Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Kylie X - The Pop Trash Review

After three years of rumours, multiple leaks, rampant fan speculation and frenzied anticipation, Kylie's tenth studio album was officially released in Australia this morning. Instead of being the all conquering comeback that many expected, the reaction to "X" has been divisive. Most critics have torn the album to shreds, while many fans consider "X" a strong return to form. I definitely fall into the latter camp. "X" isn't Kylie's best album but it is the best pop album you will hear in 2007. Other divas have tried valiantly to steal Kylie's pop crown but Robyn, Rihanna and Britney still sound like amateurs in comparison. That's not to say that "X" is perfect. It's uneven and occasionally plain embarrassing - but at its best, the album reaches heights the other pop tarts can only dream of.

It's impossible to review "X" without first addressing the criticism that has (unfairly, in my view) been heaped upon it. Many critics have harped upon the fact that the album all but ignores Kylie's recent health issues. Reading the reviews you would think that Kylie's fans were all eagerly awaiting a collection of cancer ballads. Well, I most certainly was not. Kylie is an icon of fun - a beacon of good times - and "X" is a declaration that cancer hasn't dimmed her manically bright outlook. The album subtly references Kylie's health woes but chooses to cover the familiar themes of love, sex and dancefloor escapades instead. And for that I'm most grateful.

Another major criticism is the album's long list of collaborators. There is more validity to this point. The day might be nearing when Kylie needs to hire a super-producer to give her a more cohesive sound but the unfavourable comparisons with Britney's "Blackout" (with it's short list of high profile producers eg. Danja, The Neptunes) is utterly ridiculous. Since when is a collection of songs that sound like Nelly Furtado B-sides original and inventive? At a time when every old has-been in the industry is clambering to work with Timbaland, collaborating with Richard "Biff" Stannard seems almost revolutionary. "X" does occasionally suffer from one too many cooks but the album is nothing if not eclectic.
Perhaps the most credible criticism of the album is the song selection. In my opinion, the biggest problem with the entire "X" project has been the flood of leaked tracks and demos. Gone are the days when you would pick up a CD and judge it on its merits. Fans can now judge every track against those that missed the cut and, to be completely honest, some of the choices have been bewildering. The rational behind the exclusion of brilliant tracks like "In The Mood For Love", "Lose Control" and "Spell Of Desire" is a mystery. I can only think that the record company tried to hard to please everyone by throwing in as many different sounds and genres as they could, resulting in many of traditional pop/dance songs getting cut - but more about that later. Now that I've got that out of the way (!), I can finally turn my attention to general brilliance of "X":

2 Hearts - 7.5/10

The weakest first single from any Kylie album is also one of the poorest tracks on "X", which speaks volumes for the quality of the album because "2 Hearts" is really quite lovely. In fact, I'm quite convinced that Kish Mauve's glam rock inspired concoction would be hailed as a fan favourite if it wasn't chosen as the lead single. "2 Hearts" is a short burst of retro goodness but it was never going to be strong enough to stand up to the album's massive expectations. The song also gives an entirely false impression of the album - "X" is electro-pop through and through. "2 Hearts" is an interesting experiment at best.

Like A Drug - 10/10

This is more like it! "Like A Drug" is everything that "2 Hearts" should have been - a pulsating dance anthem with a distinct pop edge. Expertly produced by Denmark's Jonas Jeberg & Cutfather, "Like A Drug" is one of the most crisp and contemporary sounding club tracks to grace a Kylie album in many years. This could - and should - be considered as a future single. The line - "I've never had a ride as delicate and fine, you really blow my mind" is possibly the pop moment of 2007. I can't get enough of this.

In My Arms - 10/10

Leaked earlier in the year, "In My Arms" still holds up as glittering achievement. Few pop songs can aptly be described as gorgeous but this is one of them. An all star collaboration written by Kylie, Adam Wiles (ie. Calvin Harris), Richard "Biff" Stannard, Paul Harris and Julian Peake (Superbass), "In My Arms" is an intricate and innovative modern pop classic. "How do you describe a feeling?" has already become a catchphrase and the initially distracting spoken interlude before each chorus sounds more graceful with each listen. Contrary to reports that "Wow" would be the second single, it now appears that this is the more likely contender with Sebastian Leger currently working on remixes. As much as I love "In My Arms", the last thing Kylie needs is another mid-tempo single - particularly one that has been available online since May.

