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