New York City
The track, New York City, is available via:
3rd May, 2019
The album, Step Back in Time, is available from 28th June, 2019. Pre-order here:
THIS is a slight change of pace...
for me regarding genre and reviewing. I do not usually review many Pop artists but, because it is Kylie Minogue, one feel an exception must be made! In fact, I’d review her anyway but, on this occasion, she has sort of retuned to her roots. I will talk about Pop and the need for happiness on the scene; artists that reinvent themselves and go through these changes; iconic acts and those who warrant respect for years and years to come; role models for the next generation and why this year’s Glastonbury, with Minogue in it, will be very special – I will talk a bit regarding Minogue’s future and where she might head. There is a lot to unpack when it comes to the legendary Minogue so, right now, let us talk about her style of Pop. I am thirty-five and do recall the first flush of Minogue back in 1988. I was only five when her debut album came out in 1988 but Kylie was a quintessential 1980s Pop release. It was fresh and full of instant Pop winners. One might argue that it was a bit manufactured but nobody could deny the sense of fun on show. Minogue eventually changed direction and embraced something a little more daring but, on her first few albums, there was this sense of giving people something exciting, upbeat and catchy. Songs like I Should Be So Lucky (Kylie) and Hand on Your Heart (1989’s Enjoy Yourself) are rooted into memory and are instant classics. Maybe it was the age I was when these songs were out but it was great discovering these very bouncy and bright numbers at a time when genres like Hip-Hop and Grunge were providing something a little darker and more angered. In many ways, 1988/1989 was the most eclectic music has ever been. Pop was about to go through changes and we would see artists like Minogue spearhead something fantastic. I like the fact that she produced these radio-friendly songs that stuck in the head and stayed with you.
PHOTO CREDIT: Audoin Desforges
In years to come, as I say, that would change a bit but it was that arresting and uncomplicated Pop sound that won people over. Anyone looking for more depth and vocal range were missing the point regarding the tracks. There was that instant connection and memorability. Now, in 2019, how many songs do we have that embrace life and love without a cynical aftertaste?! Look around the modern landscape and there are very few artists that are providing the same kind of rush as Kylie Minogue. I argued this yesterday in a feature but I feel the modern Pop scene has very little in the way of joy and uplift. There are a few artists who can produce gems but they are in the minority. Maybe people, in an effort to be too honest and connect with what they feel, are producing music that is pretty glum and tense. I am a bit disappointed that there is not more colour and energy in the scene right now. One cannot say the lack of 1980s influence is the reason behind slightly moodier sounds. There are 1980s influences about but they seem to be blended into something a bit unhappy. It is a shame because we need the likes of Kylie Minogue more than ever. I will talk about her new single, New York City, in a bit but it is a return to her classic Pop sound. I do think we need a kick and guidance to remind people why the likes of Kylie Minogue, back in the 1980s, has a definite place right now. I am not suggesting that a bit of Minogue input will revive a flagging genre but it is a handy reminder of why a simple and uplifting song can make a huge difference. I understand why artists want to be a bit more earnest and revealing regarding their music but we need to balance that with something more hopeful and energised. Right now, I do fear that music has gone down this black hole and it will be very hard to get back to where we used to be.
If you think about iconic artists who have been around for decades and reinvented themselves on each album, there are very few that come to mind. Madonna strikes the mind and you need to put in David Bowie and, maybe, Michael Jackson. Kylie Minogue is someone who started making these traditional and simple 1980s Pop songs but, through her career, grew and became bolder. With Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman writing songs for her on her first few albums, we knew what to expect. Her third album in 1990, Rhythm of Love, had Step Back in Time, Better the Devil You Know and Shocked on it – it was one of the last albums that had that 1980s-soundign Pop flavour. By this point, Minogue was become more daring and explorative with her music. Her image changed from the cute and innocent Pop artists on her first couple of albums and was slightly raunchier and more contemporary – perhaps influenced by her then-boyfriend Michael Hutchence (INXS). The production was finer and more accomplished whilst the songwriting and Minogue’s vocals were more confident. Going into the 1990s, she had to reflect the changes and step things up. 1991’s Let’s Go to It was the last Minogue album with that more straight-forward Pop sound and, on her 1994 eponymous album, Kylie Minogue stepped into a new light. Tracks such as Confide in Me brought in more Electronic sounds and something more sensual and brooding. Gone were the bigger choruses and she brought in genres like House and Dance. With new writers and producers, this was the start of a second phase. I guess every major artist has some form of transformation and growth but, in terms of scope and sound, few as radical and impressive as Minogue. If 1997’s Impossible Princess did not resonate with many critics back in 1997, retrospective reviews have been a lot more kind and considerate. The songwriting is stronger than previous albums and Minogue was more involved in the songwriting process.