Speakerphone - 8.5/10

The first Bloodshy & Avant produced track has been hailed as many fans as their favourite but "Speakerphone" is a little bit too clever for my taste. Co-written by Robyn's favourite collaborator and the team behind some of Britney's biggest hits, I was expecting more than this recycled mess. As is often the case with Swedish producers, "Speakerphone" sounds pleasingly fresh and sleek but it lacks all heart. That said, "Speakerphone" is the kind of non-sensical club anthem that "X" sorely needs and it seems to be keeping the fans happy, so who am I to argue? I really hope it's not a single.

Senshitized - 1/10

The less said about this abomination the better. I'll burn my Kylie collection if this pretentious pile of shit is released as a single. Cathy Dennis and Guy Chambers should be exiled from the music industry for this rubbish.

Heart Beat Rock - 8/10

Calvin Harris strikes again with one of the album's most bizarre moments. I hated "Heart Beat Rock" the first time I heard it. I believe I even described it as "the homeless man's Hollaback Girl". It's amazing how a couple of listens can change the way you think about a song. "Heart Beat Rock" has since emerged as one of the album's rough diamonds. I love the staccato rhythm and the chorus is catchy to the point of being annoying. "Heart Beat Rock" isn't an entirely successful experiment but I'd take this over the formulaic pop cluttering the charts any day.

The One - 10/10

With every new Kylie album, fans latch onto a track and demand that it be released as a single. As soon as Kylie performed "The One" on The Kylie Show, fansites began to overflow with threads lavishing praise upon it. The song's popularity is easy to understand. "The One" is almost achingly lovely. Pop music rarely sounds as classy and refined as this exquisite anthem. Written by the all star cast of Kylie, Richard "Biff" Stannard, James Wiltshire, Russell Small, John Andersson, Johan Emmoth and Emma Holmgren and produced by Beyonce's right hand men, The Freemasons, "The One" is the kind of superlative pop only comes along every so often. Divine.

No More Rain - 7/10

Critics have bemoaned the lack of autobiographical songs on "X" but the lyrics of "No More Rain" are deeply personal. Therefore, it's a shame that the song is relatively uninspired and insipid in comparison to the rest of the album. "No More Rain" also suffers from some distinctly dodgy lyrics. All that talk of rainbows and waves makes me want to gag. However, the song does serve a purpose. It's slightly organic sound and retro tinge make a pleasant break from the very modern tracks that precede and follow it. "No More Rain" is cute, I just expected more from Britney's hitmakers and the super hot Greg Kurstin.

All I See - 20/10

The Danish team behind "Like A Drug" return to produce my favourite song on "X". "All I See" has been dismissed as an urban throwback to "Body Language" by most critics but they couldn't be more wrong. "All I See" is an intricately produced gem, which lifts Kylie to poptastic heights not seen since the glory days of "Fever" and "Light Years" - only with a fresh new sound and a new found confidence. There is nothing urban about "All I See", however it is a clear nod to American pop tastes. "All I See" sounds like a cross between Cassie's "Me & U" and Janet's entire "Velvet Rope" album. I don't care if everyone else hates it, "All I See" is a new Kylie classic as far as I'm concerned and the best track on "X" by miles.

Stars - 10/10

"Stars" is another track that leaked in May and, like "In My Arms", it still sounds magnificent. Produced by long-term collaborator, Richard "Biff" Stannard, "Stars" is quietly reflective without being overbearing. I interpret the lyrics as a call for optimism and unity in dark times but I'm sure some people hear a straightforward pop song about astrology. The beauty of "Stars" is its ability to work on both levels. I love the subtle melancholy that separates "Stars" from the other songs. An outstanding album track.

