Kylie Minogue should be a bigger star in the United States. While on par with Madonna in Europe, in the U.S., Minogue’s career seems to be relegated to gay cult status. Years ago it seemed as if she finally made a breakthrough with the ear worm hit “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” but it was only a momentary fluke in her storied career; instead, she went back to selling merely dozens of albums here, while maintaining her iconic status throughout the rest of the world. With her 12th album, Kiss Me Once, Minogue hooks up with Jay-Z’s management team, Roc Nation, but her new album doesn’t contain any hint of Mr. Carter’s hip-hop influence. Instead, it’s another solid collection of dance pop. While it’s not her strongest album, it’s still a high-performing set – and if it sounds like this is damning with faint praise, then think again: Kiss Me Once is the kind of album Madonna or Janet Jackson would die to make.
At this point in her career, it would be easy to forgive Minogue for coasting a bit – and there is a sense of autopilot. She’s clearly found a comfortable formula for her albums: loud, gaudy, production; chirpy vocals, kittenish sex appeal with some a sprinkling of inspiration. Kiss Me Once follows this template closely. The album’s lead single “Into the Blue” is the strongest song of the album – it’s the sort of “you go girl” number that Minogue’s legion of gay and young female fans love. A midtempo, buzzy number with Minogue’s clear-as-glass voice floating over the shimmery synths.
While nothing is as instantly addictive as “Into the Blue” the majority of Kiss Me Once is still top-quality neo-disco dance music. The title track is also beautiful, too, with skittering, off-kilter beats, and a insanely catchy chorus. “Fine” is also a great, brisk number that glides quickly over a bouncing synthesizer. And Pharrell Williams, currently one of the most ubiquitous pop producers working today directs Minogue toward a convincing funk-lite chanteuse with the strutting “I Was Gonna Cancel.” And “Feels So Good” is a pretty swinging number. Minogue’s duet with Enrique Iglesias “Beautiful” is a nice ballad with some neat voice effects, similar to Imogene Heap’s “Hide and Seek,” that is very elegant, stately, and tasteful. Interestingly enough, both singers’ thin, pretty voices sound very similar, almost interchangeable.
Because Minogue’s not a particularly distinct or commanding vocalist, ballads and slower songs aren’t a natural fit for her, but what she lacks for in vocal power, she makes up for with a quirky sexiness that combines a campy vampiness with a winking innocence that belies her 45 years old. And while her kewpie doll sexiness can be charming, it’s a bit frustrating that a supremely talented and accomplished performer like Minogue hasn’t allowed for her music to age. One would think that when she battled breast cancer a few years ago, she would address some of her personal travails through her art, but instead of singing about the darker aspects of life, she prefers to hang out on the dance floor, holding onto her mirror ball with a white-knuckled grip. And while Kiss Me Once is perfectly enjoyable, I do wish that Minogue would get a little foolhardy with her career and start experimenting with her sound. In the mid 1990s, she put out an indie-pop influenced dance record, Impossible Princess. The album was a departure from her disco stuff, and she also had a hand in writing all the songs – it wasn’t a perfect record by any stretch, nor was it her best (2003’s Body Language was), but it was great hearing a mainstream, corporate pop diva like Minogue take chances with her sound. Kiss Me Once is a highly competent record, with few blemishes. It’s enjoyable, but too safe.