Home Music Discography Discography: Kate Bush: The Red Shoes

Discography: Kate Bush: The Red Shoes

In 1989, Kate Bush proposed the idea of falling in love with a machine, namely a computer. Four years later, she imagines herself as a machine, one that dances. She cannot tire, but she cannot stop: “Oh it’s gonna be the way you always dreamt about it/ But it’s gonna be really happening to you.” Prior to this realization, made on the title track of 1993’s The Red Shoes, she opens the album with a desire to be the most free-spirited, easygoing version of herself. “Rubberband Girl”’s straightforward tempo enjoins one to fall in line with its fanfare. Here, life’s purpose is as easy as falling in line, flexibility as opposed to fighting. But, it is one thing to desire something and another to have it.

A decade into Bush’s career, where she was fresh out of her 20s, exiting a long-term relationship with a constant collaborator, and pushed to the limits recording albums like The Dreaming, The Red Shoes took stock of where she had landed. Dance always played a role in her art, and by 30s she began to see the toll it, along with the toils of creation itself, took upon her body. “Now we see that life is sad/ And so is love” is a Sade-esque tribulation of someone who allowed love to determine their path, for better or worse.

When we love someone or something, we push ourselves to our limits. More distressingly, we make ourselves vulnerable. Many of Bush’s loved ones at this point had passed, namely her mother, or grown distant (Del Palmer). “Tis it better to have loved than never loved at all?” is a common thread of The Red Shoes. Like Dorothy and her ruby slippers, Bush finds herself blessed with all this glory and power, qualities that only mean she has so much more to lose. The song isn’t called “Lifetimes of Pleasure” for a reason.

In its companion mini feature, The Line, The Cross, and the Curve, Bush finds herself quite literally taken prisoner by the red shoes, tricked onto her form by an equally beguiling, mysterious dancer. The film includes all sorts of references contemporary and classic: the hellscape boasts the same red curtains as Lynch’s Black Lodge, and her “guide” in this realm resembles the frightening Man Who Laughs. Bush strings these disparate influences together the same way she imbues pop with her baroque sensibilities, further highlighting the parallel between this tortured dancer and her own strife as an artist who works too hard and feels too deeply.

Attempts to control her compulsions often fall into spiritual, Catholic realm, likely in reference to her mother. So, she turns to her spiritual guide, “Lily,” for guidance, who offers the advice “Protect yourself with fire.” It’s a radical form of advice, a choice of destruction, heat and possible violence – fight fire with fire. With everyone making songs about the devil these days, The Line… seems prescient with its inclusion of a manic Bush dancing upon skulls and hellfire. Reclaiming these qualities for her own protection and survival, she offers a new interpretation of not only spirituality but also the famous fairytale she based the album on. Here, our protagonist channels the shoes’ power into something she can harness for herself.

That’s not to say it isn’t a lonely, sad place for her to be. Bush, with her immense power and independence, also becomes isolated, placed at a vantage point where all is visible but so far from her grasp (“Top of the City”). Partners, too, have difficulty keeping up: “Can you hang onto me?” asks “Big Stripey Lie,” where emotions, total and all-encompassing, take hold.

At this stage of her life, Bush wondered who could meet her at this plane of existence. The only answers are fellow geniuses at her level, namely Prince, who completes the New Jack Swing and SOS Band qualities of the album’s latter half with the penultimate “Why Should I Love You.” Here, both he and Bush are not asking this question to each other but to the listener, who likely fails to fully understand the unique position of a famed creative. But at this point, such a realization is not seen by Bush as isolating but exalting; why settle, compromise for someone when you can ask them to meet you at your level?

The Red Shoes acknowledges that such hardships exist as a part of life, and part of overcoming them is knowing when to bend with them and when to resist them. “Just being alive it can really hurt…”“Without the hurting/ We would never change” reminds me of a meme take on one of her famous opening lines: “It does hurt me.” Bush breaks the spell of the infamous ballet shoes, but she doesn’t take them off, instead choosing to wear them as a testament to what she’s accomplished and what she’s capable of. It’s definitely a more graceful, fashionable form of a cross to bear.

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