Most glory-days retreads come about by way of laziness, with over-the-hill artists finding sneaky ways to gussy up and repackage old material, usually for ignoble or desperate reasons. Kate Bush’s Director’s Cut arrives with different goals in mind. It revisits tracks from 1989’s The Sensual World and 1993’s The Red Shoes not to leech off their success, but ostensibly to fix them. In line with a noted career-long fixation on perfectionism and sonic fidelity, Bush has decided that the 11 compositions here were in need of a complete overhaul, scaling back their glossy electronics in favor of a more organic sound.
Reasons aside, a revisit is a revisit. True, more care and imagination are certainly applied here than on similar projects, with the songs re-recorded and often reformatted. Yet these are still cover songs, issued by a performer who, while still stylistically sharp and creatively unbowed, is at least a little bit diminished. This means that what the songs gain through reformation and novelty, they often lose in vocal dynamism and clumsy warmth. Bush’s voice is largely intact, but now operates mostly in a lower spectrum, able to muster throaty growls, but not the sibilant yelps that once served as their counterpoint.
The results are respectable but mixed. “The Sensual World,” inspired by the character of Molly Bloom from James Joyce’s Ulysses, scraps Bush’s placeholder lyrics for original text from the book, which she’d previously been legally prevented from using. “This Woman’s Work” is drained of its frosty synth effects and left with a beautifully bleak surrounding emptiness, a trick that’s startling, but not necessarily better than the crystalline original.
“Deeper Understanding,” which goes from a deep cut on The Sensual World to the lead single here, gains two slowly paced minutes. It’s still one of Bush’s clunkiest songs, with its central conceit of friendship with a computer a metaphor that, despite having gained currency, retains a stolid 1980s feel, with mentions of magazine-ordered programs and pressed execute buttons. The production is on point, but the increase in sound effects to highlight the focus on artificiality only results in further backwardness, made worse by addition of chunky vocoder distortion. It’s a strangely forceful, and perhaps intentional, way to both update and further date an old song.
Tracks like “The Red Shoes,” meanwhile, are still great, and it’s saying something that Bush, years past her peak, is able to pick up and tweak this material without harming it after a long period of relative inactivity. But it’s also hard to argue that much of what’s done here is an improvement. The reinterpretations offer interesting what-if scenarios, tweaking and altering familiar material, but inevitably reveal more about Bush’s fussiness over her own legacy than anything else.