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Album: Kylie Minogue – “The Abbey Road Sessions” (2012)

Well now this was a surprise. It looked for a time that Kylie’s much-trumpeted K25 anniversary celebrations would be a largely wasted opportunity. At the start of the year we got the serviceable but ultimately forgotten “Timebomb” single, oddly not aligned with the unwanted Greatest Hits collection that came out around the same time with no new material, two albums after “Ultimate Kylie” did incredibly well with a comprehensive and well-thought out campaign and tracklist.

So where next? We had acoustic performances of Kylie’s vast back catalogue released during the year, but it was a bit of a scatter-gun approach, where was it leading? Fortunately, however Kylie’s 25th anniversary celebrations have been handled so far, our patience has been rewarded with a whole album of orchestral versions of her best-loved hits, recorded at celebrated studio Abbey Road.

A nice idea, but it could easily dribble into tedious ‘real music’ re-workings of one of straight-up pop’s leading lights. Indeed the album cover has an eyebrow-raising amount of Adele-ification. Fortunately none of these worries came to pass, and “The Abbey Road Sessions” is a real joy.

Sure it’s easy to criticise on the basis of which tracks weren’t picked, but I don’t think any of the selections need much justification. It’s a sensible balance of her biggest hits and lesser-known singles, covering the breadth of her career. There isn’t room for everything – two “X” singles relegated to iTunes bonus tracks, and no “Impossible Princess” songs, although Indie Kylie is represented by Nick Cave duet “Where the wild roses grow”.

It would be tempting to hope for a second disc at some point in the future, but you can’t please everyone and we should just be happy that we’ve got this.

The styles of the songs vary a lot. Many are gentle acoustic efforts with beautifully angelic harmonies from the backing choir. We get glimpses of lite-country (“Hand on your heart”, “Where the wild roses grow”), gentle piano-led ballads (“Never too late”, “Come into my world”, “I believe in you”), and lush string sections (“All the lovers”, “Confide in me”, “Finer feelings”).

At no point do the re-workings feel like a parade of generic acoustic performances. I find it hard to listen to some of the older PWL tracks in retrospect, the embodiment of generic production. So it’s really a bit of a revelation to hear some of her oldest songs – written off a bit by their dated production as a bit of a gay-only interest affair – as really wonderful songs in their own right, and pitched perfectly as alternative interpretations rather than simple covers.

OK it’s not all amazing. The smoky bar tracks like “On a night like this” and “Slow” are fine but it’s a kiss of death for these albums if you just think you’d rather listen to the original than this. Luckily several other tracks are preferable to the originals for me, including the surprisingly palatable post-Winehouse version of “Locomotion” and the utterly gorgeous “Never too late”.

We are also blessed with a new song, “Flower”. For those not familiar with Kylie’s private life, she’s never quite settled down for the happy ending the public have long imagined for her. That’s none of our business really, but she has spoken openly about her worries that chemotherapy has left her infertile. Hence “Flower” is a surprisingly heartbreaking song (that she co-wrote) about her unborn child. The lyrics are a little naff in places, but I keep getting shivers when I hear it, even a little misty-eyed.

It’s a gorgeously produced ballad, sung with such hopeful optimism that makes it even more heartbreaking. The video is a classy black-and-white affair, and she’s never looked more beautiful.

I think people will look back on this album’s era with great fondness, and makes me wonder about what her future will bring musically. She’s making sounds like she wants to continue dance-pop, but hopefully we can have a bit of both. If anyone’s going to manage it with dignity, it will be Kylie. (Please do an acoustic album, Madonna)

Keepers for the iPod: All the lovers, I believe in you, Hand on your heart, Finer feelings, Confide in me, Come into my world, Better the devil you know, Where the wild roses grow, Never too late, I should be so lucky, Flower, Can’t get you out of my head, Wow, In my arms

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Kylie Minogue: My Top 10

Right, we are finally at the end of my Kylie journey, with only the ten best songs to list now. Remember you can click the links to watch/hear the songs, no excuses!

