The Sensual World is the sixth studio album by the English singer Kate Bush. It was released in October 1989 and peaked at no.2 in the UK album charts. It has been certified Platinum by the BPI for sales of 300,000 in the UK, and Gold by the RIAA in the US.
Bush drew inspiration for the title track from the novel Ulysses by James Joyce. Bush realised that Molly Bloom's soliloquy, the closing passage of the novel, fitted the music she had created. When the Joyce estate refused to release the text, Bush wrote original lyrics that echo the original passage, as Molly steps from the pages of the book and revels in the real world. She also alluded to "Jerusalem" by William Blake in a reference to the song's gestation ("And my arrows of desire rewrite the speech"). The song includes Irish instrumentation (uilleann pipes, fiddle, whistle) under a breathy rendering of the orgasmic 'Yes' of the original text.
The songs "Deeper Understanding," "Never Be Mine," and "Rocket's Tail" all feature backing vocals by the Bulgarian vocal ensemble Trio Bulgarka. "Heads We're Dancing" includes a characteristic Mick Karnfretless bassline. The song "This Woman's Work" from the movie She's Having a Baby (1988) was re-edited for this album. On 27 November 2005 it was featured in the British TV drama Walk Away and I Stumble starring Tamzin Outhwaite. Due to that broadcast, the song reached #3 on the UK download chart in late 2005. This song has also been used in a long-running UK television advert for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, broadcast in 2005–2008, and in the Extras Christmas Special in 2007. A version of the song was recorded by R&B artist Maxwell in 1997 for his MTV Unplugged album.
Released as CD players were becoming increasingly popular, the original LP ended with "This Woman's Work", whilst "Walk Straight Down the Middle" was included as a bonus track on the CD and cassette versions of the album. The gap between these two tracks is slightly longer to indicate the album was intended to finish with "This Woman's Work".
A video collection called The Sensual World: The Videos was also released. It contained videos for the title song, "Love and Anger", and "This Woman's Work" (all directed by Bush herself), as well as excerpts from an interview Bush gave to the music TV channel VH1.
In 2010, Audio Fidelity reissued The Sensual World on vinyl with new mastering by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray.
In May 2011, Bush released a new album, Director's Cut which featured entirely re-conceived versions of four songs from The Sensual World, including the title song in its new incarnation, "Flower of the Mountain". Finally having received permission from the Joyce estate, Bush recorded a new vocal using Molly Bloom's soliloquy as the lyric. Additionally, she re-recorded a spare, piano-only version of "This Woman's Work". The new version of "Deeper Understanding" was released as a single, with an accompanying video.
"While Bush's famously fey voice would probably be enough to hold the disparate strands of The Sensual World together, the album takes its cue and colouring too from the hypnotically sinuous sway of the pipes on the title track," wrote Robert Sandall in Q. "There are some strapping power chords to be despatched here and there, most notably on Love And Anger, but the dominant mood is of Oriental reverie, similar in feel to that achieved latterly by Japan. And in fact the last track on side one, Heads We're Dancing, reproduces that mysteriously sproingy bass sound favoured by Mick Karn."Slant Magazine listed the album at #55 on its list of the "Best Albums of the 1980s" saying "Blessed with one of music's most wildly expressive voices, Bush takes each song further than she has to, resulting in an album that forms its own unique world."