Wow - 10/10

"Wow" is Kylie's most obvious throwback to the glorious bubblegum pop she made with Stock/Aitken/Waterman in years. A burst of pure, unadulterated fun is the only way I can describe this trashy anthem. In fact, "Wow" is the kind of camp fluff that only Kylie can pull off with a straight face. I love every second of this cheeky effort and I really hope it is the second single instead of "In My Arms". "Wow" is irresistibly sunny, making it the perfect soundtrack for the Australian summer. Greg Kurstin's production is admirably (and intentionally) cheesy. Bliss!

Nu-Di-Ty - 6/10

Bloodshy & Avant have a lot to answer for. "Nu-Di-Ty" is an embarrassment but that's what you get for hiring Britney's sloppy seconds. I'm all for Kylie experimenting but this is a lazy mess and the eyebrow raising lyrics are downright shameful. That said, I can't stop listening to the damn thing. "Nu-Di-Ty" is so appalling, I'm kind of in awe of it. I would be much more forgiving if I didn't know that amazing tracks like "Lose Control" and "In The Mood For Love" were passed over for this crap.

Cosmic - 8/10

Perhaps the most personal song on "X", "Cosmic" also doubles as the album's big ballad. While not quite as majestic as "Dreams" or "Loving Days", "Cosmic" is still one of Kylie's loveliest ballads. The song suffers from some dodgy lyrics but it bookends "X" superbly. Produced by Eg White, "Cosmic" is pleasingly eccentric and poignant. You'll be waving your lighter in the air to this anthem at Kylie's next concert... if you could still smoke inside the venue.

Magnetic Electric (iTunes Bonus Track) - 8.5/10

It wouldn't be a Kylie album without a couple of brilliant and ridiculously overlooked bonus tracks. "Magnetic Eelectric" isn't quite in the same league as "Tightrope" or "Good Like That" but it's a hugely enjoyable slice of poptastic dance music with an incredibly catchy use of strings.

White Diamond Ballad Version (iTunes Bonus Track) - 7/10

Kylie's collaboration with the Scissor Sisters was the highlight of "Showgirl Homecoming" and appeared to be a future classic. So why destroy something that perfect by turning it into a dull and unnecessary ballad? I want a studio version of the fucking original!

Rippin' Up The Disco (Bonus Track) - 10/10

You receive "Rippin' Up The Disco" as a special treat from Kylie.com when you play "X" on your computer. Given its relatively obscurity and Kylie's previous track record, it should come as no surprise that "Rippin' Up The Disco" is gold. This throbbing floorfiller is the closest that Kylie has ever come to channelling Pete Burns. In fact, "Rippin' Up The Disco" owes no small debt to Dead Or Alive with its aggressive delivery and slightly darker sound. A dose of classic Kylie that deserves to be heard. Don't forget to download your copy!


"X" isn't as cohesive as "Fever" or as endearingly camp as "Light Years" but it's not embarrassed by the company of those great albums. "X" is a weird and wonderful treat, oscillating between brilliance and bullshit. The album has some disastrous moments ("Senshitized" and "Nu-Di-Ty") but "X" also delivers a batch of future classics like "In My Arms", "Wow" and "All I See". I'd much rather see Kylie experiment with her sound and come up with the occasional stinking turd than hear "Loose" Version 272 (AKA Britney's "Blackout" album). However, it is very frustrating to know that "X" could have been even better with the inclusion of "Spell Of Desire", "Lose Control" and "In The Mood For Love". As it stands, "X" is still two steps ahead of the other contenders and without a doubt my favourite album of the year.


Miss Heide Von Binterschlappen said...

Sensitized is my favourite track on the album (I'd stick it behind Chocolate and Love Takes Over Me at the top of a list of my favourite Kylie tracks ever), I hate Heart Beat Rock and can live without In My Arms and All I See. Aside from that, I agree with most of your review.

Speaking of White Diamond the highlight of the whole thing was the "DANNII MINOGUE SISTER" caption - for some reason this had me in stitches!

Mike said...

I just don't get Sensitized at all. It's hideous. But then again, "Chocolate" isn't exactly a favourite of mine either - but I worship "Love Takes Over Me". "Heart Beat Rock" is a grower - but I love Gwen Stefani and the song is clearly inspired by (ie. shamelessly rips off) LAMB. I still haven't seen "White Diamond" - it sounds amazing and I've heard that Dannii totally steals the show!

