Kate Bush

This Woman's Work [Box Set]

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Blessed with one of the loveliest voices in the industry and a talent for creating theatrical, affecting songs, Kate Bush is the Stanley Kubrick of recorded music. Her life-long career has resulted in only seven full-length studio albums and one official live release. And much like Kubrick's films, each of those albums is an impassioned, singular work of artistic vision crafted by a perfectionist. This Woman's Work, released by EMI in 1990, collects Bush's first six studio releases supplemented by two full-length discs of bonus material. Manufactured and released simultaneously in the U.S., Canada, and Japan, the Japanese release is the collector's best bet for superior packaging and sound quality. It features two substantial booklets: one comprised of 26 color photographs spanning Bush's career and the other, titled "This Woman's Work, 1958-1990: The Biographical Notes of Kate Bush," a 28-pager in Japanese only. Additionally, a detailed singles discography (1977-1986) is included in The Dreaming booklet. Beginning with her auspicious 1978 pop release, The Kick Inside, through her glossy 1989 production, The Sensual World, Bush's studio releases are presented here adorned in their original British cover art with lyrics (in English and Japanese) and detailed song-by-song personnel included. The collected works and supplemental photographs are an elegant testament to Bush's unique vision and eclectic talents. The musical range and time span of the material also convey a fascinating evolution of those talents.

Highlights from Bush's albums are numerous. In short, 1980-1985 stands as her most creative period, yielding Never for Ever, The Dreaming, and Hounds of Love. Never for Ever displays an uncanny leap (from Lionheart) in Bush's writing and performance skills. On compositions like "The Wedding List," "Delius (Song of Summer)," and "Breathing," she lays down fertile groundwork and sows the seeds that grow into trees on The Dreaming and Hounds of Love. The Dreaming is Bush's most accomplished and progressive work to date. Startling and even overwhelming at times, the album is rife with experimentation. Bush's vocal delivery and lyrics transcend anything she has done before or since. From the otherworldly darkness and bewildering rage of "Get Out of My House" to the quirky, fairy garden sounds of "Suspended in Gaffa," The Dreaming is a display of the artist at full tilt, all synapses firing toward a thematic, visionary end. Hounds of Love is Bush's most commercially successful album, and for good reason. Part pop, part prog rock/art rock, Hounds hits all corners of Bush's fan base. A slickly produced, mature, and personal work, the album is actually a sort of heightened, warmer continuation of The Dreaming. Featuring the driving, upbeat radio hits "Hounds of Love" and "The Big Sky," the moody, nightmarish sounds of "Waking the Witch," and the heart swelling on the lilting "Morning Fog" and "Watching You Without Me," Hounds is a reflection of the matured artist on the verge of introspection and assessment.

The bonus discs included in the box set are the main draw for hardcore fans. While this material certainly has its moments, there's really nothing substantial here for the casual listener to warrant purchase of the set. The spare and sedate Vol. 1 (1980-1989) is comprised of previously unreleased material, much of which has since been made available (at least for a limited time), and previously available work that had been long out of print. The highlights here are the vocal workouts: "December Will Be Magic Again" (1980), "Under the Ivy" (1985), the doleful, a cappella "My Lagan Love" (1985), and the sublime "Handsome Cabin Boy" (1986). Vol. 2 (1979, 1985-1990) is much livelier than its companion, due in large part to the rollicking concert recordings and the general upbeat quality of Bush's songs. The 1979 performances at Hammersmith (taken from her On Stage EP), baring Bush early in her career, are an entertaining and refreshing contrast to the later, slickly produced recordings on Hounds of Love, The Sensual World, and their subsequent remixes. At the same time, it is this slick, polished gloss that makes her later work so successful. Thankfully, the remixes of 1985-1990 recordings are not the standard, annoying dance mixes so prevalent in the market at the time. That said, they also aren't particularly interesting, with the pleasant exception of "The Big Sky [Meteorological Mix]." This eight-minute remix features effective, pronounced percussion and a playful midsection with characters commenting on the shapes of clouds. Other highlights include the energetic "Ken" (from the comic strip film GLC), "Wuthering Heights [New Vocal]," and the dramatic "Experiment IV." The bonus discs include lyrics but not track-by-track personnel.

By 1990 CD standards, This Woman's Work was ahead of the pack in terms of superior box design, exquisite sound quality, and an abundance of glossy color photographs; however, the exclusion of English liner notes about the artist and her work is simply a wasted opportunity. The set went out of print but was reissued in 1998. While it's no longer comprehensive or essential for fans, This Woman's Work is a handsome (and expensive) trophy for collectors and completists.

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blue highlight denotes track pick