Actually, before I start, you guys have to watch this amazing fan-made medley. A Kylie-gasm or your money back!

10. Wow (from X)

That INTRO … oh god I love that one. It feels like a bit of a derided song in the grand scheme of things, but I really love it. Put her back into the sort of sound I wanted from her after “2Hearts” didn’t quite do the business. I see what they were doing but I reckon they would have had a much different story on their hands had this been the first single.

Anyway shoulda woulda coulda, eh? There’s not a lot to it, but it still feels fresh, something I still feel about X as a whole.

9. Get outta my way (from Aphrodite)

Oh I really didn’t see this doing so well in my overall chart, as I did rather overdo it last summer and perhaps burnt it out. But that shimmering intro really gets me WHIPPED UP in a FRENZY.

I didn’t like the video that much to be honest, sorry but she’s done a lot better. There were good moments but generally I wasn’t feeling it, too many weird-looking gays I think. And CHAIRS? What is this, 2003 Rachel Stevens or something? Anyway it’s a pretty relentless track, perhaps a little bit more attitude than I can really believe from Kylie, but I’ll let it go. I am in love with the (at times) generic clubby sound of Aphrodite, and it takes a lot to measure up to this example.

8. Love Affair (from Fever)

And yes, back to Fever once more, with what would have made a fantastic single. Almost forgotten in the tracklist which such a strong set of singles but this is truly MARVELLOUS. A bit of a darker feel to it than the likes of Love at First Sight etc, but perfectly pitched musically. That chorus really gets me every time, “I am only here for a little while, would you like to take me out tonight?”, catchy as fuck.

7. Your Disco needs you (from Light years)

Yes yes, a Marmite song but I’m FIRMLY on the “love it” side of things, and really my highlight from the whole ridiculous Light Years campaign. I think the fact that it only made it out as a single in a few territories cements it as a lost classic, though God knows how well it would have done in the UK.

Camp as tits clearly, which is the great paradox because that’s primarily the reason I didn’t warm to Light Years as a whole – I don’t really LIKE that sound. But anyway there is plenty else going on here, disco strings, French monologues (!) and Opera Kylie! That live performance (see below) really is SOMETHING ELSE *salutes*

6. The One (from X)

WHAT A SINGLE. Feels like another lost single too, except in this case it was simply a horrifically poorly-handled single. They made a great choice getting the Freemasons to spruce up an already great track into something of EPIC BEAUTY. I really cannot get enough of that remix, how fucking fantastic …

I was a bit of a late starter with the song really, I didn’t think a lot to it when I first got X, and The Kylie Show didn’t really help. But I got there in the end, and that video is pretty awesome too (still cheap). It’s songs like this that make me excited to be a Kylie fan.

5. Slow (from Body Language)

And… I’d like to say this is roaring into the top 5, but Slow was never really one of those songs. While most of Kylie’s superhits wear their twinkly hearts on their sleeves, this still feels like a braver choice of a lead single than 2 Hearts ever did. Out went the usual fun of a Kylie show, and a rather cool and sultry electro-princess arrived with an arty video (and a speedo frenzy) to boot.

I just love all the layers, this was a track to be played loud, the heavy bassline, skipping beat samples, futuristic synths. I still love this as much as the day it came out, flop or not.

4. In your eyes (from Fever)

A final appearance now from the album that turned around her fortunes so totally. So many people would have probably plumped for CGYOOMH or LAFS as the choice single from the album, but I always had this one at the top of my list. Obviously it was always going to be tricky following up such a colossal success of a single, but I’m glad to say this takes the sound in a slightly different direction.

So the sound is very much of its time, but it still sounds fresh to me, a richer clubbier sound than the quite desolate CGYOOMH but keeping the attitude. The video did a lot of the work too, I think she looks amazing, the set is an eye-popping array of neon and and glass, probably one of my favourites of her videos.

