Reviews: Flaming Lips and Kate Bush
Another two albums to review today, both based around a “reinvention” theme, and both bought for me by my brother Jon for my birthday last weekend.
The Flaming Lips (et al.) – The Dark Side of the Moon
I know I’m a bit behind the curve here — this album came out about 18 months ago — but it has only just made it into my collection and it fits well with the theme.
For reasons known only to themselves, Oklahoma psychedelic nutters The Flaming Lips have teamed up with singer Wayne’s brother’s band Stardeath & White Dwarfs to record a complete end-to-end cover of Pink Floyd’s 1973 masterpiece The Dark Side of the Moon.
On a first listen to this, I was horrified! A band I respect had taken one of my favourite musical masterworks and turned it into something wholly different. Out have gone the intricate melodic guitar riffs, samples of ringing alarm clocks and Clare Torry’s infinitely influential wordless vocals on The Great Gig in the Sky and in come heavy two-tone effects-pedal-ridden riffs, klaxons and the vocoder screeching of electro-diva Peaches. My first feeling was that this wasn’t a tribute, it was a desecration.
But it was their version of On The Run that got me listening again. An instrumental in both its forms, the Lips had seized the opportunity to take only the basic themes from the original and to completely rework them into a modern piece that is clearly their own. A Variation on a Theme of Pink Floyd, if you will.
Then I quickly realized that this is exactly what they had done throughout. This album is not a tribute to Pink Floyd. It’s a 21st-century prog rock record, made by The Flaming Lips, that has the same words and chord progressions as its 1973 namesake. As soon as I was able to accept this album for what it was, I instantly began to enjoy it.
The heavy-rock sound of Breathe (which makes its classic reprise at the end of Time) is a particular favourite and, I must say despite the screeching, Peaches’s version of The Great Gig is very enjoyable; she’s obviously a massive fan of the original too, and this shines through. The decision to record all of the original interview samples from the record using veteran punk singer Henry Rollins was great too.
This is definitely not a five-star album, and die-hard fans of the original are going to be left very unimpressed. But stick with it and you’ll see it’s a bit of a gem in its own right.
Kate Bush – Director’s Cut
One thing you can never say about Kate Bush is that she’s unoriginal. In the last six years, she’s not been off recording new material; no, she’s been off recording old material.
Director’s Cut is Kate’s answer to her decades of disappointment with how her 1989 album The Sensual World and 1993’s The Red Shoes turned out. She’s taken her favourite tracks from each, and rerecorded them into a single album as a kind of director’s cut of the originals.
As a big fan of the original albums, it is hard for me to understand exactly why someone would go to all this effort, but Kate is known for her extreme perfectionism, and she has gone to great lengths to make sometimes-subtle-sometimes-radical changes to these tracks and their production.
The album opens with Flower of the Mountain, which is the new title for the track The Sensual World with its original lyrics restored. Because Kate’s original version borrowed heavily from James Joyce’s Ulysses, she was initially forced to change the lyrics but has now acquired the right to use the original words.
Highlights for me include the modernized rock sound of Lily and Rubberband Girl, both of which suffered from that late-80s-early-90s jangliness in their original forms, and the new versions of Song of Solomon and This Woman’s Work, which are only slightly but noticeably different from their original recordings.
On the other hand, she has taken my favourite track from this era, Moments of Pleasure, and stripped it right down from its original orchestral sound to just a piano and her voice. I understand why she’s done this — it’s a very intimate song and a full orchestra could (although not in my opinion) be seen to be taking away from some of the meaning — but the problem is that the undeniable sadness in her voice in the original — as she sings the names of people close to her who have died — is absent on the new recording. I know this is her intention: the song is supposed to remind listeners of all the happy times they shared with those they’d lost, but I liked having my heartstrings pulled!
I think a lot of Kate Bush fans will greet this album thinking “what’s the point?” But then, I think those people miss the whole ethos of this woman’s work. She makes music for herself, and for her son, and she invites us to join her.