Kylie Minogue - Aphrodite
If the pre-release talking up of Kylie’s ‘chances’ with this one is anything to go by, her new album should dent the charts without breaking sweat. How gratifying to be able to report that not only is that confidence more than justified but that Aphrodite is easily her best effort since 2002’s truckload-selling Fever. Signs of recovery? You bet, and more than just green shoots. After the relative disappointment of her last two albums (2003’s Body Language was limp and under-powered while 2007’s X occasionally sparked but was a tad too robotic), here’s a laudable return to the comfort zone of the dance floor and a credible collection of well-heeled, silvery dance pop. Praise be.
That Kylie remains our best-loved pop star becomes less questionable with each passing year. That she made Britain her home goes some way towards explaining why we remain, along with her native Australia, her biggest audience. Going about her business with a smidgeon of discretion and modesty, generally avoiding the acquisition of country estates and the importing of infants, doesn’t do any harm either. We fell out with Madge when she started arsing about with the trappings of fame, we fell out with her pal Robbie when he fell out with himself. Kylie, with more recent testing travails than either, appears to remain as one with herself despite the pitfalls of mega stardom and multimillions. Scraps with the papps and seedy revelations in the red tops? Leave that to lesser lights. They say we like our stars all troubled and edgy. If ‘our’ Kylie is anything to go by, I suspect we probably don’t. (We like a loser who turns it around, of course, and in that sense our current national treasures are a former teen soap star and a boy band who became a man band. Plus, by dint of similar self-improvement coupled with moving back in with his former band mates, Mr Williams is inching his way back into hearts, the little swine.)
So how does Aphrodite square up to the Minogue canon? Well, since ‘Spinning Around’ did just that to our preconceptions and made us love her in new and unexpected ways (deeply and without irony for once), Kylie has often dipped a toe in the waters of a broader acceptability. Rumours of finally doing Glastonbury next year abound. She froths with childlike joy when Nick Cave tells her he “can’t wait” to hear her new album. She brings the likes of Nerina Pallot – the phone no doubt rang after her stunning take on ‘Confide in Me’ appeared on Youtube - in on this one for a bracing brace and it works as well as you’d hope. Yes, she’s always had fans in unexpected quarters; the Manics still talk of a re-match after ‘Some Kind of Bliss’. But, let’s not forget, when she gets too weird, the hardcore swoon but sales suffer. Those two albums she did for Deconstruction in that difficult half-time period between the SAW years and the EMI signing (2000’s Light Years onwards) received positive notices but famously disappointing sales. (Shame. A decade or more on, both stand up. Kylie, boasting ‘Confide in Me’ and ‘Put Yourself in my Place’, is icy but captivatingly so, while Impossible Princess – or, again, just Kylie for us poor sensitive Diana mourners – is all over the place but still full of fascinating highlights.) Aphrodite just keeps it simple. Twelve tracks, each one of them sleek, silvery, sumptious. Rumours that producer Stuart Price would do as he did with Madonna’s Confessions on a Dancefloor and segue tracks as just one continuous programme prove disappointingly inaccurate but no matter. This collection is, say, nowhere near as catholic in its intentions as (the still career best) Light Years but it matches Fever in its way with a beat-driven MO. If we’re talking smooth efficiency rather than radical re-invention, again no matter. There is time yet for another stab at something unexpected but for the moment, playing it relatively safe still offers sweet rewards.
‘Can’t Beat the Feeling’ and ‘Looking For an Angel’ are classic Kylie – breathy rush of vocals, pulsing beats, euphoric choruses all in place. ‘Cupid Boy’ has a hook that would land a whale along with a bridge that, on first listen, sounds wrong and dischordant but marvellously so. Pallot’s ‘Better Than Today’ and her stately title track are not immediate pointers towards their provenance but, several listens in, the deft handling of melody and lyrics indicate otherwise. The bloke from Keane contributes ‘Better Than Today’ and it’s a welcome slowing of pace after the first four songs race away with their pants on fire. Opener ‘All the Lovers’, without a shadow of a doubt her best lead single in an age, is undeniable. That little hint of the whining melody from ‘Enola Gay’ is laudable thievery. Nice, for once, to have an album that looks like it has legs. For an artist who camps out in UK arenas for weeks on end every two or three years, how much nicer it must be to once again sell more albums than tickets. Word is the record company have their eye on a year-plus, multi-single cycle for Aphrodite. Seems like the suits have their brains in gear for once.
All said, a joy. The lady in the big house, spring cleaning but a memory, steps out again. Your Little Boots and your La Roux’s and whoever camped out in the grounds can clear off home. As Kylie slips into her forties, her new album sounds, without any hint of artlessly picking up on the kids’ fashions just because they fit (the absence of a stab at auto-tuned robo-pop is a huge relief), like a breathlessly youthful endeavour. While markets plummet and currencies devalue themselves for fun, the Minogue stock remains high. Buy, buy, buy.