A playlist of my favourite albums of 2018:
And a playlist of my favourite songs:
A playlist of my favourite albums of 2018:
And a playlist of my favourite songs:
My photos and videos of Kylie at the O2 last night are here.
For reasons I’m not entirely sure of, Q Magazine’s review of Madonna’s Bedtime Stories in 1994 has always stuck in my memory. Its final line was “Is it too soon to say that it was fun while it lasted?”
It’s no secret (hey!) that I’ve been immensely frustrated by Kylie for a while now. If I can be awful enough to quote myself (I can be):
Kylie has willingly placed herself into the nostalgia circuit. With her previous few albums clearly struggling to sell outside of her fan-base, it’s difficult to see this changing…if we approach pop as merely fronting persuasive hits, Kylie’s age is clearly against her and she begins to seem increasingly irrelevant. What’s the point of a blank slate for Calvin Harris when you have Rihanna, for example? I don’t think you have to be too concerned with ‘rockist’ notions to believe that delivering further albums of off-the-shelf electro-pop can only offer diminishing returns, both commercially and critically.
Despite some glimmers of hope that something interesting was stirring (the Anti-Tour, the Abbey Road album which had an air of putting the past to bed, the jump to Roc Nation) the resulting relaunch, Kiss Me Once, was an immense disappointment. It also bombed – the last time I checked, long after its speedy exit from most of the world’s charts, it had sold around 200,000 copies worldwide (2010’s Aphrodite was certified Platinum for shipping 300,000 copies in the UK alone). An artistic risk which doesn’t sell can be a noble failure; a commercial smash which treads water could be said to be giving the fans what they want. The stars don’t always align. With Kiss Me Once, however, the stars weren’t even visible.
Still, live is where Kylie has always truly excelled, right? There’s no doubt that she remains a hugely charismatic performer – and she deserves eternal credit for her live vocals which invariably knock it out of the park. Yet the infuriating, aimless, conservatism which marked Kiss Me Once (and has arguably characterised much of her career in the past decade) carries over into this tour. The show is overwhelmingly familiar – with over 40 top twenty hits in the UK and 12 albums to her name, do we really need all of the big Parlophone singles wheeled out yet again? Do we need performances of Sexy Love/Wow/Love At First Sight, three diminishing return rewrites of the same song? Do we need yet another PWL medley (as fun as it was)? There were the usual semi-naked male dancers, the same old ‘ad-libs’, the standard ‘impromptu’ rendition of an old hit. It was Kylie-by-numbers. There were nods to progression with interludes featuring the Garibay songs she surprise-released the other week but what would Kylie have to lose in performing some of these live? They are the most interesting, if half-sketched, songs she’s released in ages. Lest we forget, she debuted Can’t Get You Out Of My Head on tour back in 2001 while KylieX2008 featured two completely new songs.
In the Kiss Me Once show, however, we find a Kylie who seems hesitant and cowed. Perhaps the underperformance of the album meant she felt the need to ‘deliver the hits’ – but anyone around her with the slightest insight would understand that the vast majority of people (hello, gay men over the age of 30) attending a Kylie show in 2014 would go along for the ride, wherever it took them. The ‘casual’ fans have been drifting away for a while now, underlined by the fact that last night’s third evening at the O2 featured a curtained-off top section:
Les Folies tour had 5 dates at the O2. KylieX2008 had 7. Are we seeing a trend here?
To go back to the quote at the beginning, I of course don’t think that Kylie’s career is over. Yet it’s conceivable that her time as a relevant concern is at an end and, on the basis of both KMO album and tour, she could be in Cher territory: release a ‘will this do?’ album for the faithful then go out on tour with essentially the same show as you always do. And we shouldn’t be in any doubt that a significant number of her fans would be absolutely fine with this – it’s all they want from her. My frustration, as always, stems from the fact that I know she is capable of so much more than that. I’ve been saying that she has nothing to lose for years – now we’re at the stage where surely even she must be aware of her decline. I think this could be her last chance to do something daring, as she has done before, to win over new hearts and minds. Alternatively, we’ll rendezvous in a few years for her three dates at Brixton Academy, marketed as an ‘intimate’ show but with a telling smattering of empty seats.
It could have been assumed, then, that Kiss Me Once would prove to be one of the most defining moments of Kylie’s career. Certainly as she’s approached the milestone age of 50 she’s spoken often of recording a jazz album, while the one previously-unrecorded song on The Abbey Road Sessions, Flower, was a deeply personal ode to an as-yet unborn child which was enormously atypical of her back catalogue. Given that the state of being an ageing pop star is still relatively unploughed terrain, with even behemoths like Madonna struggling to figure out their place in a world inherently dominated by youth, it would have made sense for Kylie to choose this moment for a radical reinvention.
It’s crushingly disappointing, then, to find that Kiss Me Once is perhaps her most anonymous offering to date. Kylie has always relied on a resolute blankness for much of her appeal and here, rather than exploding this open by injecting some strident character into proceedings, she sounds more removed from the material than she has since the grim dying days of her PWL era.
Given that Kylie was my first MusicOMH review it’s fitting that she’s my last, at least in any regular sense. I want to devote more time to my own writing, including finally getting around to sorting out my own domain name and hopefully (slowly) sprucing up the blog.
