Kate Bush is one of those artists people seem to either love or hate. She has always been fascinating to me for many reasons, even as I can understand why some people simply find her music too weird. In 1993, Kate Bush released The Red Shoes, her follow-up to 1989's The Sensual World. In 1993, I was a college student fully enchanted by Kate Bush's original style. I was quick to purchase The Red Shoes because I had so enjoyed her earlier albums, and especially The Sensual World.
I remember the first time I played this CD. I was somewhat underwhelmed by it. Kate Bush had enlisted help from the fantastic Trio Bulgarka once again and their luminous harmonies accented several tracks. And she had gotten assistance from both Eric Clapton and Prince, two artists whose music I have admired for many years. But I just couldn't get into The Red Shoes at first. Then I took a stage voice class and needed to use poetry or a song for a dramatic reading. I chose "The Red Shoes" by Kate Bush and suddenly got more into this album.
The Red Shoes runs for approximately one hour and consists of twelve tracks. The liner notes include printed lyrics and a dramatic photograph of Kate in the arms of an unknown man. The cover shows a picture of a woman's feet wearing worn red ballet shoes and runny red tights. On the back cover, there's a photo of a lot of beautiful, ripe fruit... giving the album a vaguely sexual vibe.
The Red Shoes begins with the bouncy pop friendly song, "Rubberband Girl". This song hooked me from the start, with its upbeat tempo and quirky lyrics about learning to bend like the trees in the face of adversity. It's a peppy song with a positive message, given Kate's special offbeat twist.
"And So Is Love" is a smoldering ballad about falling in love. Kate Bush's sexy vocals are backed by Eric Clapton on guitar. While Clapton does a fine job making his guitar sound sensual, I kind of get the feeling he was brought in to make Kate's sound more compelling to the masses. Back in 1993, Clapton was all over the place, so it makes sense she'd have him as a guest star, but I don't know that he fits that well. It's not a bad song, though. I like it.
Next comes a positively festive song called "Eat The Music". When I hear this song, I think it's party time-- perhaps in the bedroom. The song is full of suggestive lyrics that marry words that on the surface seem to be about delicious fruits and nuts and all the pleasure that comes with eating ripe fruit. But somehow, I get the feeling this song is really just about good sex. I like it. It's a great song to exercise to if you're not doing the horizontal limbo. By the way, I wouldn't recommend trying to make love in time with this song's tempo unless you have hips that move like a sewing machine.
"Moments of Pleasure" is sort of a poignant, introspective song, with Kate singing emotionally about pleasant memories she has with someone special and how he makes her feel. The moments of pleasure is a gift from time. The piano and strings are used to great effect on this song, giving it a sense of drama.
The sex mood continues with "Song of Solomon", a deep, sensual song about--what else? Sex! The Trio Bulgarka providing amazing backing vocals on this song, really adding a sense of wild passion. The lyrics are intelligent and thoughtful, set to a contemplative melody, and Kate's soaring, emotional lead vocals.
I'm not all that hot on the song "Lily", an edgy song with melodramatic lyrics that suggest that Kate went to an older mentor for advice when she wasn't feeling safe. The paranoid mood of this song kind of ruins its catchy tempo. I don't hate it, but I definitely don't love it.
I like "The Red Shoes" better, for once again Kate Bush has adopted a festive mood. This song was based on the story of The Red Shoes, about a woman who put on magical red shoes and couldn't stop dancing. Kate Bush injects this song with infectious excitement... she tells the story with this song, capturing the frantic need for the woman to dance with those shoes on. Paddy Bush gives this song a Celtic twist with whistles.
Things slow down again with "Top of the City", another contemplative, edgy rock song with lyrics about a woman looking down at a city and realizing it's no good for her. I almost wonder if this song is a statement about climbing the ladder of success and how pointless it ultimately is.
Whenever I play this album, I may skip a few songs, but I always play "Constellation of the Heart", a funky, quirky song that suggests exploration... not of outer space, but of one's heart. It's definitely a bit campy, but I love this song's fun, offbeat sound, with its heavy bassline, and the convivial singing of background singers on the chorus. I also like the lyrics, which are very clever.
Kate Bush seems to love the discordant and often includes at least very dissonant song on each of her albums. On this album, it happens to be "Big Stripey Lie", which is a pretty creative song if you can stand to listen to it. A somber violin plays plaintively under the crashing squeals of electric guitars and Kate's weird vocals. If I try to listen to this song objectively, I hear the brilliance of it. But I am not a big fan of music that's very dissonant, so I would just as soon skip this song.
Trio Bulgarka is back for the awesome track, "Why Should I Love You", a song Prince had a hand in creating. Indeed, you can hear him singing vocals, playing keyboards and vocals, and bass guitar. I actually think Prince and Kate Bush are better together than Eric Clapton and Kate Bush are. This song has Prince's stamp on it; there's an undercurrent of funk, tempered a bit by Trio Bulgarka's exotic harmonies. I actually really like this song... However, I would guess this song is one that people either love or hate. It has sort of an adult contemporary vibe that may not appeal to Kate's biggest fans.
The album ends with the maudlin "You're the One", a song about a woman about to leave her lover and not really wanting to. The lyrics are a bit desperate, as Kate sings about how her whole life has revolved around her man and she doesn't want to leave the relationship. After the energy of "Why Should I Love You", it seems rather anemic and even a bit whiney. What saves this song is, again, Trio Bulgarka, who provide creative, multi-layered harmonies that make your hair stand on end. There's something almost wild about the way they sing, which injects this plaintive song with a bit of life.
This album has a few moments of brilliance on it. I always appreciate Kate Bush's creativity. I think she struck gold when she decided to collaborate with Trio Bulgarka and Prince. Her collaboration with Eric Clapton is decent, but not necessarily inspired. There aren't any songs on this album that I hate, but there are a few I would probably skip. Overall, I think The Red Shoes rates about 3.5 stars... but I'll be generous and give it four.
For more information: www.katebush.com