It is the sound of a Pop artist throwing away a more rigid sound and embracing everything from Techno to Trip-Hop to Britpop. Able to anticipate changing trends and adapt accordingly, Minogue was always moving and looking to evolve as an artist. Albums like Impossible Princess might have seemed a bit too eclectic and bold back in 1997; an unexpected move from someone like Minogue but you cannot deny the power and importance of that record. Recently, she has stepped into Country with Golden and, on some recent albums, has revisited Pop and some of her earliest sounds. If you want to talk about successful reinventions after a bit of a difficult patch – in terms of the reaction to Impossible Princess – then the 1-2 of 2000’s Light Years and 2001’s Fever saw Minogue enter yet another decade in bold and unexpected fashion. There were experimentations and leaps on Fever but the heart and soul was an updated kick of Disco. I think Minogue represents a time when Pop still had that sense of wonder and unashamed joy. Listen to songs like Spinning Around and On a Night Like This and they seem somewhat awkward and gleeful compared to a lot of the modern crop. Compare the sounds of the teenage Minogue on her debut and the thirty-something Minogue who was mixing something mature with a sense of liberation and joy; it was a magnificent transformation and step in her career. Fever extended that and brought songs like Can’t Get You Out of My Head and Come Into My World. Its Euro-Disco and Pop blends spawned big hits and the album gained huge reviews and impassioned praise. Perhaps there were fewer big artistic leaps post-2001 but Minogue was still exploring new ground and ensuring she did not repeat herself. In fact, 2010’s Aphrodite returned Minogue to her dancefloor roots and, again, was another big step into a fresh decade – releasing records in 1990, 2000 and 2010 is Minogue’s way of kicking off each decade in style; ensuring she sort of sets the trend and mood. Not all of her albums have been fully-realised and successful but you look at how far she has come and what she has achieved and, at the heart of everything, there is this desire to have fun and get people dancing.
I have given a bit of a whistle-stop tour through the back catalogue of the Australian icon but you’ll forgive me for being a bit brief. What I wanted to show was that, at each stage, Minogue was adapting to the music happening at the time but adding something unique and personal. She is not one of these artists that copies others or feels the need to be like anybody else. Every record has its own skin and scent and, because of that, I do not feel she gets the attention she deserves. Look at all the 1980s-inspired Pop songs and you can trace so many of them back to Kylie Minogue. I listen back to some of her earliest songs and they still stand up. Maybe the production is a little dated but one cannot deny the sense of fun and liberation. I do not think we have much of this now and it is a shame to see so many artists looking inward and producing music that is pretty glum and pained. Where is that spritz and explosion for those who need to be refreshed and inspired? For that reason, Minogue is an icon and someone who deserves to go down in the music history books. One of the reasons we are getting something a bit nostalgic and 1980s/1990-sounding on Minogue’s new single, New York City, is the fact she has a greatest hits collection, Step Back in Time, coming out soon. It is a great career-spinning collection that goes back to the very start and includes some of her later works. A lot of greatest hits collections can seem a bit redundant but, when you thinking about the radical changes in sound Minogue has adopted down the years, it is always necessary to have updated versions. I like the fact that she has this collection arriving but there are many more years ahead. I stated that Minogue’s most-recent album, 2018’s Golden, was another bold step.
As she turned fifty, there was a need to reflect a bit more and producing something a bit more mature. That is not to suggest that Minogue was playing safe and settling down: on the contrary, she was still kicking and alive but not so Pop and Dance-focused this time around. I think every great artist is that which can keep moving and surprise the audience. Few expected Minogue to head in this direction but, like all the icons of music, you cannot stay still and produce the same album over and over. With fewer and fewer mainstream artists making radical shifts and giving us these songs that stay in the head and will be remembered for years, the likes of Kylie Minogue are a rare breed. I have mentioned Madonna and, when you look at what she is putting out right now, there are no signs of slowing. Adopting a new persona, Madame X, the album of the same name will be a sort of chameleon-like heroine stepping into different moods, scenes and situations. At sixty, one would expect Madonna to adopt a calmer and more relaxed style of music – the misconception and rude expectation of the music industry. Instead, she has the same passion and potency we experienced at her heady best and the same can be said of Minogue. Although she is a decade younger than Madonna, there is nothing to suggest Minogue cannot last as long. In fact, it seems like an upcoming spot at Glastonbury will get her to new fans and generations. She takes to the ‘legends stage’ – if that is its official name? – and will get a chance to deliver her big hits to an enthralled crowd. So many of the fans that found Minogue in the 1980s have followed her; she picked up new ones with each new album move and, in 2019, there are youngsters who will be experiencing her music for the first time. One can only guess what the sets will be like and what sort of production values we will get. Seeing as there is going to be this career-arching set, there will be a lot of different scenes and styles mixed into the blend. Minogue was due to headline Glastonbury back in 2005 but, as she was dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis, that was not possible. It will be emotional for her as she heads to Glastonbury fourteen years after having to deal with such heartache and fear.
