In late 2002, Kylie Minogue and Fischerspooner's Casey Spooner caused a bit of a stir with their racy performance of Fischerspooner's remix of "Come Into My World" on the BBC's Top of the Pops program. Viewers might have been instantly drawn to Ms. Minogue's slinky undergarments (revealed to all when Spooner ripped her dress off with a flourish), but even more curious was the music itself. Here was a song from an album that exuded a definite, '70s disco vibe, but placed in the hands of the American electro duo, it was transformed into a writhing, sexy blast of '80s synth pop; it was as if Kylie's wayback machine was reset for 1982 instead of 1977, and what a perfect fit it was, a fitting follow-up remix to the ingenious Kylie/New Order mash-up, "Can't Get Blue Monday Out of My Head". Kylie must have thought the same thing, as well.
Minogue's 2001 album Fever was a long-overdue breakthrough in North America; for a decade, she had reigned as one of the top pop acts in the world, but had been unable to follow up her early Stateside success as a Stock, Aitken, and Waterman product back in 1988. Teaming up with dance pop star-turned producer Cathy Dennis on several standout tracks, the disco-fused Fever was a monstrous success, thanks largely to a bevy of terrific singles, led by the worldwide smash "Can't Get You Out of My Head". Here was a pop album that reveled in ultra-contagious melodies and irresistible dance beats, keeping things simple. The result was a classy piece of work which peaked in America at Number Three on the album chart, the thirtysomething Minogue upstaging soulless, brainless music by younger American pop tarts like Britney and Christina.
On Kylie's new album Body Language, she makes the move from disco to the more synthetic strains of synth pop, obviously inspired by the likes of Gary Numan and Giogio Moroder, not to mention the aforementioned 2002 remix. In contrast to the pulsating, hi-hat driven dance beat of Fever's "More More More", Body Language gets off to a more understated start. "Slow", the first single, and focal point of the entire album, kicks off with a minimal synth intro that sounds like it came straight from an Atari 2600 console, as clicking beats stutter along. Minogue is at her most sultry and seductive, as she croons, "Knew you'd be here tonight/ So I put my best dress on/ Boy I was so right," as the synths build up subtly, only to come to an immediate halt on the hypnotic chorus. As on Fever, Minogue knows that less is more, her lack of vocal range veiled by the simple arrangement. Co-written by Icelandic-Italian chanteuse Emiliana Torrini, it's one of the strongest singles of Minogue's career.
That '80s electro feel continues on the album's first half, as "Still Standing" and "Promises" rely on buzzing, low synth lines driving the beats, and chord flourishes that sound straight out of 1984. The light, breezy funk of "Sweet Music" boasts a great hook that seems to evoke both early Prince and INXS, as Minogue sings, "And we can get/ Crazy like that/ Feel it like that/ Move it like that/ Drop it like that/ Rocking the track/ I'm looking for that new sen-sa-tion," while "Red Blooded Woman" blends the 80s sound with an almost garage-like beat, the lyrics containing yet another '80s reference (Dead or Alive this time), not to mention a great line in, "You'll never get to Heaven if you're scared of getting high." The aggressive "Secret (Take You Home)" makes up for its hackneyed lyrics ("Here's my secret/ I'm a girl who likes her fun") with a snappy little whistle-like melody, as well as a coquettish rap by Minogue.
The rest of Body Language quickly loses steam, however. "Obsession", "I Feel For You", and "Someday" are all more influenced by R&B, and admirably crank up the funk, but the melodies are forgettable, and amount to little more than mere filler. Meanwhile, the turgid, boring "Loving Days" sounds like any other empty-headed Pop Idol ballad. Only the slinky closing track "After Dark" and the steamy "Chocolate ("Hold me and control me and then/ Melt me slowly down") keep the last half of the album from being a complete waste of time.
Listening to the more laid-back Body Language, you can't help but think of how buoyant, warm, and upbeat Fever is, and wishing the new album would have something as undeniably catchy as "Can't Get You Out of My Head", as euphoric as "Love at First Sight", as welcoming as "Come Into My World". Minogue's foray into early '80s electro works well at times, but compared to the perfection of her previous album, it's ultimately a mild disappointment, leaving you cold; besides, Goldfrapp's superb album Black Cherry weaves synth pop with modern dance beats much more expertly, and the songs are much catchier than most of the ones on this disc. Still, even though Body Language is a bit of a misstep for Minogue, there's a sense of class to it. Kylie and her producers never overdo things, always taking the high road, aware of her limitations as a singer. Her style might seem too safe for some listeners, but for her, it's a perfect fit. Britney could learn a thing or two.