Kylie Minogue - Kiss Me Once Review
Posted by David Hayter on 03.18.2014
Kylie Minogue returns with her twelfth studio album, Kiss Me Once! But is she still on top of the pop genre or is she out of touch? 411's David Hayter checks in with his full review!
Kylie Minogue - Kiss Me Once
1. Into The Blue 2. Million Miles 3. I Was Gonna Cancel 4. Sexy Love 5. Sexercize 6. Feels So Good 7. If Only 8. Les Sex 9. Kiss Me Once 10. Beautiful 11. Fine
Kylie Minogue feels like a relic of a bygone era. The last of the ultra-clean popstars who mechanically moves from one aesthetic to the next, running a tight ship and never causing PR headaches. The perfect vision of the wind-me-up-and-watch-me-go popstar (Britney Spears without car crash private life), who takes on many guises without revealing her true self on record. At times Kylie has seemingly been set to fail as she transitioned from saccharine post-soap hopeful, via steaming sex pot and electro-pop impresario, to camp icon. However, at every turn she’s taken what she’s been given and made the most of it. She’s has neither the best voice nor the most talent, and yet, Miss Minogue endures.
She has never been a magnet for controversy (her private life is largely a story of inspiring triumph over tragedy) and she has never been a pioneer. At her absolute zenith Kylie delivered precision engineered pop that felt timely and incestuously catchy, but, truth be told, it’s been a long time since her last zeitgeist tinged singles. “Slow” and “I Believe In You” are 10 years old and Kylie has spent the subsequent decade using her boundless supply of effervescence to carry second-rate singles into the upper echelons of the charts.
Kiss Me Once arrives with Kylie’s public profile on the upswing. In her home away from home, the UK, she’s been made a judge on The Voice (a show that does more for pre-existing superstars than emerging talent) while her press team have been making all the right noises. They’ve been talking up an R&B conversion and boasting about the bewildering array of production and songwriting talent signed up for the album (Pharrell, MNEK, Greg Kurstin). Unfortunately, despite pooling Parlophone/Warner Bros’ impressive contact book, Kiss Me Once struggles to make even the slightest impression.
Kylie is adept at powering her way through tossed off material and her bottomless supply of charm makes cynical cuts like “Sexercize” passable. Producers The Monsters & The Strangerz already have a host of dubious novelty hit singles to their name (Cher Lloyd’s “Swagger Jagger”, Flo Rida’s “Turn Round”) but “Sexercize” can’t even muster brain-dead or corny thrills, it’s a limp and thoroughly second hand take on tub-thumping R&B. The fault is largely theirs, but Kylie struggles to get sexy. She has no problem exuding faye charm and sweetness, but she struggles to deliver the kind of oozing sexuality that lets Ciara and Rihanna get away with lyrical murder. The trouble with tracks like “Les Sex” is not that they’re ridiculous (in R&B circles that’s a very good thing), but that they’re so interminable boring.
No one expects sonic breakthroughs on a Kylie Minogue record, but there is a bizarre feeling that she’s falling behind the times. “I Was Gonna Cancel” and “Les Sex” try to ride Daft Punk’s disco rediscovery, but, rather than focusing on the precise pop and naturalistic sounds of Random Access Memories, they recall shuddering samples of Discovery - i.e. sounds so played out that Daft Punk felt the need to rebel against them. Still, that’s not to say the tracks are inherently bad; they just feel a touch tired. Kylie provides plenty of zip on “I Was Gonna Cancel” and the end result is a track that feels eerily like a Stock Aiken and Waterman re-imaging of Discovery with a warbling operatic backing vocal thrown in for good measure. The inanity of it all lends the stale production some life.
Bizarrely, the one thing this Kylie album lacks is a sense of camp pomposity. Despite all the silly sexualized lyrics that don’t sound remotely sexy, Kiss Me Once feels depressingly conventional. There’s none of that Kylie quirk. “Into The Blue” is paint-by-numbers arena pop; it has some token call back vocals and plenty of opportunities for confetti cannons to explode into life, but little that feels tangible and less that’s memorable. “Million Miles” is stuck in a holding pattern – a serviceable pop song that goes nowhere fast and is absolutely crying out for a proper, big, memorable hook.
MNEK may not be incisive but he’s produced sizable hits for Rudimental and A*M*E respectively. Unfortunately, despite adding some slight house flourishes and the brazen stutter of Bastille/Imagine Dragons, he can do little to salvage “Feels So Good”. “If Only” is a far better effort, Kylie knows how to use her slight vocal to her advantage – fragility has always suited her – but, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, the hook is shamefully insubstantial.
Kiss Me Once is clearly the work of professionals. The entire project is streamlined in the extreme. Every potential flaw has been sanded down. Alien and intriguing sounds do creep onto the record, but they are subdued and subsumed by Kylie’s slick, straight ahead, pop ethos. Miss Minogue's vocals are on point throughout. She never puts herself in a position to fail and when she’s given room to impress (“If Only”, “Fine”), she does just that. However, these moments are too few and too far between.
The album feels on rails and constrained. Kylie isn’t allowed to be silly, inane or even her cutesy pie self. She sings “sexy” lyrics without getting down and dirty as Kiss Me Once feigns idiocy and bombast without being remotely crazy or exciting. Damningly, the strangest and silliest track (“Mr President”) is saved for the deluxe addition. This is a Kylie album that aims to avoid causing offence at all cost. The apple cart must not be upset – and, well, that’s no fun. Pop music is at its best when it risks falling flat on its face to be brilliant, barmy, beautiful or simply bonkers. Kiss Me Once strives for competence and acceptability, and that is exactly what it achieves, nothing more. Personally, I cannot think of a more damning indictment of a pop record than that.
The 411: Kylie Minogue and her exhaustive list of collaborators have successfully produced a slick and professional pop record. Kiss Me Once doesn’t put a foot wrong, because it strives to achieve so little. Risks are kept to an absolute minimum as Kylie’s energy and affability are relied upon to elevate 11 substandard (and in some cases underwritten) tracks. At this point in her career Kylie deserves better, but - as long as she continues to take D grade material to the top of the charts - Parlophone are unlikely to change their ways. Damningly devoid of memorable hooks, Kiss Me Once is professional mediocrity incarnate. It’s time team Kylie took some chances and had some real fun. At this rate we’ll have to wait another decade for the next “Slow” or “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”.