3. Confide in me (from Kylie Minogue)

Obviously there was no escaping this string-laden EPIC when I did my final tally. I’m sure this is probably at least this high on many Kylie fans’ lists, it’s a resounding triumph for “cool Kylie”, as if that was ever what she was trying to accomplish. While I never really got into KM94 it was clear that Kylie was doing something she wanted to do, and the transformation from the former “singing budgie” was enormous.

So back she came with a lead single unlike anything we had heard from her before (probably haven’t since). Heavenly siren vocals, gorgeous spoken segments, that string hook throughout the chorus just all comes together like a masterpiece.

2. I believe in you (from Ultimate Kylie)

Ultimate Kylie was such an example about how a GH should be, drawing together the strands from the 3 labels she’d been involved with, and including two superb new songs. One of which so brilliant I think it overshadowed every song on the album, a great achievement, and exactly the position you want to be in when summarising your career to date – the best is still to come.

It’s a simple song, with an even simpler chorus, but what a piece of magic this is. Simmering bassline under it all, squeaky cosmic synths and her voice soaring once again over it all. That “I. Believe. In You.” refrain is really irresistible, and still lifts me up every time I hear it.

1. All the lovers (from Aphrodite)

Now I know what you’re going to say, it’s too soon. I don’t care, even after 6 months, and despite once being the most-played song on my iTunes I’m still not even close to getting tired of this. Aphrodite may not have been the album we had all hoped for, and that can’t be helped, but if this (and Get Outta My Way) is what we have to show for it then it’s all for the best.

Essentially it’s I Believe In You 2.0, with the richest most beautiful production courtesy of Stuart Price. Breathy verses, that amazing hook in the choruses, there is NO PART of this song I haven’t fallen in love with. Then of course there is that middle-8 that still gives me gay goosebumps every single time I hear it, completely electrifying. Kylie is at her best when she’s the optimistic, and I can’t imagine not being cheered up by this song.

I know the video had its critics, the big sexy pile and elephant balloons, but I think it looks amazing, glossy, classy. The handling of the middle-8 in the video (weird horse) was a bit disappointing, but she looks phenomenal, blessing her subjects like the goddess she is for this song. Who knows if I will feel the same way in another year’s time, or two, but this song makes me feel excited and proud to be a fan, what more could I ask for?

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Album: Kylie Minogue – “Kylie Minogue” (1994)

Can you believe we are nearly halfway through already? Well to be honest I’m glad to be moving on after this and I’m feeling a bit more positive about the rest of this little voyage.

So on to Kylie’s 1994 Deconstruction debut, and I imagine this will be an unpopular opinion but I felt rather disappointed with the album. Obviously I need to take it in context, this album is over 15 years old now and things change a lot in that sort of time. I can recognise parts that feel exactly like the sort of thing you’d expect to hear in 1994, but as a whole the album outstays its welcome, with ridiculously extended versions of what could have been quite a tight little album. Anyway, let’s get to it… (lolz).

10 Confide in me: OK so I do complain about the length of some of these tracks, but this has to be an exception. To be honest they could have had a 15 minute version of this and it wouldn’t stop it being a towering colossus of prime Kyles. As you may know, I have a penchant for strings, and there is certainly no shortage of them here used for maximum drama. Kylie is sounding amazing, I can only imagine what people must have thought when this came out two years after the previous single (the abysmal Celebration). The video is brilliant and still looks just as fresh as it ever did. Her vocals are at their operatic best, I just think this is one of the moments of magic that Kylie loons should always be proud of.

08 Surrender: How to follow that? Well thankfully with something a little more trimmed down but nonetheless rather good. While I made the accusation of Madonna-chasing with parts of Rhythm of love, I think maybe it’s going on again but happily the result is very good, landing somewhere between Erotica and Bedtime Stories. The lyrical content is rather empty but musically it’s rather sexy so I’ll turn a blind eye this time.

