Twenty-seven years later, “The Loco-Motion” hit-maker, who some thought might easily be but a one-hit wonder, has survived both critical scrutiny and ever-evolving musical climates. It’s not the voice, although its timbre is surely pleasant enough and she consistently sings well in a live setting, unlike many of her peers. It’s not her larger than life persona, one that defies categorization and blindsides detractors with its ingenuity. Her private life is rarely fleshed out for the public to devour and she often seems devoid of a distinctive, bold personality. The semi-plastic pop star with the slightly naughty, girl-next-door charms tried to experiment with her sound in the past and it almost completely derailed her career. What the public clamors for, the public shall have. Twelfth album Kiss Me Once is a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and who’s to argue with that at this point in the game?
Lead single “Into the Blue” was far and away the obvious contender for the first single to lead the album campaign. While not exactly quintessential Kylie Minogue, there’s something euphoric about the ebullient production, perfectly mirroring the liberating lyrics within. Take away the “Ey-oh’s” throughout and the dated synth strings that underlie the orchestra towards the end, and this might actually have been something more noteworthy.
“Million Miles Away” sounds uncannily similar to the type of track Dragonette would have penned for their 2012 album Bodyparts. Perhaps as an admiring nod to the Canadian electro-pop troupe, Minogue’s voice echoes both the tone color and delivery of the fiery, pint-sized frontwoman Martina Sobara. It also recalls the Aphrodite track “Get Outta My Way”, which unsurprisingly shares the same production wizardry of Danish producer-songwriter Cutfather. Real guitars haven’t been overtly present in her music since 1997’s commercial failure Impossible Princess, so it’s refreshing to hear them in the intro. Fans of that experimental album and it’s stylistic foray into the worlds of alt-rock, trip hop and drum and bass, shouldn’t get too terribly excited. Once the beat drops, those guitars drift into the background.
Things were going so well until “I Was Gonna Cancel” arrived. She really should have cancelled. On paper this sounded like one of those sure-fire hit collaborations. Pharrell was recruited to liven up the proceedings, but his work on Madonna’s Hard Candy was more inspired six years ago. Besides the glockenspiel, squelchy Stevie-Wonderesque electric keyboard flourishes, and overly-processed, pseudo-operatic background vocals, there’s little here in this R&B-electro brew, worth throwing back or bothering to revisit. It should have been relegated to a single B-side and replaced with last year’s superior “Skirt”. The song isn’t particularly cutting edge and lyrical gems such as “everything is clearer, than a mirror is to woman, just as safe as a dog is to man”, only serve as fodder for critical mocking.
The undeniably catchy “Sexy Love” sounds like a leftover track from the Fever era. There’s a breezy, carefree vibe about this that somehow recalls the air of a few tracks off Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream. This would be perfectly appropriate appearing on the debut record of a 20-something, manufactured pop upstart, but when Minogue sings such a vapid, toss-away chorus as “You look so sexy, so sexy in my head / you look so sexy, so sexy in my bed,” it seems laughably inane coming out of the lips of a mature 45-year-old woman.
The dubstep-lite, head-scratching exercise of “Sexercize”, presents itself as one of the few Sia-collaborations in recent memory that instantly detonates once the intro has passed by. That’s not a good thing. The quivering electro-harp intro turns out to be one of the biggest come hither teases of the entire album, giving off the impression that some torrid, naughty storm is brewing ahead. It rolls right over. The chorus is negligible, the gauche “Let’s Get Physical” double entendres are eye-rollingly unsexy, and Minogue’s delivery is too ladylike to deliver lines like, “Feel the burn… Let me see you take it down. Let me see you take it up. Let me see you bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce… stretch it out baby.”
Thankfully “Feels So Good” arrives to rescue the album from its temporary dive into pop purgatory. There’s intrinsically little variance between London singer-songwriter Tom Aspaul’s original “Indiana” and Kylie’s interpretation. Minogue’s vocals are nestled on top of the same MNEK production, and while her performance is lovely, the song fared better with Aspaul’s voice at the helm. Reminiscent of Miike Snow at their most playful, it bounces along on a cloud of churning synths and chimes as Minogue sings, “And it feels, yeah it feels so good when you’re here. We are near to love.” Someone in the Kylie camp clearly heard this summer breeze of a song and imagined that in the hands of a pop star with gravitas, it might actually become a verifiable hit. They might be right. With the right amount of promotion, this could easily be one of the singles of summer 2014.
“If Only” begins with a brief synth chordal progression before giving way to the steady sound of stadium-size handclaps, which form the basis of the song’s marching rhythm. Ping-ponging processed Minogues and a big, pseudo-epic chorus without a definitive melodic arch, round out the edges for the most experimental track off the album. Produced by Sky Ferreira, Haim and Vampire Weekend producer Ariel Rechtshaid, the melodically forgettable, but passably enjoyable song evokes more of a shrug than anything else. It’s another case of idea and execution never quite coming into alignment.
Leave it to Brooklyn’s Amanda Warner, aka MNDR, to deliver one of the best songs on the album, “Les Sex”. Her excellent electro-pop debut Feed Me Diamonds showed such impressive promise when it was released in 2012. If this latest creation is any indication, her sophomore album will one up that effort. Bordering on camp without fully succumbing to it, Kylie sings “Les love, les sex, les hand upon les leg”. This is the kind of song that Minogue executes perfectly, and is the sort that should have been plastered all over the record.
The title track and second Sia collaboration, “Kiss Me Once”, really nails the essence of the Kylie sound. Vintage Minogue, the ‘80s-reminiscent, mid-tempo song could have been lifted from any of her early albums, yet remains distinctly of the now. The kitschy use of church bells somehow recalls those found on the 1984 Band Aid song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” One can most likely assume that that probably wasn’t Sia’s intention, but it’s amusing nonetheless.
The confusingly unnecessary use of vocoder on “Beautiful” still baffles no matter how many times one plays the song. Kylie and company decided the record desperately needed a cyborg-human love ballad. It was the wrong choice on so many levels. Of all the guest vocalists Minogue could have picked up the phone and dialed, Enrique Iglesias was the man at the top of the list? That scenario is a bit hard to swallow. The final innocuous product is but a missed opportunity, and could have been one of Kiss Me Once’s indisputable highlights had someone chucked that vocoder out the studio window. Kylie, Cher is calling and wants it back. The album concludes with “Fine”. The title says it all. The ‘90s throwback empowerment anthem, hasn’t the bite to make much of an impression, yet when the chorus arrives, it’s damn near irresistible to just sit there and not move something.
Another year, another Kylie Minogue album. The wheel still hasn’t been reinvented, nor should anyone expect it to be at this point. Those anticipating Minogue’s latest album and her recent signing to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation management to exhibit some overwhelming artistic maturation or chameleon-esque identity overhaul, haven’t been following her career for the past 14 years or so. While many artists in the business have needed to reinvent their image and personas each time they return to the spotlight in order to survive, Minogue has consistently released one album after another of habit-forming pop confections, without changing her image too drastically. She doesn’t need to. It’s hard to imagine her singing about bouncing buttocks ten years from now, but only time will tell. Kiss Me Once isn’t a game-changing album, but it should churn out enough hits to secure her place on the pop culture radar until her next offering.
// Notes from the Road
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