their computers. And this in the days of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Also features some very 80s style computer sound effects. Towards the end we have the Trio Bulgarka doing effective muezzin style backing vocal. A bit more dreamy and less in your face than some of the other songs. This shift prog to world music which is fine by me.
BETWEEN A MAN AND A WOMAN
Another kitchen sink job. Rigid drum beat. Irish instruments. Kate’s vocal just below histrionic. This track grooves and builds. Tempo and tension increase towards the end. Another one which starts with a groove and ends with a rush which is starting to become a default setting. The sound is impressive but it sounds a bit like a hifi demonstration and I am yearning for the stripped back sound of the earlier albums. A bit underwhelming.
NEVER BE MINE
Starts muted. Kate sings about burning corn fields. A bit 80’s, a bit Pink Floyd yearn rock with its wide sound scape and then a pleasant chunky synth chord sequence with a melody that could have graced Never for Ever. Pure Kate backed up by Eberhard Weber on fretless bass. I could imagine a stripped down version of this fitting into Never for Ever. Trio Bulgarka come in halfway through. More kitchen sink stuff to fade. I’m finding this part of the album a bit lacklustre.
Starts with acapella Kate and the Trio Bulgarka. “Renaissance on acid” is my immediate thought. After about a minute and a half it suddenly breaks into pounding drums and rock geetar courtesy of Dave Gilmour. It a bit bash bash stomp and then Kate and the Trio Bulgarka give it some serious muezzin style welly. And then they take it even further going ‘The Dreaming’ style atonal with multiple voices. Quite exhilarating to hear however I imagine it might get grating after a while.
THIS WOMAN’S WORK
I don’t think of I was aware of this single at the time but it has made itself known to me by osmosis over the years and I’m aware of the video featuring Tim McInnerny from Black Adder. Piano and orchestra. Emotive subject. Heart tugging chorus. Could be a funeral song and it certainly succeeds at that. And from my cursory reading a bit of a feminist anthem to boot. The piano, the strings, the vocals all add to bring about a huge sense of emotion and regret. The over the top 80’s production is dialled down on this one and it’s all the better for it. Builds to an emotional peak. I feel a bit emotionally manipulated but in a good way. Up there with her very best work
That’s the end of the original vinyl album but the CD and tape editions had an extra track that has now become a standard part of the album
WALK STRAIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE
Starts with Kate once again sounding very Liz Fraser – doesn’t sound like English at all. Then it gets very ‘7 Seconds’ the Yossou N’Dour and Neneh Cherry track that was a hit a few years later. It’s okay but a bit of an anti-climax after the previous epic/classic.
I predict that there will be many comments that this generally sounds like Hounds of Love but not as good and I would largely concur. It lacks the cohesiveness and inspired bonkerness of that album. Most of the songs are about four to five minutes and whilst using the Hounds of Love template of big drums and piano led melodies in a warm and lush Fairlight soundscape don’t really stand out or disntinguish themselves from the general vibe.
There is an attempt to move forwards with greater use of the traditional Irish instruments, the Trio Bulgarka for backing vocals and a slightly more organic and acoustic production on some songs but generally after the breath taking audacity of most of the tunes on Hounds of Love this seems like a bit like treading water.
Theres something about the album that makes it a bit hard to take in one listening and after a month of listening to this I was craving music that was more basic and garagey
Summing up, a solid effort but a little uninspired or rather she has got herself into a bit of a cul de sac. At the moment of the albums reviewed probably the one I would be least inclined to visit even though it has some notable highlights.
Am I right? Am I wrong? Am I missing something? Any comments, insights, anecdotes gratefully received. I’m all ears. Over to you.