It’s unfortunate that I disliked the album so much. Kylie is my third most listened to artist so no-one could accuse me of being a ‘hater’, yet I’ve grown increasingly frustrated by her trajectory over the past decade. She’s in a bit of an odd position in that she’s almost universally ‘loved’ but in a patronising and cloying manner which lacks any serious respect for her as an artist. Look at your average Kylie review or the comments beneath it and you’ll find endless variations of ‘you know what you’re getting with Kylie, she’s all about fun, don’t think about it too much’. It’s a damagingly dismissive attitude which rests on the notion that pop can’t be brilliant (and fun) if it means anything – rather the business of making art should be left to ‘serious’ artists’. The cracks in Kylie’s appeal as a cipher grew ever wider as it becomes increasingly incongruous for an adult approaching middle-age to be singing frothy identikit hits which could easily have been offered to one hundred other much younger artists. Down that road lies the musical irrelevance of Cher – and she at least has her larger-than-life persona to retain a degree of interest. Kylie just has…being nice. It already seems clear that Kiss Me Once isn’t going to do much commercially. Something has to give.
‘The gays’ have been viewed as an exploitable market for at least a few decades now. Artists like Cher, Madonna and Kylie have long been famed for their fiercely loyal gay fanbase, so much so that every female pop star of a certain ilk has tried desperately to get in on the action. Then of course we have the straight-male-celeb-does-the-gays thing which has become an essential part of turning a b-lister into a profitable commodity. As I wrote here, “gay magazines still have an unhealthy affection for straight men who say they like gays while posing in their pants” and oh, it is ever so the case.
With each progression of ‘the gays’ into a target market the concept has become more and more banal, more removed from the complicated taint of meaningful politics and messy humanity, more homogeneous and more offensive. We become a bunch of fabulous creatures who want nothing more than to be patronised. Patted on the head and told that we deserve to be treated like everyone else – not because of any crazy concepts like human rights, of course, but rather because gays are amazing and deserve good stuff. We’re now at the stage where any 2013 edition of ‘Marketing 101’ would have to feature an early section called ‘Patronise the gays’. It wouldn’t have to be a very long section, of course, as it would just have to lay down the buzzwords to use: homophobia, bullying, gay marriage, it gets better, love, equality etc. You don’t even have to make any attempt at subtlety – Class A, a truly dreadful boy band, released an equally dreadful single called ‘Pride’ and did a tour of British schools ostensibly to promote ‘pride’ and oppose homophobic bullying (in association with the ever-useless Stonewall). This has of course given them quick and extensive access to the market which is most important for any new boy band. It also renders them largely immune from criticism – as love of/support for the gays has become a totemic liberal value there are a multitude of voices who will defend such commercial exploitation of ‘homophobia’, invariably appealing to the mythical ‘young kid growing up and feeling alone’. The gay is always ‘out there’ in this equation, always a voiceless victim needing to be saved. Lady Gaga is obviously the standard-bearer for this conflation of homosexuality with victimhood, portraying herself as some brave freedom fighter bringing a voice to an oppressed minority. Only two weeks ago the rich white woman with the model boyfriend who attended “one of the most selective and expensive schools in Manhattan” declared that ”It’s time for us to be mainstream”. Gee, thanks for that Gaga.
She is, to be fair, the perfect representative of an LGBT movement which is dominated by the concerns of privileged white men and is all-too-willing to allow itself be used as a mark of superiority by equally privileged liberals who fancy a taste of ‘the other’. That’s why the gay marketing ploy works so well. By buying into this idea that ‘gay rights’ exist in a vacuum, removed from any other political/geographical/human concerns, can completely ignore unpleasant issues of race, of poverty, of wider inequality (you can even ignore any discussion ofwhat ‘equality’ even means.) You don’t have to do anything at all other than say a couple of sentences and point people towards the e-petition. In essence you’re saying nothing that’s any more controversial than ‘I like cake’ yet your ‘support’ for the gays will be widely seized on by (at least) the gay media and will confer a fabulous sprinkling of radicalism on you. This completely unthreatening ploy sees the cause, and the gays, as instrumental to the real message – buy our product. So you find LGBT people celebrating the commercialisation not only of homophobia but of themselves. They become less than human, useful only for their victimised sexuality and perceived lack of voice. In this way this marketing ploy is as insidious and harmful as any ‘homophobia’ which it ostensibly aims to address (at least until the next single is out). We don’t need the Class A, Matthew Morrison and Saturdays of the world to promote their wares off the back of our ‘oppression’; more than that, we shouldn’t allow it. They can stuff their commercialised, profit-based, neutered and one-dimensional ‘Pride’.
This emotional resonance transforms Bruce Springsteen’s The Last To Die, following in the footsteps of Always On My Mind and Where The Streets Have No Name as songs by iconic rock artists given the Pet Shop Boys treatment. Springsteen’s original is a weary and angry howl at the futility of the Iraq war but in this context, where the dance floors of New York in 1982 are never far from the mind, the chorus lines of “Who’ll be the last to die for a mistake/ Whose blood will spill, whose heart will break?” take on new implications. By the time you reach aforementioned Vocal it’s difficult not to think that many of the the people Tennant feels around him are the ones he has in mind when he sings Springsteen’s “We don’t measure the blood we’ve drawn anymore – we just stack the bodies outside the door”. It’s an astounding reinterpretation which takes an already great song to new heights.
My review at usual place.
Yet if the album is a testament to the power of Kylie’s past, it poses curious questions about her future. The solitary ‘new’ song here is a recording of Flower, written during 2007’s X sessions but only previously aired on the X2008 tour. Musically its dreamy piano riff is no great innovation yet its lyrics (apparently about Kylie’s yearning for a child) offer an all-too-rare glimpse into the inner-life of Kylie as an artist in her 40s. As a song which is inescapably Kylie it is (excuse the pun) light years ahead of much of the electro-pop that has made up her albums since Fever conquered the world back in 2001. It teases a creativity last given free rein on the commercial bomb that was Impossible Princess and only sporadically seen since.
My review of Kylie’s new album is up at MusicOMH.