Kate kept up her four-year album cycle with "The Red Shoes", which I eagerly bought on the autumn day it was released. Ultimately I was disappointed, but only by comparison to her outstanding previous three albums. By any other artist this would have been an exciting discovery. The main inspiration seems to be the eponymous classic dance movie by Michael Powell (hence the lyrics' frequent references to Michael). The album seems like an attempt to loosen up a bit and just do some outgoing, danceable pop music, and the songs are colourfully varied.
"Rubberband Girl", the first single, is good fun. It's a bizarre idea for a song, as we would expect from Kate, with a hypnotic one-chord tune and some nice guitar licks at the end. The silly "Eat the Music" takes a fruity slant on its clichéd theme of men getting in touch with their feelings. The best thing about this song was the inner album artwork that it inspired, a lickable-looking arrangement of fruit. Kate goes all soulful on the slower numbers "And So is Love" and "Top of the City" which suit her voice really well (but what doesn't?) "Song of Solomon" is a smooth and slinky tribute to the biblical celebration of the pleasures of the flesh, aided by the gorgeous Trio Bulgarka.
I find it hard to listen to the piano-backed ballad "Moments of Pleasure" in isolation, as I'll always compare it with the far superior "This Woman's Work". The tune is pretty, but I wouldn't go as far as beautiful. It sometimes comes across as distant, while Kate lists her favourite personal reminiscences and loses connection with the listener, but its message about holding on to your good memories is clear enough. Similarly with "Lily", dedicated to her spiritual advisor, she's in highly personal private-joke mode, but the tune is not that memorable.
The most breezy and upbeat of the pop songs are the tinny, lo-fi sounding "Constellation of the Heart" - as far from introverted art-rock as it's possible to get - and "Why Should I Love You". "Why Should I Love You" was written by Prince, and it certainly sounds like him on backing vocals at the end, although it's actually a decent impersonation by Lenny Henry. Prince might have tossed off the lyrics (like the cheesy section at the end where he spells out l.o.v.e.) in his sleep, but the tune is infectiously strong, like all good pop music. By the final song, "You're the One", we're firmly in middle-of the road Radio 2 territory, as she quotes "Whiter Shade of Pale", aided by its author Gary Brooker on organ. I realise I might not have paid any attention to this if it was anyone other than Kate Bush.
April 2, 2004