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.