The Sensual World is the sixth studio album by Kate Bush, released by EMI Records on 16 October 1989. It was written, composed and produced by Kate.
As with Hounds of Love, the album was recorded mainly in Kate’s home studio, after it was upgraded, adding an SSL console. Kate said she felt “overwhelmed by the amount of equipment aroud me. It was quite stifling, and I made a conscious effort to move away from that, and treat the song as the song.”
Del Palmer was her principal engineer, and they often worked together on the new album, with Haydn Bertall appearing now and again. Three tracks on the album feature backing vocals by the Trio Bulgarka. The title track was inspired by James Joyce’s book Ulysses, specifically the closing passage of the novel by Molly Bloom. When the estate refused the use of that text, Kate wrote her own which echos the original passage, but adds a dimension: ‘Stepping out of the page / into the sensual world‘.
The album was nominated for a Grammy in the ‘Alternative: Best Alternative Music Performance (vocal or instrumental)’ category. The award went to Sinéad O’Connor instead.
The album consists of the following tracks:
- The Sensual World
- Love and Anger
- The Fog
- Reaching Out
- Heads We’re Dancing
- Deeper Understanding
- Between A Man And A Woman
- Never Be Mine
- Rocket’s Tail
- This Woman’s Work
- Walk Straight Down The Middle (bonus track on cd)
The album was originally released on LP, CD, tape and MiniDisc.
The album was also included in the This Woman’s Work box set in 1990.
In 2005, a so-called ‘mini LP replica’ version was released on CD in Japan.
In 2010, Audio Fidelity released ‘The Sensual World’ on vinyl with new remastering by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray.
In 2011, the album was first released on the Fish People label.
In 2023, an ash grey colour vinyl LP was released.
Many reviews of ‘The Sensual World’ were positive.
Kate Bush’s music emanates from a grander reality, an inner truth… like all her best achievements, this album marries the physical honesty and self-pride of Marvin Gaye to the querying passionate intelligence of say Elizabeth Smart and gives birth to a rare mystical and aesthetic presence…Chris Roberts, Melody Maker, 1989
A strange and remarkable record which has very little to do with anything else musical, a fair bit to do with the real world of sex, love, and introversion, and everything to do with uniqueness. Kate Bush remains alone, ahead, and a genius.David Quantick, NME, 1989
Bush’s strongest point has always been her ability to acutely sum up female sensuality without ever crossing the line between erotic and crass… this is some of the most intriguing ethereal music she has written.Billboard (USA), 1989
Calm, expansive and serene, it’s a womanist record… acknowledging rather than challenging. She’s most effective when going deep inside to investigate something more focused pliant and tangible.Lucy O’Brien, City Limits, 19 October 1989
With the lyrical ‘Sensual World’ Kate has created her most personal record yet. She has turned her back on the mainstream and created a very intimate album… the exciting thing about this record is the new sounds Kate brings into her very British universe… hypnotic and alluring.Lars Schwandler, MM (Denmark), October/November 1989
A song cycle as rich and deep as this takes years to mature. Her original use of rhyme and metre, the wide frame of reference she draws on as a composer, and her inventive and fearless approach to singing fall into perfect sync on nearly every song.Kristine McKenna, Musician (USA), December 1989
Kate about ‘The Sensual World’
Other people have said to me that they think this album is very dark, although for me I think it’s my happiest album really. I find some of the tracks quite funny where other people say they find them scary. Although I have a dark sense of humour, maybe it is a subconscious thing that just goes into my music, because I think when I was writing this album that was perhaps something I was feeling a little – a sense of being a bit scared. Maybe it comes out in the music. I do think it’s a very big self- therapy thing now – the more I work on an album the more I think it’s almost a process for me to try and heal myself, have a look at myself. Do you know what I mean? Actually a very selfish thing in a way, but I think art is. I do think what artistic people are trying to do is work through their problems through their art – look at themselves, confront all these things. (…) It’s not that the album is written about me, not that it is autobiographical, but it is the most direct process I’ve used for an album. It’s in my own studio and I had a lot of time so as not to be under pressure by outside forces. I’ve recorded the whole album with Del so it’s just myself and Del in a very close relationship working together very intensely and it was hard for me to write this album. To actually write the songs was very difficult, and for the first time really, I went through a patch where I just couldn’t write – I didn’t know what I wanted to say. (…) Everything seemed like rubbish – you know? It seemed to have no meaning whatsoever. Somehow I managed to get a sense of some meaningfulness, and that’s why (…) to me now, albums are perhaps a way of helping myself, but maybe helping other people too. To work through my problems maybe will help other people too. To work through my problems maybe will help other people to work through their problems. Maybe the meaningfulness of art is that once you’ve got over your selfish work within it, you can give it to other people and hopefully it might at least make them smile or something.Roger Scott, Interview. Radio 1 (UK), 14 October 1989
I think this album for me, unlike the last album, say, Hounds of Love, where I saw that as two sides – one side being conceptual – this album is very much like short stories for me. Ten short stories that are just saying something different in each one and it was a bit like trying to paint the pictures accordingly. Each song has a different personality and so they each a need little bit of something here, a little bit of that there – just like people, you know, some people you can’t walk up to because you know they’re a bit edgy first thing in the morning. So you have to come up sideways to them, you know, and it’s kind of like how the songs are too. They have their own little personalities, and if it doesn’t want you to do it, it won’t let you.The VH-1 interview, January 1990
I just felt that I was exploring my feminine energy more -musically. In the past I had wanted to emanate the kind of power that I’ve heard in male music. And I just felt maybe somewhere there is this female energy that’s powerful. It’s a subtle difference – male or female energy in art – but I think thereisa difference: little things, like using the Trio. And possibly some of the attitudes to my lyric writing on this album. I would say it was more accepting of being a female somehow.John Diliberto, ‘Kate Bush’s Theatre Of The Senses’. Musician, February 1990
Highest chart positions
New Zealand: 27
- The Sensual World. Wikipedia, retrieved 13 November 2014.
- Graeme Thomson, Under The Ivy: The Life & Music Of Kate Bush, cop. 2012. ISBN 9781780381466.
- Krystyna Fitzgerald-Morris (ed.), Peter Fitzgerald-Morris (ed.) & Dave Cross (ed.), Homeground: The Kate Bush Magazine Anthology One, 2014. ISBN 978-1861714794