07 If I was your lover: I nearly risked a red card from the K-Loons for doing the Bedtime Stories comparison, but of course I’m not implying anything untoward, considering both albums came out about the same time. My point is that the sound feels the same, which in my mind isn’t a great thing as I never really liked Bedtime Stories in the first place. No great depth to the lyrics again, unrequited love is a well-travelled path with Kylie but not usually so sexually charged. It does sound good though even if it doesn’t quite make an impact on me.

07 Where is the feeling: Considering the calibre of the other singles, I had expected a little more to this but I’m not getting a lot out of it. Very 90s (obviously), but puts me more in the mind of M-People, which isn’t really what I’m looking for. Not too hot on the vocals, sounds a bit strained but I think maybe some harmonies could have improved things there. What is certainly DOESN’T need is to be 7 minutes long, I just felt utterly bored of it by the halfway point. No surprising really that I don’t remember this as a single.

10 Put yourself in my place: And on to the other stone-cold classic of this album, I really love this one. The video is fabulous, certainly one of the things I remember vividly from my pre-teens. I love the rather chilled-out, or more worn-out feel of this, just this sort of exhausted sadness that comes from the situation she’s singing about. I really love that “I hear that you’re in love now, baby don’t know what to say”. Great chorus, I just relish every moment. why the fuck is this the shortest song on the album?

07 Dangerous game: A bit of a plodder now, not really into this one. She does sound good on it, but there’s some spark missing in this that was in the previous track. She has a good moment with that big note in the middle but even that feels a little shaky. I just feel like this song would have belonged better on Let’s Get To It, which isn’t a particularly good thing.

07 Automatic love: Another rather sparse song lyrically, a few short verses and the rather repetitive chorus takes over. Not that it’s a bad thing, some rather clunky computer language makes me raise an eyebrow. Almost makes you wish she was just singing bluntly about sex for a change. This just doesn’t really do anything for me, feels a bit empty. The music again saves the day slightly, nice production, I like the use of strings as usual, but as a whole it doesn’t leave a lasting impression.

06 Where has the love gone: Really trying my patience now, nearly 8 minutes is really pushing it. A more dancey offering, I actually like the delivery of the verses, very coolly done, but then there are 5 minutes left. I don’t like the oooohhh la-ha-haaaa bits, and I just find the rest of the song a bit of a struggle. If this was a remix then that would be something, you expect a certain drawn-out quality to those, but it really kills my interest in the flow of an album.

04 Falling: This extends my feelings for the previous track, this time pretty much stripping away the song entirely, giving the backing singer most of the work. I find this a really odd non-song, just like the sort of anonymous thing you might hear in a wine-bar or something. If this is what constitutes a Pet Shop Boys collaboration then I’d rather take my chances with SAW. Where is the feeling??

07 Time will pass you by: For the end, finally she pulls a song out of the bag, which sounds like the best thing in the world after the last two tracks. Actually that opening sounds a LOT like Movin’ on up doesn’t it? A bit of an odd track to have on this album, seems a lot more poppy and ‘uncool’ than the rest, but it’s a bit of life at least. Very upbeat and nice to have a bit of fluff in there somewhere. I’ve read that this was mooted as a single but was usurped by where the Wild Roses Grow, I can’t imagine two more different songs, but I think they made the right choice.

OK so that’s that. I’m sure some unpopular opinions in there as I get the impression this a bit of a sacred cow. Not that I don’t think it’s a huge improvement and change on her previous output. If all I knew of Kylie were the first albums, I doubt I could have imagined a song as amazing as Confide In Me following a few years after the Greatest Hits.

But I think in going in a cooler direction, with this album they threw the baby out with the bath-water, with some of those tracks just being too drawn out. As I’ve said there are obvious highlights that throw this album into stark contrast, and if anything I am grateful for those.

Keepers for the iPod: Confide in me, Put yourself in my place, Surrender

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