This year’s Glastonbury will be a big one for Minogue and it is only right that she should be seen as a bit of a legend. Not many artists have endured for so long and continued to win the hearts of fans around the world. I have never met her but, as a person, she always comes around as so bright, warm and funny. You get the sense that some big artists are a bit of a drag away from music and might let you down. Minogue seems always-radiant and has that classic Aussie humour and fun. When we look back in decades to come, the likes of Kylie Minogue will hold a very special place. Before getting on to review her new single, I wanted to talk about the new phase for Minogue. Ahead of her Glastonbury appearance and new greatest hits album, she has been speaking about her cancer fight and how that has affected her chances of having children. Speaking with The Times, Minogue she talked about love, her cancer diagnosis and what her Glastonbury set might contain:
“She has been dating Paul Solomons, the 45-year-old creative director of British GQ, for just over a year. When talk turns to him, she lights up. “I can feel my face going,” she says. “People say, ‘Your face changes when you talk about him,’ and it does. Happiness. He’s an inspiring, funny, talented guy. He’s got a real-life actual job! It’s lovely.”
“I was 36 when I had my diagnosis. Realistically, you’re getting to the late side of things. And, while that wasn’t on my agenda at the time, [cancer] changed everything. I don’t want to dwell on it, obviously, but I wonder what that would have been like. Everyone will say there are options, but I don’t know. I’m 50 now, and I’m more at ease with my life. I can’t say there are no regrets, but it would be very hard for me to move on if I classed that as a regret, so I just have to be as philosophical about it as I can. You’ve got to accept where you are and get on with it.”
She confirms there will be guests joining her on stage, but won’t tell me who. Dolce & Gabbana designed the Greek goddess-inspired costumes for her Aphrodite: Les Folies tour in 2011, but her on-stage style now is “more human, more real”. “But even Elvis had a few diamantés on him,” she continues. “Come on! I’m thinking of it as a big sing-along. It’s daytime, so you can’t have the lights, effects and lasers that I normally have. I think the simplicity is part of what makes that slot so magical. Dolly Parton just walked on out. Lionel Richie just walked on out. I mean, I’ll sashay on out”.
The first moments of New York City sort of blend her Pop work in the 1980s and early-1990s with the effects and Euro-Disco-inspired sounds of 2000 and 2001. The heroine is boarding a plane to New York and it seems that Minogue has desire in mind. She wants to get a train to the “big, bad city” and there seems to be a hero in mind. Whether she has jetted in from London or elsewhere, you follow this progress and Minogue having a very clear destination in mind. She is embracing the city but seems to be there in order to get a sense of satisfaction and release. Whether Minogue has a special attachment to New York or not, it is clear that there is this sense of beauty and grandeur that she cannot get anywhere else. New York’s epic backdrop and sounds are in her blood and, when the lights go down, she is very much matching New York’s coda: the city that never sleeps. Minogue has not really produced a Pop song like this since 2000/2001 and, in some ways, it is a sort of blast back to her 1988/1989 beginnings. She could have produced a song that was modern-day Pop: lots of processing and a fake sound; quite anxious and relying on loops and not really exploring a natural space. New York City is a fresh and natural song that is open and has nothing on its mind expect for passion and satisfaction. From the very off, you are hooked by the fizzing electronics and the clear glee in Minogue’s voice. We are not told what has brought her to New York and who her beau is but it is evident that she is at her happiest when in his arms. Some of the lyrics do stray into cliché territory but, rather than being quite lazy, it is a way of ensuring the song gets into the head and can be chanted by fans and followers. It is strange to compare the voice of Minogue in New York City and her work on Golden.
