Purple Women: Prince & Kate Bush Make Beautiful Chaos Together

'Purple Women' is a limited tribute series honoring the women who made music and history with Prince during his lifetime. To follow this series and check out the who's who of women on the roster, be sure to visit the introductory page for further information.  

It would seem that Prince and Kate Bush were from two divergent universes, a couple of cosmic contradictions operating without ever acknowledging existence of one another, but as Graeme Thomson described in Under The Ivy: The Life & Music of Kate Bush, the Purple funk sultan and British art rock queen were "remarkably similar" in their make-up, destined to one day have the urge to merge. They were both "relentlessly mythologised, very private, undeniably eccentric with a dry, quirky sense of humour, obsessed with control, and displaying an inventiveness that was often misunderstood and sometimes ridiculed".

As fans of both, the statement is hella accurate.

Prince and Kate Bush aren't the easiest of artists to decode and analyze, this known from even my own experiences of (trying) to write about them via this blog and in other writings. You might have an idea of how they're operating, or what their music is representing, but then it could be all speculation and 'pull-out-of-ass' theory in the end. Their distinctiveness as artists is another road block to their conjoined psyches. Even when you don't know all the particulars or haven't heard every morsel of their catalogs, you know when Prince has his hand in a production, you know that that is Kate's ethereal voice springing out at you. Their unique approach to sound and vision is worn resplendent on the outset, and it often requires a palette that likes the taste acquired.

But in 1993, the powers that be conspired to brings these two contradicting beings into the same orbit, because...well, it's always more fun that way.

By now we know that most of Prince's female collaborations begin with a crush, and Prince found Kate bae. Devouring Kate's music as I do, I kind of have an idea as to why Prince was smitten, she wasn't just serving all that Babooshka-body, but her wordsmith talents were a definite woo, along with the heady, complex subject matters that she discussed within the art rock frame. Whether she was placing herself in the mindset of Vietnam war soldiers ("Pull Out The Pin"), predicting the unnatural obsession towards computers ("Deeper Understanding") or pulling out sensual, feminized romantic odes ("The Sensual World"), Kate always wove an intriguing story.

Kate also fell for Prince when she caught his now-legendary Nude Tour in 1990, vowing to collaborate soon with the Purple One, and later sending him a multi-track tape of the bare bones of what would become "Why Should I Love You?", a new track for her Red Shoes project, asking him outright to provide background vocals.

Now...Kate should've known better than to ask such a simple task of Prince, as Prince never just wants to do one thing. When he got hands on her recordings, he dismantled them, re-configuring all of its inner-workings, where the song took on a new voice, even possessed a new soul. As Prince's then-engineer Michael Koppelman described it, "We essentially created a new song on a new piece of tape and then flew all of Kate's tracks back on top of it… Prince stacked a bunch of keys, guitars, bass, etc, on it, and then went to sing background vocals."

The manic swirl of "Why Should I Love You?" did fit well within the eclectic frame of 1993's The Red Shoes. The album as a whole gets a lot of hard knocks because it's not as thematic and accessible as her 1985 classic, Hounds Of Love and it's not flat-out bizarre and daring as 1983's The Dreaming. At times the album does feel like a rush job, with little to no cohesion, and Kate sounded less-inspired and almost drained of the wit and whimsy that is her forte. The Red Shoes does have it's moments. Searing balladry in the form of "Moments of Pleasure" and "Top Of The City" are notable highlights, and the spirited pop-funk of "Rubberband Girl" and "Eat The Music" with its jovial maypole dance around food metaphors light the shadowy corners of the album.

Like past albums, The Red Shoes does relish in Kate's fancy to explore the darker recesses of fairy tales, as the title track's song re-imagines the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale of a dancer being so possessed over her art that she is ensnared in an eternal dance with enchanted ballet slippers, never finding peace, forever pirouetting into madness. While its a skeletal thesis that was little supported in the sense of the album, the possessed dancer is symbolic of Kate's headspace at the time. During the making of the album, Kate went through a very difficult patch, as the death of her mother hung over her, along with the death of close friend and guitarist Alan Murphy, whom died of AIDS-related pneumonia. Also her relationship with her then-engineer Del Palmer was on the rocks and led to frictions during the recording process of the album. Kate didn't need to sing about a Bronte sisters novel, she was straight-up living in one, where old ghosts and romantic melancholia clouded her mindset, and the album she utilized as a creative outlet for her pain and confusion.

On the opposite end, Prince was doing as he damn well pleased, hopscotching from one creative jaunt into the next, courting his new love affair of hip-hop, his difficult 1990s period barely registering on the radar as of yet. He was hitting a creative peak, while Kate dipped into a plateau. These contrast of attitudes and the adjoining of two enigmatic minds makes "Why Should I Love You?" the difficult, polarizing dark carnival of sound it ended up being.

I admit to not being much of a fan of this particular song. I think in my earlier listens it sounded like a muddled mess, something not worth to share track space with "Moments of Pleasure" and "Rubberband Girl", but after giving it a second, third, and fourth chance (yes, I am that diligent), it took on a new kind of luster. I began to appreciate it for being the lovechild of all that is Prince, and all that is Kate. How their best features as artists, merge, their cosmic beings colliding into what can be described as a beautiful chaos. 

True, "Why Should I Love You?" doesn't really go anywhere, but isn't that the point sometimes? The point that you're just along to look at the scenery, not thinking about getting out at the next stop. And the scenery is too captivating to look away as it's a swirling and vivid assemblage of instruments that edge towards the psychedelic baroque quirk of Parade-era Prince. (In some moments I wonder if it escaped off of Wendy & Lisa's 1989 set, Fruit At The Bottom, as it is so bouncy and colorful...)

It is somewhat a taxing listen as instruments and vocals come shooting at you from all sides, but be thankful you didn't have the job Kate and Palmer had prepping the track for the album, as the two spent two years trimming the thatched and thorny interior of the reassembled track Prince reworked, paring it down to what is heard on the record today. Leave it to Prince to be ever-indulgent.

Still there are a lot of little nuances in the song that keep me drawing me into its aromatic stew. I adore how Prince and Kate homogenize their vocals, as in the rush of erotic spiritualism, both ask the question: "Of all the people in the world, why should I love you?", both of them, exchanging smirks and playful winks, somewhat ribbing about how the two of them make an unlikely pair, insinuating that the Son of God may have some twisted sense of humor, but for good reason ("Have you ever seen a picture of Jesus laughing? Mmm, do you think He had a beautiful smile? A smile that healed"). As the track progresses, it becomes more and more patterned to a 'paisley print', but little things like the beading of organs, crash-wave drums, and a squealing electric guitar solo, bring depth to an already vivid, kaleidoscopic splash of sound.

Prince, as usual, overpowers even the indomitable Kate to some extent, which to this Kate Bush-ite is pretty spectacular considering. Prince tries, oh boy does he try, to side-step a bit, Kate's agile vocals ascending clear as always throughout, but Prince ends up owning every fiber of this song, Kate never competing with this, but giving into the free flow of purple sound because it is better that way.

Prince and Kate would work together for one final time, on 1996's "My Computer", but nobody really talks about that...and well, they don't talk about "Why Should I Love You?" either. The feelings about this song are conflicting between fans of both alike. Some believe it's just senseless noise, others find art within its churning, confusing cavern. Koppelman called it "lame disco" once, a phrase you can take anyway you want, but all I know if Prince and Kate Bush can come up with something like "Why Should I Love You?" with all the contradictions and conflicts of their creative natures, then "lame disco" never sounded so united, so intriguing, and so inviting to just dive into and forget about all formalities.
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