Kylie Minogue is in an awkward and unfortunate position. After achieving worldwide success with 2002’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” and its subsequent albums (and lets not forget her 1988 remake of “The Loco-Motion”), Minogue seemed posed to be Europe’s biggest dance-diva, second only to Madonna. Then came the news: in 2005, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She put a stop to her mega-successful “Showgirl” tour mid-run while she underwent treatment, herself shaken by the abruptness of it all. What’s remarkable, however, is that she not only recovered: she completely rebounded, soon re-launching her tour under a new name (the “Homecoming Tour”) and smiling the whole time through, thanking her fans for their support during her difficult time.
This all leads up to X, an album that’s being watched by all because Kylie is suddenly in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” kind of position. With her struggle with cancer detailed extensively in the media (particularly the UK tabloids), it’s largely expected that she’ll address this issue on her subsequent recordings. After all, Sheryl Crow played right into such tabloid fodder with Detours (addressing both her own cancer struggle and subsequent Lance Armstrong breakup quite bluntly), so why shouldn’t Minogue? Yet if she does begin devoting songs/albums to the documentation of her struggle, some will cry that she’s profiting off of a tragic scenario; conversely, her failing to write about such circumstances will be viewed as a squandered opportunity, a chance to say something deeply profound that would reach millions of people. So what’s a Kylie to do?
Simple: she’s going to rock out.
From the sexy bass that sets up the opening track “2 Hearts”, its obvious that she’s not only going to go back to her disco sex-kitten persona, but she’s going full-out this time ’round. Much like Madonna (before her) and Britney (after), Minogue has a wafer-thin voice that sounds better after armies of producers have tinkered with it. What makes Minogue’s voice work, however, is her conviction. When she wants to play up her sexy come-ons, she totally engages the listener: you believe the sex-kitten persona wholeheartedly. “2 Hearts” — aside from being one of her best singles in years — makes for an incredible album opener. Yet Minogue doesn’t stop there. She is on fire for the first half of X. “2 Hearts” leads to the top-notch electro stomp “Like a Drug” which then morphs into the synth-happy workout “In Your Arms”, a track that absolutely demands your attention. Minogue, co-writing half of the material here, doesn’t offer any new lyrical insights (apparently, she likes to rock her body), but she sounds like she’s having a damn good time. She provides god-knows-how-many electronic robot voices during the sly “Speakerphone”, but unlike Britney’s phoned-in performances during Blackout, Minogue never falters once, hitting the mark each and every time. Toss in the excellent “Sensitized” (which sounds like it was built entirely out of E.S. Posthumus samples) and the very Daft Punk-styled “Heart Beat Rock”, and you have one helluva dance record.
Unfortunately, X doesn’t stop there. Immediately following “Heart Beat Rock”, we are treated to a long stream of high-class filler. “The One”, in fact, could easily have been recorded during her Stock, Aitken & Waterman days (which, it should be noted, is not a good thing). From there, its just a laundry list of forgettable tunes: the Ace of Base-affected “No More Rain”, the Kelly Clarkson-ish “Stars”, the trying-too-hard sex-romp “Nu-Di-Ty” (which, coincidentally, wouldn’t sound too out of place on Blackout), and the so-so closing track “Cosmic”. What saves the second-half of X is a song called “All I See”, a gorgeous ballad built around a simple harp-sample; its effect, however, is dampened by its “remixed” reappearance at the end of the US release. The track is completely identical to the original except it now features a phoned-in guest rap from Mims, making for an utterly pointless addition to the album.
But we haven’t even gotten to “Wow” yet.
Kylie’s all-time greatest tracks (“Shocked”, “Too Far”, “Come Into My World”, and yes, “The Locomotion”) all have one thing in common: they are top-notch moments of escapism, three-minute bursts of joy that are nothing short of radio-ready brilliance. For those who still have a copy of her Manic Street Preachers-assisted Impossible Princess, then you have one of the most crazed, damn-near perfect dance-pop albums ever created. “Wow” could fit in there: it’s jam-packed with peppy melody, built around a simple, addictive piano melody that is soon shot into the pop stratosphere. It’s a great track as is, but when the chorus hits and Kylie’s “Wowowow!” croon is shoved through a wah-wah pedal (no, really), you can practically hear the sound of all other nearby pop singles being evaporated in a single instant.
It’s a great track off of a split album, earmarked by extraordinary pop songs and regrettable filler in an almost perfect half-and-half ratio. The filler tracks aren’t as much bad as they are just fleeting, lacking the decked-out razzle-dazzle that makes songs like “2 Hearts” and “Wow” so extraordinary. When confronted with the decision to address her recent struggles through her music, Kylie wound up unleashing her wildest dancefloor urges, and judging from the half-there ballads that bring down X‘s second half, it was obviously the smart decision.