It is almost like, on this track, we have the Minogue we loved and discovered so long ago. That is no bad thing and it is nice to see this contrast in 2019. Rather than keep standing still, here is a song that is hard to pin down. On the surface, it sounds like a 1980s-inspired Pop strut but there is much more depth than that. At a time when there is little positivity and happiness in music, New York City is this rather strange-but-welcomed thing. Minogue switches between the more relaxed vocal delivery to a faster pace when she talks about getting to her man and being with him. It seems that dreams come true and that she has been waiting for this moment for so long. The simplicity of the song and the pureness of the sentiments means that you return to New York City time and time again. I have not heard too many Pop songs that have a very positive aspect and possess that addictive quality. It is no shock that Minogue should provide such a revelation and bomb but I was not expecting a song like this to come from her. Minogue takes us to the city and the dancefloors as everyone looks “so pretty” and glowing. The never-ageing Minogue is spinning and dancing; happy in this moment and completely arrested by New York and the love she has. These words and feelings cannot be faulted and it means the listener does not have to worry about any bleak moments or unexpected sourness – everything here is glistening and positive! As the song progresses, you start to put more of the picture together and follow the heroine as she becomes enthralled and spellbound by the sights and people around her. The catchiness and memorability of the song is evident from the first spin and it will be interesting to see if there is a video for this song coming. One can only imagine what it would contain and how good it would look. I am not a huge fan of modern Pop but, having grown up on Kylie Minogue and artists like her, this is almost like a pleasing return to the past. As youthful and physical as she was back in the 1980s, this is Minogue showing that she is among the most important artists in music. The sound of New York City mixes Pop with Dance. There is Disco in there and, whilst the production is quite big and busy, Minogue’s voice is not drowned out: instead, it is on the same plain as the composition and there is this pleasing balance of her rapturous voice and all the electronic fizzes that augment it. I have been a bit cynical regarding the opulence and mood of Pop right now and, with Minogue giving us a rich and much-needed song like this, I wonder whether there will be other artists following in her footsteps. It is strange that a song that sounds very 1980s/1990s in nature should be inspiring artists in 2019; by an artist who was making music before a lot of the modern sect were even born. Maybe it is not a shock as Minogue has always been able to guide and instruct. If she keeps on putting out songs like this then she could well give the Pop mainstream the smile and sense of fun that it has been lacking for so many years!
There is a lot happening in Minogue’s world this year. She has Glastonbury to come in June and her greatest hits package, Step Back in Time. There are tour dates and, recently, Minogue has been around the world and keeping pretty busy! She is always keen to meet new fans and I am amazed at her stamina and her passion. She seems to be happiest when on stage, delivering her songs to the adoring masses. She seems very happy with a new love and her base in London. There is new music brewing and one would expect another album in the next year or so. One never knows which direction she will head in and what genres she will explore next. There is ageism in music and an expectation that, when someone – women, mainly – gets to a certain age, they need to record something a bit soft and gentle. Look at Madonna (in her sixties) and Paul McCartney (in his seventies) and the biggest and best do not pay any attention to that ridiculous notion! Instead, the likes of Kylie Minogue are doing what they want and not concerned with slowing down and being ‘age-appropriate’. I think Minogue’s music should be played on BBC Radio 1 and younger stations but, as is often the way, their playlists are reserved for younger artists. I know there are many more years ahead for Minogue and who knows how many albums she still has in her. She has been through some tough times but, riding high, she is now ready to embark on one of her biggest career gigs so far with Glastonbury.
It will be more than a normal gig. In a way, it is Minogue playing somewhere she was due to conquer in 2005 and, although she beat cancer and is in fine form, there will be some hard emotions and harsh memories in her mind. It is impossible to think about what could have been in 2005 and what she had to endure in one of the toughest periods of her life. With New York City showing that the Pop Minogue puts out is far fresher, positive and memorable than most of what is being unleashed by the new generation, I do think there is a very bright and productive future ahead. I am not a Minogue super-fan but I admire what she does and have always followed her music. She has earned her place as one of the most-respected and adored artists in the world. Minogue has influenced so many other artists and, at only fifty, there are many more years where she can twist, turn and transform; always doing something new and opening eyes to what could be. When she does kick off her Glastonbury set in a few weeks, there are bound to be mixed emotions. Seeing Minogue on that stage, in the sun (one hopes), will be a huge moment. Where does she go after that? Knowing Kylie Minogue, there is no telling just…
WHAT she can achieve and where she will head.
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