Anonymous said...

What a fabulous, balanced and well-written review! I haven't read any reviews in the main stream press yet, so if what you say is true about it being panned for it's lack of sorrowful lyrics, then I shall not seek any out and instead induldge myself in the album of the year!

Martin said...

Maybe it's just me but a "collection of cancer ballads" sounds hilarious. "Your Doctor Needs You", "Come into My Ward", "Chemo Style", "Hairs on My Pillow", and "Can't Get You out of My Breast" are all gauranteed number 1 smash hits!

As for "X", I agree with the majority of your review, except i just like it less. It's an ok album, not terrible, not fantastic. What I was surprised about though is your Britney bashing. I've always felt we were "kindred spirits". Melissa, Dannii, Dark Lady, even Toy Toy have supplied me with immeasureable orgasms, so I find it surprising since Blackout is my fave album of the year.

Scarlett said...

Fantastic review! I really agree with you that the complaints that X isn't "introspective" enough are off the mark. To be honest, awhile ago I kind of was hoping for Impossible Princess 2, but I've come around since and realized that perhaps Kylie wanted to get on with her fabulous life and not dwell on her illness. Introspection and all that sort of depressing thing can come later - now is the time for celebrating life (and "love, sex and dancefloor escapades"!)

I just bought my copy of X on 7Digital (as a US fan, I'm thankful for that site!) and am listening to it as I type - I'm in a sort of Kylie trance! :)

Mike said...

Martin - I can't stop laughing about "Come Into My Ward"! LOL

I don't hate Britney. "Lucky" and "Born To Make You Happy" are works of pop genius. I just think the praise lavished upon "Blackout" is ridiculous. I'm sick of Bloodshy & Avant, Timbaland and The Neptunes. I love Nelly Furtado and Robyn but I don't need to hear Britney's lame attempt to jump on their hip hop/dance bandwagon.

Scarlett - I'm glad you're enjoying the album as much I do! 7Digital is a lifeline for me too when albums aren't released in Australia. I think it's ridiculous that people want a batch of songs about Kylie's illness. She's put it behind her and retreated into her bright, pink bubble - where she belongs! I've been in a Kylie trance for days.

Hules said...

I can't believe what you said about "Sensitized".

That hot number has been getting me of almost daily.

Nu-di-ty is skin-crawlingly bad.

What Martin says is true; he bought the Dark Lady CD and tricked me into thinking it was the real Cher.

For days I was getting off to that "Half Breed" remix. Then I listened to it and some of Dark Lady's other 'reinventions' after a genuine Cher track and my suspicions grew...

Anyway, Kylie should have left Cosmic, Nu-di-ty, Speakerphone and All I See for Dannii.

Mike said...

I HATE "Senshitized" - it's just awful. The sample, the breathy vocals, the bad lyrics. It's just vile. I'm happpy for Kylie to offload "Nu-Di-Ty", "Cosmic" and "Speakerphone" on Dannii. They would probably suit Dannii's superior vocal range but "All I See" is the best thing Kylie has done in years. It makes me want to do rude things with my Kylie dolls!

Adem With An E said...

Great review, am really warming to Senshitized though I gotta say. But as for "Spew-di-ty" - that can go and rot in hell for all I care. My hatred for it grows with more passion as each day passes.

My best friend Ben & I have this ongoing joke that Dannii heard the song, laughed, and then convinced Kylie it was a good idea to include it on the album.

We also tend to think that when Kylie asked Dannii for her surgeons phone number, Dannii gave Kylie "a" surgeons number, more than likely the one who works on Joan Rivers or Jocelyn Wildenstine rather than the artist who has layed his hands on Minogue, D.

She's clever, our Holidannii.

Peibols said...

In Spain it's been released today.

About the review... I have no words.. I felt you were writting it personally - you know - to me! (close to tears).

Really, great review, I'm even thinking of not doing mine and linking you from my blog :P

Luckily I've heard really bad things about the album so I expected less than this. So I liked it A LOT.
Instant classics, dance minoguesques and new sounds.

