Oddly unappreciated by all but her most devoted her fans, and seemingly Kate Bush herself, I find The Red Shoes to be one of her most fascinating albums. Having established herself as a phenomenally creative spirit over her first four albums, in which she rapidly transitioned from exciting debut, to consolidation, to pop experimentalism, to general weirdness, Bush gained the level of creative freedom that she craved with Hounds of Love. The stately The Sensual World had followed Hounds of Love, underlining the fact that she was now creating music on no one else’s terms but her own.
Having fought so hard to establish your commercial and creative freedom, what do you do once you’ve actually achieved it? In Kate Bush’s case, whatever she liked really. Like its predecessor, The Red Shoes sounds like an album where Kate Bush took advantage of the fact she had free reign to follow her muse. It’s an album where Bush sounds both defiant, yet somewhat haunted at the same time, as the previous few years had seen her juggle her music career with a traumatic period of her life away from the industry.
The album itself kicks of with “Rubberband Girl”, one of her more upbeat offerings, but not one that seems to be generally well thought of. I like it though, after the mature and straight faced Sensual World, it’s great to hear Bush sound like she’s having some fun. Where the previous album sounds like a lot of effort had gone in to it sounding like a cohesive work, The Red Shoes is a much more wayward offering, willing to spring surprises on the listener and keep us on our toes. Where some would equate such an approach to being a bit patchy, it’s one I appreciate, as I feel there’s a lot more going on and that we as the listeners should respect her enough to just go with wherever Ms Bush’s head was at at the time of recording.
While each of Kate Bush’s albums has something unique to offer (even the much maligned Lionheart), I feel The Red Shoes is one that’s not so much over shadowed by better work, as misunderstood. If it had been an album by anyone else, I’m sure that same audience would hail it as a masterpiece, but because it’s Kate Bush, and her fans seemingly see her above dabbling with pop structures that flirt too closely with the mainstream, or relying too heavily on special guests, it’s unfairly dismissed as a lesser work.
Quite why Ms Bush herself isn’t fond of The Red Shoes is perhaps a more complicated matter. Maybe it’s an album that holds too many personal memories for her, or perhaps she feels in retrospect that some of the material is maybe a touch too personal? Maybe she just doesn’t like the way that The Red Shoes sounds, as in recent years she has confessed her dissatisfaction with the fact that the album was recorded digitally instead of analogue, and has even re-recorded some of the material as part of her Directors Cut album from 2011. Then again, maybe, just maybe, she just gets the vibe that her fans see it a lesser work and that has coloured her own opinions a little in the intervening years?
I think the reason I appreciate The Red Shoes is that it is neither Kate Bush’s most accessible, or her most opaque. It’s just an album with a bunch of songs on it which reflected her life at the time. Stuff happens to all of us and The Red Shoes is just an accurate reflection of where Kate Bush’s head was at in the early 90s.