With the release of her fantastic fifteenth studio album, Disco, the other week, Kylie Minogue has been propelled to the forefront of my musical curiosity. When long-time Heavy Blog follower Matt Matheson proposed a deep dive into Minogue’s extensive discography it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get acquainted with her catalogue. So I’m going to hand it over to him after the jump for a combined 8-Track / Playlist Swap post as he takes us through some of the iconic Australian artist’s most interesting and definitive offerings.
Matt: As a perhaps-unexpected yet entirely unashamed fanboy of Australia’s goddess of pop, it feels like my whole life has been building up to this moment: when I get to rave to a premier metal blog about the amazing Kylie Minogue. Kylie entered her fourth decade as a recording artist with her fifteenth full-length Disco in November, and it captures her dance-pop legacy in vibrant fashion, blotting out the memory of her unfortunate misstep with 2018’s Golden. While Kylie’s international following has always been tremendous, casual Americans may only know her from the famously sexy “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” video that found its way to heavy rotation on MTV in 2001. As much of a bop as that song is, Kylie’s discography is absolutely loaded with laudable quality, ranging far beyond straightforward radio-ready pop jams into deeper realms of electronic, dance, rock, and R&B influence. I could easily recommend a hundred of her songs to curious listeners (that’s not hyperbole; my spreadsheet of her discography has 161 songs rated “good”, “great” or “amazing”), but for brevity’s sake, we’ll pull out eight highlights from across the span of her career.
“Put Yourself in My Place” (Kylie Minogue, 1994)
After breaking into the mainstream with “The Loco-Motion” in 1988, Kylie became a vocal vessel for the Stock-Aitken-Waterman hitmaking collective. Her first four albums reflected this slickly-produced teenybopper sensibility, so after fulfilling her contracts and moving on, she took a more hands-on approach with the selection of songwriters for her self-titled 1994 re-imaging album. Kylie Minogue leans into darker, brooding atmosphere, particularly in its opener “Confide In Me” which became one of her most enduring concert staples. Some of these tracks would not sound out of place in the repertoire of Janet Jackson or En Vogue (“If I Was Your Lover”), while others draw from the European dance club style (“Falling”). But I’ve chosen to spotlight “Put Yourself in My Place”, a smooth and emotive mid-tempo ballad that marries the best of all these influences, with Kylie’s outstanding vocals slinking around a sultry groove.
Josh’s thoughts: This song is ’90s as heck and I am here for it! Of all the songs on this list, this is also by far Minogue’s strongest vocal performance. Don’t get me wrong, she’s no Whitney Houston or even Celine Dion, whose Grammy-award-winning Falling into You (1996) this song would fit right in on. Nevertheless, this song showcases Minogue as a genuine vocal talent, rather than the “teeny-bopping” pop princess or overly produced dance diva generations either side of this album know her as.
Oddly, the rest of the album often takes a more ethereal, even trip-hop sounding approach, reminiscent in parts of Portishead‘s Dummy (1994) which came only out a month earlier, mixed with Madonna‘s Erotica (1992) and Bedtime Stories (1994) (released a month later), which seems like a more likely inspiration. “Put Yourself in My Place”, therefore, is not particularly indicative of this era of Kylie’s career, but is a clear standout, nonetheless. Great stuff!
“Say Hey” (Impossible Princess, 1997)
Kylie’s next album – the first one on which she has co-writing credits for every song – revealed a more confident artist who was ready to take some risks expanding her musical horizons. As a result, this album is less cohesive, and as with any experimental work, not all of the results are successful (“Cowboy Style”). The most interesting pieces here are the electronic-centered ones, which include the pulsating “Drunk”, fast-paced techno acid-trip “Too Far”, and the proto-chillwave vibes of “Say Hey”. This song exudes after-hours sensuality while maintaining modest intensity throughout.
Josh’s thoughts: I’ve actually listened to this album fairly recently, since it kept coming up in my search for albums like Lady Gaga‘s Artpop (2014) (update: seems like there aren’t really any). This is definitely Minogue’s most experimental album, which makes it one of the more intriguing. However, like Matt, I’m not sure it’s a particularly successful experiment. This song also sounds super ’90s, but not in a good way. Madonna would do it better a year later with Ray of Light (1998) and Kylie herself would deliver more fully on a similar premise with 2003’s Body Language. What’s here is uncomfortably reminiscent of U2‘s Pop album (1997), released earlier the same year, and it lacks bops like “Discotheque”, “Do You Feel Loved” or even “Mofo” to justify its existence, while it’s biggest single “Did it Again” sounds like a discarded Dandy Warhols or Garbage b-side.
“Say Hey” itself doesn’t really do much for me. Of all the songs on this list I find it easily the most forgettable. I’m more interested in opener “Too Far”, which straight-up lifts the theme from John Carpenter‘s Halloween (1978), and which no one else seems to have realised? Maybe this is a well-known fact already. However, as far as my Googling skills can tell, neither Carpenter nor his theme received any kind of songwriting/sampling credits for the song, which was produced by Brothers in Rhythm, and I can only find any mention of it on obscure personal blogs and forum threads. Weird.
