A very minor consolation for the epic gig we’re all missing tonight. Don’t know about you guys, but I couldn’t wait to stand in the tipping rain making amazing gags about what a ‘Tragedy’ it was. But even gnat’s piss-weak jokes would’ve been worth it to see Kylie and Jason turning on that half-arsed chemistry again, to have Donovan make us yearn for the glory days of Keith Washington, to hear this wan melody squeaking over a vast PA. Oh, alright, I quite like it – but back in 1988, something made me take against ‘Especially For You’. There was something irritating about that hairsprayed sock puppet Donovan draping himself all over the delectable pocket-sized goddess Kylie that I can’t quite put my finger on.
Junior says this is “boring”. When I put on ‘Better The Devil You Know’ she says it’s way better. I think we can all detect the uncommon factor, kids.
The litmus test of any new pop record is the opinion of a little girl who already loves the artist unreservedly and will brook no criticism.
So, into this treacherous arena went ‘Born This Way’, and first we gauged recognition: “Is it Lady Gaga?” One hurdle cleared. Further responses to Stefani’s hi-NRG dambuster included bouncing up and down from Junior (five-and-a-half), Junior 2 (two-and-eleven-twelfths) and Junior 3 (a week shy of one) – confirming Gaga’s all-ages appeal – and an unprompted round of applause at the finish.
Then the question we’ve all avoided. Yes, determined to mark ‘Born This Way’’s place in the Gaga pantheon, I asked which was better, this or ‘Bad Romance’.
All that without mentioning ‘Express Yourself’. Unjaded by the past, unworried that all the pop tunes might have been done and everything’s now just a swish rejig, Junior doesn’t hear Madonna in this. Nor does she catch a whisper of ‘Rio’, or Jesus Jones’s ‘International Bright Young Thing’ or even Maxine Nightingale’s ‘Right Back Where We Started From’.
Come to that, she didn’t spot a Joe Satriani noodle recast in ‘Viva La Vida’, nor a short refrain from an 18-minute Cat Stevens song in the same. Because no one really knew them and they weren’t really there.
And she doesn’t fret that Lady Gaga’s courting of the gay audience might be a hard-nosed ploy. Perhaps she knows Gaga’s got plenty of ground there anyway, or perhaps she knows Gaga’s still got some way to go and it’s all fair game. After all, my brother still belongs to Kylie.
Whatever could go through Junior’s head, she takes ‘Born This Way’ on its own immediate terms; a fiery, anthemic, infectious jolt. Let’s all do that.
Dance. A cosy embrace melding euphoric 80s New York garage and bright-eyed synth pop, Kylie’s best single – or near as dammit – lowers her gently back onto the dancefloor, where she can get you into the groove without being tricksy or slavishly following trend. There are shimmering parallels with ‘I Believe In You’, another overlooked Minogue masterpiece that brims with generosity and unclothed feeling, and both prove how Kylie soars when she relaxes.
It hurts. I think a part of ‘All The Lovers” broad appeal is our heartfelt wish for Kylie to be happy. Yes, this was written for her, yes, pop is a fiction, but take it at face value and this is a sweeping away of disappointment, betrayal and simple not-up-to-scratchness that leaves her with a tip-top man.
Feel. Well, Junior likes it. She knows the chorus already and has some fairly muddled ideas about Kylie’s place in her narrow pop hierarchy. To the selling point that Uncle Tom reckons Kylie the finest thing since sliced shrimp, she offers this: “I think she’s the best too. But the most is Lady Gaga and Girls Aloud. My Number 3 is Kylie, second is Girls Aloud, but the best is Lady Gaga.” I think we can all get behind that.
Breathe. A sigh of relief that Kylie still has the chops to compete with those youngish pretenders – she’s an old dear, after all. Will she be able to carry off a leotard in 10 years’ time? Do we want to know? Hell yeah.
Seems lazy to give props to this track with a mere blog post, when Paul Morley managed to devote an entire BOOK to it, but obviously everything about it sitting in a room with Alvin Lucier while – in its techno dreams – it sweeps down an autobahn with Kraftwerk has, erm, already been said. For some reason.
In its real-life context, ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ was the sleek, pulsating sonic seduction that made it actually matter that Kylie had come back. The slight ‘Spinning Around’ made us say, “Isn’t it nice to have Kylie back in pop?”, but this one prompted a “Thank God.”
Junior says: Nothing, but a broad grin spreads across her face. “Do you know who this is?” I ask. “Kylie!” She’s come through her pop education.
Best bit: Where it breaks down and the synths go a bit ‘Love Action’.
Röyksopp get away with being coffee table dance bores because they’re Norwegian. Stick them in the Home Counties, and they’ll be held in the same esteem as Groove Armada, Morcheeba, Apollo christing 440. “Didn’t you make a good record once?” an aging hipster will say. “Yeah, that one on the advert,” will be their chipper reply. “Oh, and the one that Robyn rescued.”