It's far from campy Light Years, but it's far from urban Body Language.

Congrats for the post.

Mike said...

Adem - I think you're onto something about "Nu-Di-Ty"! I think it's so shameful that I'm starting to love it - if that makes any sense. I can't stop laughing at the bad lyrics. I think Dannii actually wrote it as a joke and submitted it under Karen Poole! I think Kylie is looking great at the moment. Not as stunning as Dannii but I love the X promo pics. She just needs to hire a decent hairdresser.

Pablo - Hi, sweetheart! I'm glad you love X as much as I do. The more I listen to it, the more I think it's the album that should have come after "Fever". It's really quite amazing and the critics can get fucked. "2 Hearts" was a bit of a disaster (commercially) but I think "X" has a lot of life in it with at least 6 exceptional potential singles!

Jennifer said...

THANK YOU for voicing your opinion about "All I See", I'm thinking of setting up a petition to have that song released as a US single cause its just so perfectly fitting for us State-siders to groove to cause it has to be a white Aussie to make the best R&B song I've heard in a long while...cause Be-YAWN-ce and Rihanna ain't cutting it here in the States, especially to my taste!

On point review! "Wow", "The One" and "Stars" are my most faves but actually I like "Sensitized" though it does sound like "Cowboy Style Redux" Worse song by far is "Nu-Di-Ty" which is what most on here agree is...I question as to why this was added and "Spell Of Desire" and "King Or Queen" weren't added...it sounds like a bad imitation of Timbaland's work...I cringe and spew and then push the skip button...overall I love X! Great review!

Mike said...

Jennifer, you're a voice of reason!

I'd sign that petition in a heartbeat! I honestly think "All I See" could work in the States. It's such a breathe of fresh air - an urban flavoured pop song with a delicious groove and a catchy chorus that doesn't rely on a repetitive sample. It shits all over Rihanna & co!

The more I play "Nu-Di-Ty", the more I think someone was playing a practical joke on Kylie. It would be hilarious if the songs that didn't make the album weren't so amazing. I totally share your love of "Spell Of Desire" and "King Or Queen". It's annoying they didn't make it but it's fun to make your own X!

My "Ultimate X" would be:

Like A Drug
Lose Control
In My Arms
In The Mood For Love
Heart Beat Rock
The One
Spell Of Desire
All I See
King Or Queen
Love Is The Drug
Rippin' Up The Disco
Magnetic Electric

J'ason D'luv said...

Wow, PTA -- a lovely, eloquently written review... well, so far. I literally JUST got home from buying the Aussie import at Virgin Megastore here in L.A., and have only listened to half the album, so I'm only reading half your review.

Between this and XOLondon's song-by-song reviews, I have a lot to analyze once I form my opinion.

Again, what a well-written, classy review. Good job!

Mike said...

Thank you! I look forward to hearing what you think about "X". I demand a Chart Rigger review!

Jump! said...

"All I see" is my fave song off the album and really should be a US single. As for "sensitized" I love it as much as I loathe "nu-di-ty" (and I really loathe "nu-di-ty"). Kylie needs to get "the one" out there to keep the X train rolling.

duanemoody.com said...

Great review!

I have to say, this album has gotten me to finally like Kylie. I really like it; but I agree, isn't the best thing since sliced bread... but it is tasty!

Mike said...

I'm loving the "All I See" appreciation! I'd like it to be a single at some point but I doubt it - Parlo has pretty much confirmed "Wow" and "In My Arms" as singles and fans will riot if "The One" doesn't eventually get a release.

Hi Duane, thanks! I know where you're coming from. "X" has totally reignited my interest in Kylie and the album keeps growing on me with every listen.

Tommy said...

Love the album and love the review! I just knew you'd give a good one, or at least an entrtaining one.. ;)

"All I See" is a fave of mine, too.. I could totally see this as US single material.. I have to admit though, even if it's a total Timbaland knockoff, "Nu-di-ty" has become a guilty pleasure for me. It's like the bastard child of "Body Language" and Britney, but I just can't help myself..

