Reissue review by Eric Sandberg
It's December 9th, 1978, I'm seventeen years old and watching Kate Bush writhe around on Paul Shafer's grand piano in a Lycra body suit. She could have been chirping the Manhattan phone book instead of "The Man With The Child In His Eyes" and it wouldn't have mattered. I was all in.
It's December 2nd, 2018 and I'm fifty-seven years old and I am still all in on Kate Bush to the point that I've just acquired her catalog for the fourth time. Let's see; first I bought the LPs, 45s, 12" records as they were originally released, then the first round of CDs, only to be replaced by the This Woman's Work box set, which in turn was replaced by Japanese vinyl replica CDs and now, just in time for Christmas, The two CD box sets Remastered 1 & 2.
I had been longing for Kate's catalog, mainly the first six albums from 1978's The Kick Inside through 1993's The Red Shoes, to be given a sonic and packaging overhaul.
Kate Bush's career can be divided into two eras: BB and AB (Before Bertie & After Bertie). The six albums that make up the BB era can be sub-divided evenly between produced and self-produced.
Home piano demos made by Kate in her early teens were given by a family friend to Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour who thought enough of them to finance a professional demo tape and alert EMI, who immediately signed Kate to an unusual contract which allowed her time to mature as a writer and a person for a couple of years before being required to record her first album.
Kate's first three albums were produced for her by seasoned professionals with a stable of excellent backing musicians best (un)known for playing on Alan Parson's Project records, but by her third album Never Forever Kate had managed to assert herself as assistant producer and with the following album The Dreaming she assumed full control of her musical direction to the horror and confusion of many of her devotees who were charmed by her earlier work.
With The Dreaming and the advent of the Fairlight sampling computer, Kate Bush had become an autonomous, full-fledged progressive art rocker. Listening back to The Dreaming it is daring, adventurous, unique and somewhat out of control, especially the singing. Not the album you would play for friends to convert them.
Ironically, after her American breakthrough with 1985's The Hounds Of Love Kate wrote a new song for the inevitable money-grab collection The Whole Story titled "Experiment IV" a song about scientists trying to "invent a sound that could kill someone." That same album featured a new version of her first worldwide smash single "Wuthering Heights" the original of which contained vocals that caused cats to affix themselves to the ceiling. The new version showed that even she was becoming aware that her powerful five-octave voice was a weapon that should be wielded more carefully.
Kate recorded two more uneven albums in the BB era The Sensual World, and The Red Shoes which showed her trying new things and sometimes not quite pulling them off. Lyrically, she was exploring sexuality in many songs which made me a bit uncomfortable because I had to face the fact that she was having sex with someone who wasn't me which put a real damper on my imagination.
Kate was indeed having relations with her guitarist Dan McIntosh and together they brought Albert "Bertie" Mackintosh into the world (I don't know if they were playing "This Woman's Work" in the delivery room but I kind of doubt it). The arrival of Bertie led Kate to step away from her her career for twelve years choosing to devote herself to the raising of her son.
In 2005 Kate relaunched with the double album Ariel, a focused and mature work that infused elements of Jazz, Rock and Folk. This was followed by Director's Cut which featured complete overhauls of select songs from The Sensual World and The Red Shoes, a move that shows that Kate was flinching right along with me at some of the excesses on those albums.
Director's Cut was quickly followed by the Winter themed 50 Words For Snow, which returned Kate Bush to her thematic roots albeit with a far more mature voice and musical approach. The next several years were spent developing and staging her massive multi-show return to the live stage with her Before The Dawn concerts at London's 02 arena.
As her legion of fans await new material from their beloved, what they've received in the meantime is all the old material again. Social Media is divided as to whether Kate Bush Remastered 1 & 2 (for CD; the LPs come in four separate box sets) are a sorely needed upgrade or just a money grab in time for Christmas.
The answer is (drum roll) both.
I'm not a Millennial, I'm old enough to remember every skip and wince-inducing warp in my early record collection, so it's the CD sets for me. Remastered 1 is great; Kate's first six albums in extra wide, double fold-out glossy card board sleeves with a lyric booklet. No extra tracks, no fawning historical liner notes, just the original albums arguably sounding better than ever. A fair value at around $79 (happily, mine was free, but that's another story).
Where does this venture become a money grab? The Remastered 2 set is a bit unnecessary really. As the oldest album contained in it was released in 2005, none of the actual albums in this set was in need of a sonic upgrade and the most recent release, the live triple CD Before The Dawn raided our wallets only two years ago.
The packaging of these albums abandons the format of the first box and are identical to the original releases. Ariel has been remixed only because one of the contributors to the original album, Australian entertainer Rolf Harris, was convicted of some lurid crimes against minors prompting Kate to remove his contributions and replace them with good old Bertie.
Interestingly, Bertie appeared on the album in a spoken role as a child in 2005, credited as Bertie, and now also appears on the album as an adult credited as Albert McIntosh.
Even the most die hard fan will find it difficult to spend $80 to re-purchase these albums, especially the Before The Dawn Set which has not been changed or upgraded in any way. When Genesis released its box set collecting remastered versions of all their live albums, they mercifully left an empty space in the box for their Turn It On Again tour document as it had just been released the year before.
So far, this second box is a hard sell. How to make people buy it? How about including an exquisite four disc set compiling every B-side, 12" mix, soundtrack and tribute album contribution, all remastered? That will do the trick. If They had been kind enough to just leave a space for the triple live album and include the rarities discs at a reduced price, say $50, Remastered 2 may have been deemed a value. Alas, a money grab it is. I call fan abuse
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.