And she does rescue it. This would be a hi-NRG SAW-era Kylie record (OK at the time, but in 2009?) if it wasn’t for the “killingest pop star on the planet” and her ability to make the mundane sound heartbreaking. She could make the Liverpool FC year-end financial figures sound dramatic and devastating. But instead, it’s the story of a poor girl ignored by her cold, workaholic boyfriend. He’s like a robot. He may even be a robot. After all, as well as sounding like 1989 this sounds like The Future. It’s a wormhole.
It’s also the key to unlock Junior’s dynamic array of disco moves, which now appear to include The Robot. Fortunately, she doesn’t look like Peter Crouch. My brother looks like Peter Crouch.
All things considered, at the end of the day, when all’s said and done, in the final analysis, weighing up the pros and cons, when it all comes down to it, if I’m pushed, I’d say ‘I Believe In You’ is my favourite Kylie single. Not ‘Shocked’, not ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’, not ‘I Should be So Lucky’, not ‘Love At First Sight’ – no, I believe in ‘I Believe In You’.
So does Junior. And, if pushed, if asked if she likes Kylie’s singing, she says, “Yes.” And what else does she like? I meant what else does she like about the song, but… “Mermaids. And Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.”
From top to toe, this record’s gorgeous. Lush and dreamy. I like to think it’s the Kylester’s answer to John Lennon’s ‘God’, but it is, of course, the work of 2004’s main chart sales flava – Scissor Sisters. Who’d have thought Scissor Sisters had it in them?
So Kylie fled the suffocating grip of Stock Aitken Waterman to find credibility, dance chops and, ultimately, zero record sales with then ultra-cool label Deconstruction. Everything looked rosy with ‘Confide In Me’ – all melodrama, crunchy beats and Top 3 success – and a decent album followed, only with diminishing returns. I worked at Deconstruction for one whole day as the album was being released, and made off with tons of promo material including a semi-lifesize (well, you can never tell with the Kylester) cardboard cut-out that my brother now owns. It was small recompense for spending eight hours sending out M People 12”s.
My own diminutive pop star claimed to “like Kylie” and admired the glossy CD booklet. At first she had it confused with the Saint Etienne CD also on the desk, which is quite the coincidence – ‘Confide In Me’’s B-side was a cover of the Ets’ ‘Nothing Can Stop Us’. Even more thrilling, the, er, other B-side was a cover of Prefab Sprout’s ‘If You Don’t Love Me’. Truly a potted history of pristine pop.
Yes – shock and awe – the Greatest Pop Single of the Century is only the 2001 No.6. It’s a fine record, but it’s as if the critiscenti were simply waiting for a Kylie track to hang the accolade on. The pumped beats, hopping synths, “la la la”s, the non-singing, the ‘Love Action’ “wowowowow”s, they all add up to an addictive confection – it’s just I’d have liked a proper hook and a whiff of soul before propping it up as a paragon of the art. Even Paul Morley, in the Kylie shrine that is his essay Words And Music, is essentially hung up on the video, not the song.
So there you are. I’m a semi-believer.
But we don’t care what I think. Junior was entranced – although, like Morley, she wasn’t fussing about the song, more about the airbrushed loveliness of Kylie on the single sleeve. She wanted to hold it, and spent most of the playback opening the case and saying, “Where’s Kylie gone?” If X is anything to go by, she’s gone on to diminishing pop returns.
Kylie has been at the very frontier of pop ever since the triumphant ‘Spinning Around’ comeback in 2000 – nor was she doing too badly a decade earlier – but has she actually been making many good records? I’ll help you here: no, she hasn’t. ‘Spinning Around’ itself was serviceable but horribly dated, and we’re legally obliged to praise ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’. Add to these the sparkling filter disco of ‘Love At First Sight’ and the dreamy Scissor Sisters collaboration of ‘I Believe In You’, and that’s about it. So expectations were oddly high for the comeback – perhaps it was just nice that there was a comeback at all.
It’s an unusual comeback, at least. While sister Dannii may consider shockingly tired Hi-NRG bilge the very apogee of cutting-edge pop, Kylie knows there is another way. ‘2 Hearts’ harks back to glam rock, with some knowing disco dust, and enslaves the world with its “wooo!”s. Not a particularly remarkable song, and a bit empty on first listen, it grows with repeated plays and becomes quite charming. Go on, the Kylester.
It goes down well with Junior on this, her second, maybe third listen. She plays her imaginary piano on the TV unit and wheels around, dancing with bubble wrap. We’ve just moved house; we don’t keep a ready supply of bubble wrap in the living room.