Few artists have the self-assurance and poise of Kylie Minogue. Now twelve studio albums deep into her over twenty five-year career, Kylie continues playing with traditional pop elements by contextualizing them in the now, always keeping her eyes forward. What would otherwise be a disposable demo by another pop star becomes something magical at the other end of Kylie’s wand. It takes a special artist to sing a track called “Sexercize” in a way that doesn’t sounds like a Saturday Night Live parody. In Kylie’s hands, “Sexercize” becomes high-camp with an earnest wink. Her delivery is why hundreds of songwriters submit pieces for Kylie’s consideration: she will sell the song. Not just monetarily, but Kylie will turn your ridiculous idea of exercising via sex into a believable, addictive tune made for grinding with a stranger at a club.
Defining pop in the current musical climate is difficult when country artists dip into dubstep and indie acts court the genre ironically. Alongside traditional notions of what makes a pop song --plentiful hooks, toe-tapping beats, trusted lyrical motifs, strong visual aesthetics-- there needs to be an appreciation for the genre itself. That’s where Kylie steps in with a glittery Louboutin. One listen to a song like the Sia-penned title track from Kylie’s new album Kiss Me Once is evidence enough of someone who knows her strengths. There’s a certain way the chorus melody ascends into both feelings of familiarity and blissful optimism. Critics and fans dub this phenomenon “a Kylie moment,” equating to ethereal explosions like fireworks in summer, making you want to smile and cry simultaneously.
Thankfully, Kiss Me Once comes packed with these moments. Lead single “Into the Blue” almost has too many to count; from it’s pulsating piano intro to the cinematic strings, the song envelops you in its warmth and makes it impossible not to strut. While the song hasn’t performed to the commercial levels of previous jams like “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” and “Spinning Around,” it still shows that even this far along into her career, Kylie knows which songs will benefit from her girlish pitch and operatics.
What makes Kiss Me Once such an achievement is the progressive pop Kylie factored into her winning equation. With an assist from the prolific Pharrell, Kylie takes a real-life encounter of almost cancelling her session with the producer and turns it into a worthy addition to Pharrell’s signature-sounding canon. Complete with bells and an opera sample, “I Was Gonna Cancel” is Kylie through a Pharrell lens in the best way, never sounding forced or trend-chasing.
While it’s essential to appreciate Kylie’s risks on Kiss Me Once, celebrating her ability to churn out a tried-and-true dancefloor anthem also deserves applause. Both “Million Miles” and “Sexy Love” come from the same seed that sprouted Kylie classics “Love at First Sight” and “Get Out of My Way.” Kylie in disco mode is an unstoppable force, which makes the warm guitar in “Million Miles” that brings the dance number back to earth all the more admirable. Similarly on “Sexy Love,” a floor-scorcher Daft Punk would love to claim, has a beat drop that momentarily snaps you back to reality before the call-and-answer chorus slams back in.
Further down the tracklist is the album’s holy trinity: “Feels So Good,” “If Only,” and “Les Sex” are the best songs the album offers because of their adventurousness. On the MNEK-produced “Feels So Good,” Kylie takes us on a night ride through a brightly-lit city. It’s unlike anything Kylie has done, as well as any of her contemporaries. By the song’s final, more forcefully sung chorus and its backdrop of crickets and coos, you’ll crave a full album featuring a similar vibe.
Next in the trio is the Ariel Rechtshaid collaboration “If Only.” Rechtshaid is the brain behind 2013’s pop highlights from HAIM, Charli XCX, and Sky Ferreira. With Kylie, he incorporates similar approaches to harmony as he did with HAIM, combined with the drama that makes it sound like Kylie is a goddess singing the song from Mount Olympus. In a perfect world, this would be the sound radio solicits with this song as its blueprint.
The final piece of the threesome is “Les Sex,” an infectious song done with pop enigma MNDR. The seductive tune sounds like expensive lingerie feels, both playful yet sophisticated with its broken French and grimey synths. It’s another example of how taking sonic risks like this will only sustain Kylie’s legacy as a pop genius.
Following an act like “Les Sex” will make any song sound small in comparison. Unfortunately, the Enrique Iglesias duet “Beautiful” is merely a blip. While the song is pleasant enough with its robotic, dual gender harmonics, it kills the momentum the album gains to this point. To end the album properly, Kiss Me Once thankfully finishes with “Fine,” the sleek bookend to a collection that began with “Into the Blue” and its optimistic confidence. As the only Kylie co-write of the set, “Fine” is the perfect way to underscore how this is a record from a woman sure of herself, and her place in music. Gentle piano and a male vocal sample transport the song straight back into the 90s, further highlighting the nostalgic feelings the song awakens.
Although it will take more than a few spins to call Kiss Me Once Kylie’s best record, the album easily cements itself into the top tier. Rather than offering twelve songs that rely on generic EDM and boring club tropes, Kylie recruited an all-star list of collaborators to help hone her signature sound and push her pop sensibilities to new boundaries. An inevitable world tour and future singles/videos will undoubtedly help the songs from Kiss Me Once find homes in listeners’ life experiences, including those under neon lights and under the sheets. At the end of the day, it’s what we come to expect from Kylie Minogue, and what she always delivers.
Kiss Me Once is out in the US on March 18th. Stream the album now.