“Love at First Sight” (Fever, 2001)
Skipping the eminently forgettable Light Years (2000), we arrive at the closest Kylie came to a global breakthrough album. On the strength of the aforementioned smash hit “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”, Fever hit #3 on the US Billboard 200, her first album to chart since her debut and still her highest to date. The album finds Kylie settled and secure in her pop stardom, having progressed from her avant-garde nineties sojourn to simpler, stronger collections of tracks such as “More More More” and “In Your Eyes”, as well as some dancier club jams like “Love Affair” and “Burning Up”. “Love at First Sight” is a standout bop whose influence resonates all over the place, like in the chord progression of Ke$ha’s breakout debauchery anthem “TiK ToK”.
Josh’s thoughts: I can’t believe we’re just going to do Light Years dirty like that! I’m not sure about the overseas reception, but in Australia, that album was utterly inescapable. It doesn’t seem to have charted in the US, but it hit number 1 in Australia and number 2 in the UK, and I don’t think the breakout success of Fever and “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” happens without songs like “Spinning Around” and “On A Night Like This” first setting the stage. The latter of which is also a total banger and a far superior version of Jennifer Lopez‘s “Waiting For Tonight”, which came out a month later—but we’ll get to that. Although overly long, its highlights are among some of my favourite Kylie material I’ve dabbled in so far, “Your Disco Needs You” is just crying out for a Sabaton cover or something, but again…
Although “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” has possibly entered the “Poker Face” pantheon of songs I used to hate which I now realise are total pop masterpieces, I certainly prefer the more subdued approach of “Love at First Sight”. It’s a little bit simplistic, but there’s just something so innocent and gleeful about the song that really wins me over. Matt’s also right on the money about the resemblance to “Tik Tok”, although it’s gonna take a bit more to get me into Ke$ha.
“Slow” (Body Language, 2003)
With Fever representing the most complete distillation of Kylie’s radio-pop sound, Body Language sees her pendulum swing back in the experimental direction, with R&B and even a splash of hip-hop permeating her oeuvre. By far her most sensual and delicate work, Body Language serves as both my favorite Kylie album and the bearer of my favorite song in her storied repertoire. “Slow” is an uncomplicated, seductive dance-pop track with fairly minimalist instrumentation, yet it functions as the perfect vehicle for Kylie’s breathy, passionate overtures. The simplicity of the music also makes it ripe for reinterpretation: she would pump it up into an four-on-the-floor dance jam during the “Kiss Me Once” tour; twist it into a smoky, burlesque jazz-noir number on the Aphrodite live show; and strip it down to a smoother jazz piece on her acoustic Abbey Road Sessions album (2012). Check out all those versions and the other killer tracks from this album, including the erotic embrace of “Chocolate” and the sharper edge of “Red Blooded Woman”.
Josh’s thoughts: Oh hey, I know this song! Definitely missed me at the time (I was 12!) but post-puberty me is all about this. The sensuality of this song sounds a lot less forced than on her earlier stuff and is far more seductive as a result. The dancing as sex metaphor also sets the stage for my favourite song on Disco: “Dancefloor Darling”, which makes it a bit more relatable to her modern material than the other stuff we’ve gone through so far. The rest of the album’s great too, and actually reminds me a lot of Artpop in its experimental approach, even if the records couldn’t be further apart sonically. Body Language is definitely an album I’ll be going back to and probably the next step I’d recommend for people like me who are only just now getting into Kylie on Disco.
“The One” (X, 2007)
After a mid-decade battle with breast cancer that caused Kylie to question the fate of her career, the songstress emerged from her hiatus with perhaps the deepest catalogue of awesome songs ever spawned from one album recording session. Thirteen of these cuts ended up on “X”, showcasing edgier, more modern electro-pop sensibilities on tracks like “Nu-Di-Ty”, “Like a Drug” and “Heart Beat Rock”. The more traditional-sounding tracks here are gems nonetheless, like “In My Arms”, “Wow”, “Stars”, and my personal favorite “The One”. “Love me, love me, love me, love me,” she begs; I am more than happy to oblige.
Josh’s thoughts: There’s a Carly Rae Jepsen song that sounds like this, but I can’t work out which one it is. It’s not “The One”, although, in investigating, I did discover that the two songs after it on Emotion: Side B[+]are called “Fever” and “Body Language”; coincidence? [Update: it’s “Cry”, the song after. The plot thickens…] I think i like the vibe of this song more than the song itself. It’s a great dance track, but it’s going to need a bit more for it to be something I’m going to go back to on its own. Having skimmed through X, I can’t say it’s really taken me either. The rock-vibe of “Stars” is fun, if not entirely substantial, while the rest of the album reminds me a lot of Madonna’s recent “growing old ungracefully” period, although I say that as someone who really likes MDNA (2012) and parts of Rebel Heart (2015), so maybe I just need more time with it.
