Kate Bush - Return of the sensual woman

Kate Bush is back with a collection of reworked tracks from two previous albums. Andy Gill welcomes back an eccentric and idiosyncratic talent who explored sexuality and social taboos

In a few weeks' time, Kate Bush issues the first album on her own label, Fish People. Entitled Director's Cut, it comprises material which previously appeared on her albums The Sensual World and The Red Shoes – but rather than the usual stopgap hits compilation, the songs have been reworked, and in some cases completely re-recorded. The result has the consistency of mood and tone of a brand-new, self-contained album, bringing into clearer focus the thematic concerns – of love, passion and art – linking the work of this most inventive of British pop musicians.

Right from the start of her career, these have been the main interests driving Kate Bush's music. Who can forget the willowy, teenage Kate, attempting to encapsulate the entire passionate turmoil of Wuthering Heights into four and a half minutes' eccentric warbling? Or, some years later, wanting to make a deal with God in order to experience sexuality from the masculine viewpoint?

Delving further beyond the headline hits, her albums teem with turbulent emotions and sticky business. Her debut album The Kick Inside included songs featuring explicit references to intercourse ("Feel It") and menstruation ("Strange Phenomena"), while the title track itself was based on the traditional "Child Ballad 51", about a girl's incestuous relationship with her brother, who then kills her upon learning of her pregnancy.

Of course, any unsuspecting parent purchasing the album for their daughter would remain blissfully unaware of this; at the time, in the midst of the punk revolution, Kate Bush appeared the very epitome of a nice, middle-class girl, and her music, while odder than the usual bubblegum pop, had none of the sharp edges, urgency or bumptiousness associated with punk. In retrospect, however, she represents a much deeper revolution than that genre's superficial antipathy, something acknowledged by John Lydon, a devoted fan: for in her work can be registered the subtler, but more potent, liberating power of imagination and art.

Compared to her multi-faceted, engrossing explorations of female desire, the pornographic self-abasement of many modern female singers seems more akin to an infant fascinated with its own faeces, dimly aware that there's something shocking about spreading it about, but unaware of the repercussions. How ironic, then, that Bush's deceptive subtlety has enabled her to investigate the kind of subject matter even the most brazen hip-hop queen would baulk at covering, such as paedophiliac desire, incest, cradle-snatching and, in the blackly humorous "Heads We're Dancing", the quandary of a woman who realises she's been dancing with Adolf Hitler.

For virtually her entire career, Bush has operated outside the prevailing trends and transient fashions of the music scene; in her music could be discerned few, if any, obvious musical precedents, the true imprimatur of the unique artist. Accordingly, like Joni Mitchell, she is frequently cited as an influence on successive generations of questing musicians, not all of them female. The lack of recognisable musical influences in her own work is partly due to her enduring preference for drawing inspiration from other media, interpolating literary works by the likes of Barrie, Joyce and Tennyson, and films by such as Kubrick and Powell and Pressburger; and to her fascination with outré intellectual weirdos like Gurdjieff and Wilhelm Reich.

On her new album, the track originally released as "The Sensual World" is titled "Flower of the Mountain", reflecting the significance of its transformation. When she had originally written it, she had used Molly Bloom's orgasmic soliloquy from Ulysses, set to her own music; but denied permission to use it, she was forced to replace the text.

"I then wrote my own lyrics for the song, although I felt that the original idea had been more interesting," she explains. "Well, I'm not James Joyce, am I?" But when she applied again to use the passage on the reworked version, she was granted permission. Even literary gatekeepers, it seems, have come to acknowledge that she is among the first rank of modern artists. And yes, it is more interesting than the previous version, as if the song has finally found its home.

The majority of the 11 tracks rework songs from 1993's The Red Shoes, which at the time seemed something of a let-down compared to its predecessors. The inclusion of heavy-hitter guests like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Nigel Kennedy and Prince seemed to push the music in less interesting, retrograde directions, with ill-suited bouts of routine Prince-funk, and echoes of both "Purple Rain" and "Layla" in the climactic "You're The One". It wasn't entirely bereft of magical moments – most deriving from either the Trio Bulgarka's harmonies or the twinkling valiha lines of Justin Vali – but, as a whole, the album seemed piecemeal and more straightforwardly "rock" than one wished from Kate Bush.

Unsurprisingly, it proved to be her most successful record in America, where nobody ever got poor underestimating the taste of the average listener. There's a much cleaner, simpler, less flamboyant tone to the revised versions, which dovetail beautifully with the excerpts from The Sensual World, breathing new life into both: there's an aura of contentment about the material, which no longer seeks to impress, but has an inner faith in its quiet impact.

For a while, following The Red Shoes, she appeared to have strayed from the cutting-edge of musical developments, and may indeed have exhausted her inspiration. Her concurrent direction of the short film The Line, The Cross & The Curve suggested that she may have worked more in that medium. But, as year followed year with neither music nor movie on the horizon, it seemed as if maybe she had just run out of creative steam, retreating into domestic reclusion to raise a family. This was, it turned out, only half true, but it took a dozen years to find out that Kate Bush could bring to the subject of domestic bliss no less a degree of intense reflection and penetrating insight than she had employed on sex and death.

The double-album Aerial did indeed feature a core of domestic contentment, most impressively in the song "Mrs Bartolozzi", whose protagonist seeks solace for her absent mate in the miscegenate dance of their clothes together in a washing machine. "I watched them going round and round/My blouse wrapping itself round your trousers," she observes, slipping into the infantile – "Slooshy sloshy, slooshy sloshy, get that dirty shirty clean" – and alighting periodically upon the zen koan of the murmured chorus, "washing machine".

It used to be said that some people would have bought an album of Bob Dylan reciting the phone directory; and there were moments on Aerial when it appeared that Kate Bush was doing something comparable, trying to explore the notion of boredom and fulfilment in the least animated manner possible – as when evoking the almost autistic contentment of a mathematician obsessed by pi. But, even then, her innate musicality managed to make her recital of enormous strings of numerals deeply engrossing and involving.

There has always been something of a yin/yang aspect to Bush and her work, particularly in the contrasting tropes of introspection and extroversion between which her art is strung. As she cruises into middle age, it's entirely understandable that she should gaze back upon her former work and seek to reposition it for the future.

But what's more exciting is that she's already at work on fresh material for the follow-up proper to Aerial, which can't come soon enough for my liking. In an era of bland soul divas and over-hyped momentary sensations, we should treasure true inspiration as never before.

The album 'Director's Cut' is released on 16 May on Fish People

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam