Kylie’s country album? Shoot me now.
This is just a Kylie album. A very good Kylie album, mind. One that would be among the best she’s made (stop that smirking, there have been good albums – which is impressive in essentially a singles act) and is going to provide earworms aplenty this year.
It has songs to dance to (but not any outright electronic bangers), songs to wave your hands in the air with (but none that play down enough to be anthems), songs which are pure fun to listen to (but won’t threaten embarrassment in middle aged listeners) and even songs which can lightly touch an emotion (but no more than touch – this is Kylie after all).
It also has a lot more acoustic guitar, including variations on a riff which recurs as a kind of album motif; a bonkers “whoop” hook paired with a springy bassline (Raining Glitter) that may be a close cousin to Paul McCartney’s Goodnight Tonight, and is almost as catchy; a semi-ballad that feels like a public service ad in the making (the N-Sync-ish Sincerely Yours), and another which will cause phone flashlights to light up in venues everywhere and get radio programmers onside (Radio On); and a swaying in the dusk light duet, with Jack Savoretti that closes out the album with some tenderness (Music’s Too Sad Without You).
It is not country. It is not even country-influenced. When you hear the hook-thumbs-in-belt-loops A Lifetime To Repair it is about as believably country as that mucky stuff Justin Timberlake put out recently. Really, Golden’s closest comparison would be a Robbie Williams album.
So to watch the marketing, the coy references in interviews, and reviewers’ attempts to link these songs to some Dollyesque template is to see how circular the PR/press circus is. Yes, yes, I know, the line is but she wrote and recorded some of it in Nashville. With a bloke who produced Taylor Swift. And it has banjo. No, really, banjo. Plus, the filmclip for the first single, Dancing features bootscooting. Yes, really, bootscooting.
And look, the cover: it has an acoustic guitar (covered in rhinestones), a comfy old couch, and Ms Minogue has boots on. Not cowboy boots exactly, but, still, boots. Gosh darn it, any more authentic and we’d have to call her Ellie-May.
In the mould of the line from the Smiths’ Shakespeare’s Sister - “I thought that if you had an acoustic guitar, it meant that you were a protest singer” - it might now be said “I thought that if you had a banjo and a pair of boots it meant that you were a country singer”.
As a fan of both country and pop, it says something about this musical world that a perfectly fine, bubbleheaded commercial rock artist such as Keith Urban still gets called country, and Kacey Musgraves can make a shiny pop record that seems to have all bases covered but will still be seen as a country artist attempting a “crossover”. As if there’s a line there anymore.
Mainstream country music has not just been the pop music of middle America (for which you can read the almost exclusively white audience that can’t reconcile to R&B, hip hop and their world domination) for a couple of decades now, it is pop music: hook-filled, served with rock dynamics and pop structures, marketed with the pretty and the buff, and only very occasionally throwing a bone to some “traditional” instrument such as a fiddle, pedal steel or, yes, banjo.
When you put it like that, Golden is Nashville-like in that the goals are the same. (Speaking of which, you may be thinking Ray Of Light at this point, which is fair enough – a certain pop star’s cowboy hat-wearing “country” dance pop period looms on the horizon – but sometimes it’s nice to talk about Minogue without mentioning the other M word.)
However, the interesting aspect of this “refreshing” of Minogue’s sound is that it does something she rarely does: take something of a risk. And I don’t mean the county malarkey.
Principle among these is the de-emphasising of dance. Not the absence of it; for while many songs have low-key starts (those acoustic riffs I mentioned earlier a popular one), they often blossom into brisk and sometimes outright danceable choruses, such as Live A Little, and Dancing.
But the BPMs here are more suitable for dancing behind the wheel than on some packed dancefloor. And in something like Shelby ’68 or Love, more Lorde or even Tracey Thorn, than Ariane Grande or Little Mix.
The other risk is emphasising what you might call “adult” pop, rather than the sparkly end of the genre, especially given the last time she tried this with a full press – 1997’s criminally underrated Impossible Princess – it was trashed and sold about five copies in the UK.
The structures on Golden are more relaxed than the Swedish hit song factories, or their British equivalents, prefer and you are not always hit over the head early and repeatedly with the gimmick. Likewise, her voice emerges with relatively little obvious treatment most of the time. These songs are not generally in the hairdresser range, put it that way.
One thing that hasn’t changed from all the records either side of Impossible Princess (which imitated real life engagingly) is the emptiness of the lyrics. Amusingly, Minogue has said in several interviews that while this record comes after a breakup she didn’t want to write a breakup record. As if personal fare would ever make it into her songs.
Much safer, more comfortable, is to once again go with a series of generic lines which say just enough to be commonly understood without saying anything that might be genuinely felt. I would not recommend paying close attention unless you want to grind your teeth in frustration. (Which is quite Nashville production line if you think about it,)
Better just to go along for the extremely enjoyable ride with a set of good songs that satisfy other parts of your mind/body/spirit and leave you feeling better afterwards. The way pop songs are meant to. Yes, pop songs, not bloody country, ok?