Like her American soulmate and former collaborator Prince, Kate Bush generated cartloads of top-flight recordings during her hypercreative peak years that, for whatever reasons, didn’t make it onto albums. This set finally bundles the evidence: 34 tracks, including some of the avant-pop auteur’s most gorgeous, extravagant, intimate, and bonkers material — b-sides, remixes, and an album’s-worth of stray, often strange covers.
Take the reading of “Rocket Man,” written by another soulmate, Elton John, arranged with fiddle and uilleann pipes into loping Celtic reggae (something to do, perhaps, with the “high as a kite” line?) His Marilyn Monroe tribute “Candle In The Wind,” meanwhile, gets swirled into ambient synth-pop, Bush veering midsong, it seems, from fangirl into Monroe herself, as she chirps the word “superstar” — a state Bush knew plenty about herself when she tracked this in ’91, years before the song was reimagined as a tribute to another British icon. Uilleann pipes also color an oddly perky, pitched-up cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” alternately sung and whispered, with dubby synths billowing in the background and a choir of backing vocals. The Billie Holiday vehicle “The Man I Love” gets a less-radical transformation, with production/arrangement by George Martin in the style of Lady Day’s 1939 Vocalion recording, complete with muted trumpet. As with most of her covers of classics, Bush charts a course between respecting the original and being Kate Bush, always a fascinating dance that can feel restrained at times by politesse.
That’s never an issue with the originals. The crown jewel here might be “Under The Ivy,” which Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell calls her “meta-song” in his introduction to her 2018 lyric compendium How To Be Invisible. “Under The Ivy” is just a handful of piano chords and Bush’s raw voice, with a touch of electronic processing, the singer first beckoning, then imploring a listener to burrow into a secret place, conjuring intimacy, invention, self-discovery and sex with a slightly frightening intensity. It’s so singular and self-contained in its two minutes and 10 seconds, it’s no wonder she released it as a b-side, lest it up-end any album it wound up on.
There’s plenty more to (re-) discover. The French version of Never For Ever’s “The Infant Kiss” (“Un Baiser D’Enfant”), based on the 1961 film The Innocents, and the French original “Ne T’Enfuis Pas,” comprise a diptych suggesting Bush might’ve had a fruitful collaboration with Serge Gainsbourg. “Burning Bridge,” with its hollered declaration “it’s you and me babe, against the world!,” is one of her most dizzying vocals; at point she sounds like she’s making herself seasick. “You Want Alchemy” is a fairly jaw-dropping Prince channeling, with strings, r&b brass, feral orgasmic squealing and gospel-infused backing vocals. The 12” versions, which are more extensions than reinventions, include the unhinged “meterological mix” of the Hounds Of Love single “Big Sky,” pumped up with machine-gun handclaps and didgeridoo drones. Completists will notice a few omissions, like the 1979 live EP On Stage, which documents the only tour of her career, and her sole live shows before her London residency at the Hammersmith Apollo 35 years later (highlight: the glam-tastically proggy, partly shrieked 6-minute version of “James & The Cold Gun”). But the motherlode is all here.
Bush’s oeuvre is singular, and it’s stood alone for decades. Lately its brilliance feels more prescient that ever, reflected variously in the sound and approach of (among others) Robyn, Florence Welch, and Annie St. Vincent Clark (whose confession of tipsy karaoke-ing “Wuthering Heights” is one of the highlights of that delicious 2014 Bush documentary). So the timing of this deep-cuts set couldn’t be better. Most of the tracks feel as contemporary as they ever did; maybe more so.
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