The Sensual World

Album: The Sensual World (1989)
Charted: 12

Songfacts®:

  • This is the title track from Bush's sixth studio album. The song is a blend of Celtic and Middle Eastern sounds.
  • This is about someone who steps out from their 2D, black-and-white world as a character in a book, into the real world. The character's immediate impressions are that of the sensuality of this world: you can touch things, the color of the trees, the feel of grass on your feet, etc.
  • Kate originally had lyrics from the book Ulysses by James Joyce, but could not get permission to use them. The original lyrics were the soliloquy at the end of the book by the character Molly Bloom. Bush told the NME: "Because I couldn't get permission to use a piece of Joyce it gradually turned into the songs about Molly Bloom the character stepping out of the book, into the real world and the impressions of sensuality. Rather than being in this two dimensional world, she's free, let loose to touch things, feel the ground under her feet, the sunsets, just how incredibly sensual a world it is.

    I originally heard the piece read by Siobhan McKenna years ago and I thought 'My God! This is extraordinary, what a piece of writing!' it's a very unusual train of thought, very attractive. First I got the 'mmh yes' and that made me think of Molly Bloom's speech, and we had this piece of music in the studio already so it came together really quickly. Then, because I couldn't get permission to use Joyce, it took another year changing it to what it is now. Typical innit!"
  • The bells at the beginning of the song were part of the rewrite trying to capture the same sensual feel of the original bit from Ulysses. The bells also tie in with the fact that the character Molly Bloom had just received a marriage proposal. Bush explained to the NME: "I've got a thing about the sound of bells, it's one of those fantastic sound, sound of celebration. They're used to mark points in life – births, weddings, deaths – but they give this tremendous feeling of celebration. In the original speech she's talking of the time when he proposed to her, and I just had the image of bells, this image of them sitting on the hillside with the sound of bells in the distance. In hindsight, I also think it's a lovely way to start an album, a feeling of celebration that puts me on a hillside somewhere on a sunny afternoon and it's like mmh...Sounds of celebration get fewer and fewer, we haven't many left, and yet people complain of the sound of bells in cities." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Lee - Ottawa, Canada, for all above
  • Irish folk musician Davey Spillane plays a Macedonian air, "Nevestinsko Oro," on his uillean pipes in the middle this song. Bush explained why to the NME: "It was one of those, 'Oh what the hell' things. That seems to have been the way with a lot of this album. Sort of 'Oh god, tut, will it work, ooh, er...' Then when I've eventually just gone for it seems to have worked."
  • After eventually obtaining permission to use the soliloquy at the end of the Ulysses, Bush re-recorded the song with the words of Molly Bloom for her 2011 album Director's Cut. She re-titled the new version, "Flower of the Mountain."
  • Bush admitted to Q magazine's Phil Sutcliffe that the "spark took life in my hand" line near the end this song is "rather saucy." She added. "Don't you think art is a tremendous sensual – sexual expression? I feel that energy is often… The driving force!"
  • A music journalist from Holland sent Bush a cassette containing the Macedonian melody that she subsequently arranged for Irish instruments on the track. Paddy Bush, Kate's brother, put out an open letter through the Kate Bush Fan Club to try to track down the journalist and give him credit. Unfortunately, the man had already published an accusation in a Dutch music magazine accusing Kate of fraud.
  • The music video features Bush as a medieval character who is communing with nature in a forest. She co-directed the clip with Peter Richardson, co-founder of the comedy series The Comic Strip. Says Bush: "We wanted to make the video for 'The Sensual World' as simple as possible in that so many videos now are overloaded with effects, big sets, they look expensive. So what we wanted to do was just keep it in one set, one environment and depict what for me the song 'The Sensual World' is about, which is the sensuality of this planet, the weather, the elemental changes, being able to reach out and touch, the sound of the wind, all of these wonderful things that we are surrounded by."
  • This was the third consecutive album produced solely by Bush. For The Sensual World, she wanted to tap into her femininity, particularly on the title track, as opposed to the masculinity of her previous release Hounds Of Love. She explained to Melody Maker: "It's difficult to put into words, but I think, on the last album, Hounds of Love, particularly in the production, I wanted to try and get across a sense of power, and the way I related to that was very much what I consider very good male music - the kind of power I found there was not what I found in a lot of females' music. It's not that I was trying to write like a man or anything - but there was this level of approaching the album, soundwise, that I think had a male energy. But I didn't want to do that on this album. I wanted to do it as a woman, not as a woman working around a man's world. This all sounds awful!"

    She continued: "I think The Sensual World was very much a chance for me to express myself as a female in a female way, and I found that original piece very positive female talking... That's the only way I can describe it."
  • This was used in the 1999 thriller Felicia's Journey.
  • This features Bush's brother Paddy on... fishing rods. "The swishing sound," he explained, "should conjure the atmosphere of fly-fishing, tweed hats and long wellingtons."

Comments: 3

  • Jason from Ibiza, SpainAnd at the end of the song the quote "And my arrows of desire re-write the speech" whilst referring to her having changed Joyce's text, alludes, at the same time, to "Jerusalem" by William Blake. kate had already recorded the music when she realised the final passage from "Ulysses" fitted perfectly into the composition
  • Emilia from Gdańsk, PolandI love this song! so... sensual! then i'd taken the kiss of seedcake back from his mouth..... so enchanting!!
  • Rob from LondonThe bells at the beginning of the song are the same bells that you can hear on Kate's (excellent) Hound Of Love album on the track Waking The Witch. They kick in at 1min 38secs.
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