Kylie's persona infuses the album, even if her vocals do not. As pop heatseekers go, X is a heartbeat away from perfection.
Kylie Minogue is the epitome of the 21st century pop star. She has a clear sense of who she is, but in the studio gives hotshot producers license to manipulate her at will. Her voice, though readily familiar, isn’t her trademark: Kylie’s back-room collaborators get to re-make it in their own image, safe in the certainty that nobody, not even her most die-hard devotee, is going to scream ‘heresy’. She’s also sufficiently savvy to flaunt a little vulnerability – unlike Madonna (not enough frailty beneath the chart–dominatrix persona) or Britney (too, too much!) Kylie adroitly walks the line between slick careerist and starry-eyed amateur. While she makes like a cyber-vixen in her videos you can imagine having a cup of tea with her and not feeling overawed.
On her new album, X, Kylie devotes the greater part of her energy to ignoring an 800 pound gorilla in the room: her recent battle with breast cancer. Parse the record, a gleaming suite of euro-trash floor fillers and robots-have-souls-too ballads, for insights into her illness and you’ll find... nada. Or at least virtually nada. Granted, on ‘No More Rain’, a throbbing torch song that sounds like The Pet Shop Boys plotting Alison Goldfrapp’s next manoeuvre, Minogue is permitted to wax frail (“I dreamed I was flying, until I looked down. I didn’t move an inch,” she warbles). Yet, although hardly a hand on her heart moment of sharing, it’s as close as the album comes to the overtly confessional.
Which is for the better, obviously. Kylie’s response to sickness is not to wallow in (or masochistically celebrate) the memory of hospital corridors and chemo sessions but to clamber into her shiniest heels and hit the dance-floor. You’ll have sensed this already, having thrilled to the glitter-ball stomp of lead single ‘2 Hearts’: against a slippery r'n'b groove, Minogue delivers a frothy, throwaway lyric, tingle-evoking in its insouciance. The track sets the tone for what follows: ‘In My Arms’, produced by Glasgow bedroom wunderkind Calvin Harris, is a propulsive grinder that updates Giorgo Moroder for the iGeneration; the juddering ‘Speakerphone’ suggests Daft Punk hooking up with Girls Aloud (the lyrics are appropriately daft: “Drop your socks and grab your mini boom box”); ‘Sensitized’ marries Serge Gainsbourg-sampling string washes to a glitchy lap top flutter.
You can criticize X for offering too much producer show-boating and too little Kylie. Indeed, sometimes you may wonder if that sugary falsetto belongs to her at all: from song to song her voice is bent and warped and distended, as though it were merely another instrument to be manipulated by the record’s cast of mix-desk jockeys. However, Kylie is at her best when she’s happy to fade into the background: her persona infuses the album, even if her vocals do not. As pop heatseekers go, X is a heartbeat away from perfection.
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