Kylie Minogue - The Abbey Road Sessions
It's not a new thing for singers to approach the tired old 'greatest hits' formula by instead giving listeners something old-but-new, in essence compiling a cover album of their own songs. Artists who have recently gone the orchestral route by adding big strings 'n' things include Peter Gabriel and Tori Amos, but who woulda thunk back in the '80s that Kylie Minogue would last long enough to have a greatest hits, let alone the chance to re-record her most notable singles at the legendary Abbey Studios? Of course, I was born in 1986 - two years before eponymous debut Kylie was released - so I was too busy prancing about to 'Got to Be Certain' to care (there's a video somewhere, let's hope that never gets found in whatever loft it resides in). The point is, pop is more often than not throwaway and Minogue reigns as this isle's pop princess; despite her chameleon-like talent for reinvention over the years, does she really have the songs and the voice to get away with an orchestral album?
Of course she does. It's bloody Kylie, after all! In fact, someone like Kylie stands to benefit the most from an album of this kind, as she successfully manages to strip away the polished pop production and dress it in something finer, more luxurious, at the same time showing she has some proper little pipes hidden away in that tiny frame. As evidenced in her live shows over the past decade, although always a firecracker of a performer, Ms Minogue is now comfortable as a singer in a way we never got to see during the Stock, Aitken and Waterman days. Only with this confidence could The Abbey Road Sessions work as it does.
Three tracks in, she drapes herself on the piano a la Fabulous Baker Boys (in my head, anyway) and purrs a slowed-down 'Better the Devil You Know', all lounge singer class and sensual sexuality. At this point, the experiment will either click or send you back to the disco where your preferred Kylie reigns. Those who are intrigued will be treated to a selection of reimagined hits that, thankfully, are not one-note: 'The Locomotion' turns flirty doo-wop, 'On a Night Like This' is all big band bombast (suggesting Ramsay Street's Charlene as a missed Bond theme opportunity) and 'Hand On Your Heart' has more in common with Jose Gonzales's effective acoustic rendering from a few years back.
Of course, part of the fun here is revealing the hidden qualities of the early, tinny pop - who knew 'I Should Be So Lucky' could be transformed into something approaching the strings-laiden Hollywood sweep of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow'? However, the finest moments come courtesy of the songs that were already great. Britpop-era 'indie Kylie' is alluded to with a stirring redo of 'Confide In Me' that Massive Attack might be proud of, while Kylie's sexiest moment EVER 'Slow' (a contender for sexiest record ever, if you're me) is slinky as ever in a calculated, jazzy redress. Nick Cave even emerges from some dark alley somewhere, providing a new vocal on murder ballad duet 'Where the Wild Roses Grow' in a standout that doesn't stray too far from the original but highlights the brilliant song it always was.
It doesn't all work: among the misfires, the icy future-pop classic 'Can't Get You Out of My Head' does not translate and comes across as pure novelty in this setting. A token new track 'Flower' is a perfectly fine ballad but takes away from the fun to be had elsewhere. It's proof though, as is this album as a whole, that fortysomething Kylie can pull off a more 'mature' sound while maintaining the ever-likeable charm that has lent to her longevity.
So, while Madge is still pursuing the club tip, Kylie here makes a wise move by slowing things down and allowing us to reflect on what makes her great. There is something here for every Kylie fan: the all-growed-up '80s kids will get a kick out of reliving the PWL hits, the gays will love their showgirl delivering her closest thing to out-and-out Judy G, and even the doubtful musos (who've always secretly fancied her) will find something hitherto unlocked. Listen and be entertained - after all, in whatever guise, it's what she's always done best.