Kiss Me Once
38:46 min • Parlophone / Warner Bros. • March 17, 2014
John Preston reviews
The definitive ‘Kylie Sound’ – it’s something pop obsessives everywhere are desperate to identify, capture and then immortalise. So is Kylie herself, and never has this felt more apparent than on Kiss Me Once, her 12th studio. Her biggest hits are studies in expert song writing, of-the-moment production and perfect execution. ‘Hand On My Heart’, ‘Slow’, ‘Spinning Around’, ‘Can’t Get you Out of My Head’ – are all effortless sounding pop from an artist who has more than proved her worth as a leader in the field. This album sees her again working with some of the most established writers and producers available, with reclusive pop extraordinaire herself Sia Furler curating the entire project. Kylie’s first album for Jay Z’s Roc-A-Fella label has not come cheap it. Three albums worth of songs have been recorded over the album’s two year fruition and many have not been deemed worthy of inclusion. None of the collaborations with Minogue’s new partner on the reality talent show The Voice, will.i.am, are here – a cause for celebration for some. So what exactly has made the finishing line and does the Kylie Sound of 2014 live up to some of her previous heady years? Yes and no.
The first half of Kiss Me Once is indeed the most problematic and some of it is best got out of the way with as quickly as possible before the really good stuff starts to cut through and rise to the shiny surface. Lead single ‘Into the Blue’ is smart and solid – very much a Kylie song – and contains a string section that is uplifting as well as vocal phrasing and beats that are certainly in keeping with current chart fodder. It is, however, disappointing in its overall niceness and lack of originality. Kylie’s best songs have also incorporated the unexpected with the familiar and for a song leading us into a new era it is not exactly encouraging. There are then two songs which, at Sia’s insistence, contain the word ‘sex’ (a third follows later which is of a different standard entirely) and almost suggest the onset of a concept album. ‘Sexy Love’ comes first and is a wholly derivative Daft Punk/Chic/’Holiday’ hybrid which has a wealth of sunny Kylie enthusiasm in place of where the song should be. ‘Sexercise’, a Furler co-write, follows. It is the most cynical 3 minutes here, a focus grouped, trend chasing attempt at maintaining her Grindr demographic in addition to securing just one more USA hit, urban style. It’s horrible and if you liked the weaker moments on Madonna’s Hard Candy then it may just be your favourite.
Pharrell Williams, currently as ubiquitous a producer as Sia is writer, thankfully comes to the rescue with ‘I Was Gonna Cancel’. It seems Williams understands the Kylie DNA more than he did Madonna’s. A joyous, confident and supremely carefree disco tune that has a nice pinch of “fuck you!” about it. With its ‘I Want Your Love’ bass-line and bells that resemble Blondie’s ‘Rapture’, this is the first song here where Kylie sounds like you might expect her to given the diverse talent that features here. ‘Feels So Good’ is airy, electronic pop that is both enveloping and aloof in its purpose. A cover version of Tom Aspaul’s ‘Indiana’, produced by new kid on the block MNEK, with its dreamy chord progression and Kylie’s translucent vocals, is one of the best things here. Ariel Rechtshaid of HAIM and Sky Ferreira fame ups the ante further on the tense and metallic ‘If Only’. Vocal samples are slowed down then sped up, which disorientate and muddle, while the drums pound like a sci-fi ‘Hounds of Love’. It is truly dynamic and modern sounding with Minogue’s coolly enunciated vocal heart-breaking admission, “if I set you free and you actually came back to me…if only”. The final song in the sex trilogy ‘Les Sex’ is another triumph. Written by underrated female electro star MDNR, it is a music box sweet as well as a squelching and whacking camp delight.
Enrique Iglesias, following The Hurts and Neil Tennant before him, is allocated duetting honours on the deceiving ballad ‘Beautiful’ – deceiving due to its highly vocodered vocals and soulless machines, which suggest something macabre and narcotic when it is in fact an excruciatingly sentimental and dull low point. ‘Feeling Fine’ is a handbag-house type affair, with lyrics suggesting that a positive outlook equals a positive life cliché. It’s not the most adventurous song Kylie has ever made and like a lot of the songs here (see also ‘Million Miles’) it does a perfunctory job of producing workman-like album tracks.
This leaves the one other Sia Furler penned song, the title track ‘Kiss Me Once’. Given Sia’s song-writing style, which is now becoming recognisable – dots can be joined that connect ‘Diamonds’ to ‘Perfume’ to ‘Pretty Hurts’ – ‘Kiss Me Once’ is unmistakable only as a Kylie song. Lush and dreamy, romantic and multi-coloured, it will be become a favourite for many. Kylie herself sounds re-assuring and warm; and the bells and the beats that surround her balance out any concerns of mawkishness. It is a performance and song that could have come from the best of Minogue’s PWL years, the Cathy Dennis sessions of ‘Fever’, or her first album for Deconstruction; a Kylie Minogue song for all seasons, beautifully realised.
If there is a comparison to be made between this and another of Kylie’s albums then it would be 2007’s X, another album that suffered from a long gestation period, with many songs being recorded with a myriad of producers and writers leading to a patchy final track-listing that lacked cohesion and quality control. Like X, Kiss Me Once also features some of the best material that Minogue has put her name to, but also some of the worst. Only on her best but not most successful album, 2009’s Aphrodite, which was executively produced by the extraordinary Stuart Price, was this problem averted with a collection of expertly judged songs that formed a tight and unified vision of pop superiority. There is always a degree of good will placed at Kylie Minogue’s tiny feet. She appears loved by many in an industry that excels in back biting and a desire for always younger, fresh talent, and there’s a general sense that the UK (her biggest audience) does not want to see her suffer or to fail. Kiss Me Once is not going to change that and is a crowd pleasing but uneven effort at maintaining her status as pop’s eternal princess. Her more interesting songs, of which only a couple appear here, have always hinted at a darker and more introspective and experimental Kylie; maybe it’s time now for her to embrace this side and allow us more than just the glimpse that she’s permitted over her 27 year tenure.