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Kate Bush - A Life Of Surprises

Other // Unrated // July 26, 2011
List Price: $26.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Bill Gibron | posted June 29, 2011 | E-mail the Author
The Product:
It's hard not to have a crush on Kate Bush - standard girl crush, complex woman of the world crush, eccentric artist crush, perfect British babe crush, oddball musical diva crush, why can't the rest of 'rock n roll' be like her crush. She is a fascinating figure in a realm (the singer/songwriter) that sells idiosyncrasy like iced lemonade to the Arctic. People don't want their balladeers weird. They prefer they spend their time in singular contemplation, worrying about love and life between lovers and livers. But Bush never did that. Hell, her first major hit was based on a classic Gothic romance novel and her first album was named after a song about abortion. Before there was Tori Amos, Bjork, or Sarah McLachlan, there was Kate Bush...and none of those aforementioned sirens can hold half a candle to the earnest Englishwoman's substantial power. For those who know little of what we are talking, something like Kate Bush: A Life of Surprises (The Story So Far) will be a revelation. It will argue for why so many think so much of this important musician. Fans, however, will be drawn to the subject, but might find the treatment a tad trying.

The Plot:
This two disc DVD collection is just that - two separate (and previously released) DVDs in one package. The first disc is a decent Kate Bush biography, tracing her career from teenage phenom to lost in exile wife and mother. It systematically walks through each of her studio albums (from The Kick Inside to Aerial), discusses her one and only live tour, the influence of dance (and its study) on her muse, and the various minor scandals that plagued her otherwise exemplary entertainment life. We get snippets from her compelling music videos, interviews with music journalists, friends, and collaborators, and witness the slow and steady rise from unknown quantity to frilly first Lady of England. The second disc breaks down her "classic album", Hounds of Love, providing a track by track dissection of the record, her song styles and approach, and the epic 'side long' suite that makes up the work's last sonic act.

The DVD:
With Kate Bush: A Life of Surprises, you have to put up with a lot of educated assumptions. While Hounds of Love was and is a great album, opting for something a bit more esoteric in either approach (the front to back brilliance of Never For Ever) or ambition (the universally weird The Dreaming) would have made for a more interesting documentary dissertation. Hearing scholars mew over Bush's use of repeated piano signatures and melodic allusions grows old after a while. Similarly, we see how Hounds was one of her more "mainstream" hits, meaning that its takes front and center because it can offer more bang for a potential consumer's buck. Still, the surreal stomp of The Dreaming's "Sat in Your Lap" or the horror movie mantras of "Leave It Open" would have been much more compelling a critical backdrop than the basic ballads that make up most of the Ninth Wave concept. Besides, nothing kills the magic of something quicker than having it pulled apart, reorganized and droned over. By the time the Hounds of Love disc is done, you'll wish you never heard of tracks like "Running Up that Hill (Deal with God)" or "Cloudbusting."

At least the career overview gets the job done in style. Sure, it's incremental and step by step and covers material that any Bush fans knows like the back of their Lionheart LP, but it's still a compelling tale. Bush is an anomaly, an artist actually allowed to flourish by a company that saw her potential, not profit margins. They let her develop, paying her to practice songwriting and craft. They never demanded that she tour and indulged odd decisions like a short film (for theatrical distribution) based on a song from The Red Shoes. As beautiful as she is - and Bush is stunning at any age - she is never required to play on her looks. There are no shocking sex kitten moments or attempts at luring the demo via cheesecake or softcore. Bush remained a steadfastly independent and unusual artist. Her "hits" were almost accidents, few following the typical pop song strategies. On the other hand, a haunting tune like the gorgeous "The Man With the Child In His Eyes" sounds like a missing moment from a Sondheim musical.

Of course, with both presentations, issues abound. More times than not, the conversations are cloying and contradictory. One person will argue that The Dreaming was a dismal failure while another will state how stoic and brilliant it is. Another will mention that the synthesizer really opened up Bush's song style while another immediately chimes in on how mechanical and meaningless it was. Also MIA is any mention her work with Peter Gabriel. After guesting on his self-titled third LP (she was the French siren in "Games without Frontiers"), she went on to duet with the man on So's sensational "Don't Give Up." Bush has also worked with friend and mentor David Gilmour many times, but he is given mere lip service here, dragged out whenever a level of superstar support is needed. And let's not forget the major gaps in the timeline - little after her signing by EMI, even less once she goes off to play house. We don't need to know everything about this frail, fascinating artist, but the high points would be preferred to pontification over chord structure and music video dynamics. Kate Bush is a brilliant, complex musician. This two disc set barely makes a case for either.

The Video:
Disc One offers up the career spanning overview "Under Review." It is presented in a fuzzy, often muddy 1.33:1 full screen image. Even the video elements looks soft and slightly askew. Similarly, the Hounds of Love album breakdown has weak 4:3 image. Sometimes, the faces and places look good. At other instances, obvious flaws in the production process (and age of stock material used) show through.

The Audio:
Another disappointing element here is the decision to offer both DVDs with nothing more than a standard Dolby Digital Stereo mix. Music as powerful and intricate as Bush's needs more than just a modest presentation. Sure, the discussions are easy to understand and decipher, but we want to hear that Bush bravado in a massive multichannel choice, not some twee and tinny take.

The Extras:
Disc One ("Under Review") offers up a single interview segment extension, a list of contributors to the piece, and an interactive quiz. Disc Two (Hounds of Love Classic Album) offers another Q&A contribution and more bios. Aside for some ads for the DVD distributor, that's it.

Final Thoughts:
As a Kate Bush fan going all the way back to her oddball appearance on Saturday Night Live (1979), yours truly was absolutely fascinated by this collection for several reasons. First, it gives newcomers a nice overview of her career and canon. Second, unlike other similarly styled exposes, it has lots of Bush music and video material to illustrate its points. Third, it offers a nice primer from which future fixations on her catalog can commence, and finally, it's KATE FRIGGIN' BUSH - the lady is a stark raving genius!!! Of course, the collection comes Highly Recommended, wanting warts and all. Unlike other attempts to make bank off the name and reputation of someone substantially more significant than oneself, this twofer ain't new, but it's knowledgeable. It's hard to be in unrequited love with an artist as special as Kate Bush. Thankfully, a combo offering like this makes the struggle a little more palatable.

Want more Gibron Goodness? Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here

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