I fell in love with Kylie through "Light Years" and "Fever," but the high points of this match, and even exceed those of LY and Fever, IMO. It's like this album retained the pop sensibility of those albums, along with the best elements of BL all the while adding a whole new edginess to the mix.. Count on Kylie to be a few steps ahead of the pack, as always..

Anyway, great review! :)

Mike said...

Tommy, your third paragraph conveys everything I was trying say in my entire post. I really see "X" as the natural progression from LY and Fever - with the best of BL thrown into the mix. Amazingly, the crap songs are just as much fun as the good ones. I challenge anyone to listen to "Nu-Di-Ty" with a straight face!

Jamie said...

Do you know what, before I read this review I wasn't going to buy the new Kylie album, mainly due to the indulgent pretensiousness of '2 Hearts'. However, this review had me reaching for my debit card to put yet more of my hard earned cash into the Minogue bank account.
Once again you've excelled yourseldf Mike in a fantastic review.

Melissa said...

I've had Nu-Di-Ty in my head all day, can you imagine how embarrassing it is to sing a song like that out loud in a supermarket?!

Eric said...

I agree with you 200%... All I See is THE best song on this album. Makes my soul soar.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately as accurate as the reviewer might like to think they are (and at the end of the day, we all have opinions), I completely disagree with the views expressed about the song "Sensitised". It's an amazingly innovative production together with its sampling of Serge Gainsbourg. This is adult pop at its best (for those who can remember what good pop is actually about from the 70's). The reviewer gives a lot away in terms of their age and musical tastes where they give high marks to some rather mediocre and contemporary songs which sound like Britney offshoots. I can agree, however, that "All I see is you" is not bad at all albeit a rather banale attempt at R&B. Overall the album is not too bad.

Aaron Moss said...

Hi Guys,
My favourite track on X are Like A Drug, Speakerphone, Heart Beat Rock and All I See (plus Magnetic Electric, Ripping Up The Disco and (leaks) When The Cat's Away and Cruise Control (from the body language sessions)

Least Favourites: 2 Hearts, The One, Stars, Cosmic and White Diamond,Ballad Version (I HATE THAT SONG)

Anonymous said...

X is very variable. I love "like a drug" "speakerphone" and "riping up the disco" I also feel embaressed for Kylie who is forced to sing "heartbeat rock" - It is quite sad to have to paraphrase Robbie Williams.

The album would have been so much better if it had "lose control" "in the mood for love" "cherry bomb" and "electric magnetic" and removed "cosmic" "heartbeat rock" "2 hearts" and "wow"

PappyCaligula said...

"Like a Drug" IS the hotest cross-over pop tune of the list. I watch the graphics on the bonus part of the "X-Tour" vid over-and-over again.

"Nudity" is horrible to listen to as it's plain outright pornographic on the vid. If I'd seen/heard it in person, I'd have joined IF LED the "Boo Byrds" at it's sorry conclusion. (Rivaling Dylan going electric at Newport 1965) (But there are several items on the tour video that could've been left out and replaced with some of those from the "Fever" tour as well as installing something more fun like "Butterfly"..)

I also must say I absolutely DISPISED the "Love Boat Sequence ESPECIALLY with the EGAD, Barry Manilow "Lola" although I understand, not condone, the reference to the "showgirl" in it.

I forone refuse to listen to Beyonce, Britney, Janet and the like, with the exception of Acquilera do to her vocal talents,

I agree with the reviewer. Kylie, even her "shit", is so much more "fun" and bubbly and wonderfully "naughtee" from the rest of the wannabeez I ignore the major flaws and just enjoy the whole caboodle for what it is. PURE entertainment.
BTW, I did think that "White Diamond" needed to be a little more "real" (without being grossly exploitative) and alot less aspertaine. (Yea, like NutraSweet it gave me a bit of a headache in it's shallow portrayal of Kylie's comeback ESPECIALLY the time when she had to cancel midway a show due to fatique)

Okay, enough of me..I agree 99.5 per cent with the review!

BTW, the NU Staff at "DW" need to find a way to incoporate Kylie into Series 6. How about this time as The Rani (The red outfit would definately work for me!)