“King or Queen” (X Japanese bonus track, 2007)
While modern starlets like Carly Rae Jepsen have taken to collecting the best of their album-writing leftovers and releasing them as albums all their own, Kylie has stashed away some of her finest work on B-sides and bonus tracks. If Kylie had taken the CRJ approach to the cutting-floor material from “X”, she would have been able to release one of the two or three strongest albums in her discography. The forgotten tracks from this era are absolutely outstanding, top-level material, beyond what many singers will ever put out in their whole careers. The riveting energy of “Magnetic Electric”, high-speed power of “Carried Away”, angular vocal melodies of “Cherry Bomb”, retro synthwave of “Spell of Desire”, and more – all of these tracks rival, and often exceed, the quality of what was actually included. Even though it’s comparatively short, there’s something about the cheeky electro-funk jam “King or Queen” that makes it my favorite of the bunch.
Josh’s thoughts: I totally see why Matt picked this song over another album track. It’s great! I like this way more than anything I’ve heard from actual X. If there’s one complaint/reservation I have, it’s that it doesn’t really sound like Minogue herself. We’ve truly entered the overprocessed phase of her career, and pop music in general, at this point—something that definitely—carries through on Disco. But this lacks the identity of songs like “Slow” or “Love at First Sight”, let alone “Put Yourself in My Place”. Still I’m keen to check out more of these B-sides and see if a more comprehensive collection can’t be crafted out of the X material.
“Everything is Beautiful” (Aphrodite, 2010)
Like many of you, my initial exposure to Kylie as a musical artist came with her “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” video. But that didn’t turn me into the Kylie fanboy I became; that came a decade later when I decided to check out her complete Aphrodite: Les Folies – Live in London concert (2011) on Youtube. From its opening bombast laden with Greek mythos and Cirque du Soleil-style theatrics, I was transfixed; when she got around to the passionate pulsation of “Everything Is Beautiful”, I was transformed. There is something compelling, almost hypnotic about the marriage of Kylie’s seductive voice with the synth stabs floating around it in the chorus. While not as deep or fascinating as “X”, “Aphrodite” is another solid entry in Kylie’s catalogue, on the strength of powerful and energetic songs like “Cupid Boy”, “Get Outta My Way” and its title track. But the mysterious beauty of this song is the clincher for me.
Josh’s thoughts: Aphrodite is another album that’s come up a lot in my Artpop quest. This song’s ok, but it’s a bit bland. It’s very repetitive and it feels like there should be more there so that it ends up coming across a bit “first draft”-y. I can see the seeds being sown for Disco on this record, but it just doesn’t have the punch and memorability of that album. Definitely feels like a step back after X and Body Language.
“Les Sex” (Kiss Me Once, 2014)
More than a quarter-century into her career, the then-46-year-old diva finally discovered sex – or at least the word “sex”, loading her twelfth album with tracks like the pop-funk romp “Sexy Love” (that bassline!), the slithering, urban-tinged “Sexercise”, and the bouncing dubstep-appropriating “Les Sex”. Her only album with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, “Kiss Me Once” has a couple of misses (“I Was Gonna Cancel”, co-written with Pharrell Williams, just makes me think “perhaps she should have”, and “Beautiful” featuring Enrique Iglesias is too weak for even B-side consideration) but a staggering amount of wins for such a late-career release. She nails the spacious pop anthem sound with “Into the Blue” and the electrifying title track. “If Only” marches to a different beat with its unusual rhythm, “Feels So Good” injects a swingy 6/8 into her palette, and “Fine” filters Kylie’s pipes through an Imogen Heap-esque vocal layering process to produce a terrific closer.
Josh’s thoughts: A lot of my thoughts about this song echo those of the one above. Again, it feels very repetitive and underdeveloped. Unlike “Beautiful Love” though, I really like the album “Les Sex” comes from. Kiss Me Once sounds like a less retro Disco. “Sexy Love” is a total bop, and “Sexercise” is contains the right amount of camp and sex appeal. The video for it also manages to be silly while still being super hot and, honestly, makes something as explicit and over the top as “WAP” seem pretty tame. “Les Sex” has a fun chorus, but the rest of the song is lacking, and it’s definitely one of my least favourites on Kiss Me Once. The album also feels like a true precursor to Disco, the intermittent Golden (2018) only adding to the numerous examples of pop stars taking an unprecedented mid-decade country turn off the back of Taylor Swift‘s rise to fame.
That should be enough to get you (and me) started delving into Kylie’s catalogue. So – in the interest of easing back into heavier territory – we’ll leave you with Sydney power metal band Lord (responsible for Heavy Blog’s favourite thrash metal album of 2019) and their cover of “On a Night Like This”.
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Disco is out now, through BMG. Apparently a lot of people have bought it already.