Few who borne witness to those dark days in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s and survived would be so brave, nay foolish, to speak of the atrocities that happened in the name of ‘Pop’. Specifically three words that to this day make grown adults shiver in the sunshine and scream out in their slumber. The horror! The horror!...(Locks the door tight) STOCK! (pulls the curtains) AITKEN! (hides under duvet) WATERMAN! (says three Hail Mary’s, soils bed). Only haunted war veterans could understand the ungodly barbarities we suffered. “You wouldn’t understand man, YOU WEREN’T THERE!” Three nefarious demons with the unhinged, blasphemous belief that “Anyone could be a popstar”. When there’s no room left in hell, the S/A/W hit factory shall rule the world…and it did for, ooh, about five long, agonising years. It was a “Hit Factory” with a silent “S”. Sonia, Big Fun, Sinitta, the Alessi Twins, Pat & Mick, Brother Beyond, Jason Donovan, Steps, Rick Astley and the nadir of despair (weeps)...the Reynolds Girls! But the blue-eyed poster girl for the S/A/W tyranny was the pint-sized Antipodean terminator known as Kylie Minogue. Indestructible. Unstoppable. All-conquering. (Insert maniacal laugh here.)
So how come a quarter century later we know Kylie is “Alright, actually” and maybe even “One of us”. How dat? One glimpse in the rearview mirror to the three-headed Führer’s Occupation Years (1987-1991) is still enough to have you frantically fumbling for the cyanide capsules. “I Should Be So Lucky” will always sound like the four-minute warning to a global nuclear holocaust, whilst “Never Too Late” still leaves you on your knees crying out “Why Lord? WHY?”. Both whither, though, in the shadow of the dead-eyed, mechanical, mass butcherings of “Celebration”, “Give Me Just a Little More Time”, “Tears On My Pillow” and “The Locomotion”. Each once-beloved classic is coldly executed without compassion or mercy. “I know you’ll get to like it if you give it a chance now” (jumps from window).
As the decade turned, the S/A/W empire began to collapse into the sea. Revolution and teen spirit filled the air. Comrades storm the palace! Backed into a corner and knowing their days were numbered, S/A/W offered the angry mob a peace offering…a few (golly!) brilliant songs. “Shocked” and “What Do I Have to Do?” were first-class electro pop bangers, yet inexplicably dumped from this collection. Seriously, what kind of depraved deviant includes “Tears On My Pillow” but not “Shocked”? But, oh “Better the Devil You Know” (included, obviously) was the real jewel. A true rave-pop classic; bruised, lush, euphoric, eternal. Laced with biting irony, aching nostalgia and pining loss, it proved the perfect record at the perfect time. “I’ll forgive…and forget…if you say you’ll never go!” Pull this arrow from thine heart, Cupid! Recast as foxy Bride of Frankenstein, a spark of humanity and defiance lit a fire in Minogue’s heart. Well that and hookin’ up with perv-pant-clad rock messiah Michael “The Hutch” Hutchence. Kylie flipped the script and choked her captors with her chains, Jabba the Hut-stylee. The evil empire was overthrown and Kylie was free…
Free to roam the “Wilderness Years 1992-2000”, of which there is “hits-wise” perhaps understandably scant evidence here. From making chin-strokin’ art-pop with Deee-Lite’s DJ Towa Tei (“GBI”) and covering Prefab Sprout to her commendable indie-cool phase with the Manics (lost classic “Some Kind of Bliss”) and Nick Cave (the bloody ballad “Where the Wild Roses Grow”), the kidz on da street were generally nonplussed. The only trace here of those crazy days and lost weekends is the serpentine ‘n’ Gothic, Doors’ sampling “Confide in Me”.
So after gettin’ her freak firmly on for much of the ‘90s (and starring, tee hee, in Streetfighter with Jean Claude Van Damme), Miss Minogue dusted off her gold hot pants and decided having proper pop enormo-hits was “Probably a good idea, actually”. Well hurrah and pass the Moët for this is where The Best of starts to really earn its keep. The near legendary, disco 2000 comeback single “Spinning Around” stills sounds classy, fragrant and imperial whilst bedroom-eyed, nightclubber “On A Night Like This” is still hot enough to melt large glaciers. Similarly, the inspired, dreamdate pop-rocky coupling with Sir Robbie of Williams on “Kids” is Schmoky and the Bandit cool. A pop-sparring as whipsmart as Nancy ‘n’ Lee, “You can’t just leave me I’m a singer in a band”, “Well I like drummers baby, you’re not my baaaag”.
Back at the toppermost of the poppermost, La Minogue released the “Bloomin’-hell-this-is-pretty-good” Fever album and the ubiquitous “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”. Hypnotic, subtle, aloof and like much of the album it took its roots from Daft Punk’s “All Around the World” and their sister group Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You”. “Head” was a UK number 1 for several lifetimes and perhaps familiarity has dimmed its power slightly, but the rest of the Fever era remains boxfresh. The floorshakin’, rollerskatin’ jam called “Love at First Sight” is gloriously radiant, sunny Saturday afternoons forever, whilst the sassy tubthumper “In Your Eyes” is still hips, perfume ‘n’ lipstick invincible.
Truth be told, subsequent years proved a mix of treasures and trash. Like her Madgesty, Kylie’s kept her ear to the ground, favouring a vampiric path to immortality and this has brought similarly mixed results. The trying-too-hard electro-buzz of “Slow” is dull and oddly sexless, whilst “Red Blooded Woman” is a clumsy “Genie in a Bottle” knock-off. The more traditional dizzy pop of “Wow” and “In My Arms” proved moderately more successful attempts to tap the Zeitgeist and serve the soup de jour. But if The Best of tells you one thing, it’s that only a chump writes off Minogue. Her Scissor Sisters collaboration “I Believe in You” is a beguiling, elusive, Kate Bush-esque highlight and the analogue glow of triumphant 2010 single “All the Lovers” is soulful, joyful, heartfelt and genuinely affecting.
If there were crimes committed against pop many moons ago, there is redemptive evidence on The Best of Kylie Minogue to warrant her a full reprieve ‘n’ pardon and perhaps even freedom of the city. For those scarred by the deathly hallows of the S/A/W dictatorship, it’s certainly long since time to forgive if not forget. Misleading title, dopey sequencing and occasional “Just crap”-ness aside, The Best of still offers much masterclass in perfect pop. One of us! One of us!
// Notes from the Road
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