Kate Bush is an incredible musician and "Rocket Man" is an incredible song. So what went wrong?
Kate Bush is a very, very talented musician. "Rocket Man" by Elton John is a very, very good song. So where did Kate Bush's cover go wrong?
It could've slept peacefully in the 1990s, accumulating cobwebs and fading from public consciousness. But today, Bush decided to release the video of her cover officially for the first time—alongside the announcement that an album of her B-sides and rarities, called The Other Side, is coming out on March 8th.
Bush's "Rocket Man" starts out promisingly, with Kate wailing in her singular soprano over dreamy synths, albeit sounding a bit breathier than usual. But disaster strikes about a minute into the video, when the full band leaps in with a disorienting reggae rhythm and Kate steps into the spotlight with a ukulele, hips swaying side to side robotically. The first chorus ends with a flourish on a sitar, a sound effect that's unexpected, to say the least, especially in light of the Uilleann pipes, concertinas, and synths jingling away in the background.
Kate Bush - Rocket Man - Official Music Video www.youtube.com
It's too many genres mixed together, and it fails to capture any of what makes Kate Bush and Elton John so virtuosic. This cover skips all that and instead features a Celtic-sounding fiddle solo three-quarters of the way through, which collides disorientingly with the reggae beat.
The mash-up of styles is an issue, but another problem is that the whole band seems to be having way too much awkward middle-aged fun. Maybe the trouble is that "Rocket Man" is such an emotional song, but Bush seems to be trying to turn it into a stoner anthem—which Young Thug actually did more successfully, with his appropriately spacious "High." That cover is initially disorienting, but it possesses the melancholy expansiveness that makes the original "Rocket Man" so extravagant and blissful to listen to.
Young Thug - High (ft. Elton John) [Official Audio] www.youtube.com
Bush's cover feels like convoluted abstract art rather than music. If she's really using reggae and hip-shaking to turn "Rocket Man" into a celebration of marijuana, she's doing it in a way that's almost as cringe-worthy as when Hillary Clinton said that she was "just chillin'."
Hillary Clinton Snapchat Video Chillin in Cedar Rapids | Chillary Clinton www.youtube.com
There are many ways to read "Rocket Man." It's rife with metaphors and cosmic allusions. It could be about getting stoned, sure, but it's almost certainly also about loneliness, life on the road, and the isolation of fame. Bush's cover just ignored all this, it seems. Her first hit was about Wuthering Heights; she can understand words, and she chose to read "Rocket Man" this way.
What a lost opportunity. Imagine "Rocket Man," but with the intensity, elegance, and clarity of vision that defines every track on Hounds of Love, or almost every other track she has released. Certainly, the odd Bush stan will love this cover, but most music fans will question its existence—instead of questioning their existence, which is what anyone who listens to "Rocket Man" should do.
Elton John - Rocket Man (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com
There are a few shining exceptions. The image of Bush conducting a symphony of planets and fireworks is aesthetically gorgeous, and the few moments where she does unleash a flood of reverb and harmonies (at the very ends of the choruses) hint at what could have been, and why it became a No. 12 hit in 1991. But for the most part, listeners will be stuck feeling deeply uncomfortable.
Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York. Follow her on Twitter at @edenarielmusic.
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