Friday, August 07, 2009

Body Language - A Retrospective

I still remember the first time I heard "Body Language". My blood ran cold and I'm pretty sure a part of me died inside. In all my years as a Kylie fan, I don't think I've ever been so disappointed - and that includes the time I fell into a boredom induced coma listening to her first Deconstruction album. In retrospect, my expectations were ridiculously high. At the time I honestly thought Kylie could do no wrong. After a decade of hard knocks, she had somehow kicked and scratched her way to the top of the pop pile with "Fever" - even Jesus was jealous of her career resurrection! Kylie had seemingly found the winning formula and I naively hoped "Body Language" would deliver more of the same. It didn't. I was ready for just about anything apart from the eclectic mix of mid-tempo electronic jams, 80s funk and bizarre American-centric pop tunes. "Body Language" was the anti-"Fever" in just about every respect and it took me a long time to get into. Strangely, it now holds a special place in my heart. It's not the masterpiece that some deluded fans proclaim it to be but Kylie's 9th studio album is a daring and complex pop opus that houses some highly underrated gems.

A large part of my initial negative reaction to "Body Language" stemmed from the fact that it seemed to be a nasty case of false advertising. The lead single put off a lot of fans but I've always thought that "Slow" was the natural progression from "Fever". That track is so sleek, sophisticated and cool - while still being quintessentially Kylie. I love the minimalism. It's unbelievably low key, yet deceptively insistent and catchy. Team that up with the gay porn video clip and you have one of Kylie's finest singles and an exciting new musical direction. However, someone at Kylie HQ had other ideas. The Alexis Strum penned "Still Standing" is more reflective of the album's tone. Many fans consider this something of a diamond in the rough but I feel like there's something missing - like a chorus! The lyrics are great and suit Kylie perfectly but this should have been a hands in the air dance anthem, not a quirky mid-tempo electro number that goes nowhere faster than Dannii's career. "Secret (Take You Home)" is more like it. Often dismissed as a cringeworthy attempt to break America, I prefer to think of this catchy trash as one of Kylie's most fabulous guilty pleasures. I love the Lisa Lisa & The Cult Jam sample, while the rap is sheer camp genius - buckle up baby feel my speed, take you from zero to sixty!

So much was made of Kurtis Mantronik's involvement in the album that I was expecting something seriously brilliant. Instead, we got the stillborn "Promises" - a track that bores me as much today as it did 6 years ago. I will never understand why the gays on Say Hey were campaigning to get this released as a single, hell even "Nu-Di-Ty" has more commercial appeal! Speaking of hit potential, I think "Sweet Music" had plenty. It's perhaps the most straightforward pop tune on the album. I love the 80s references in the lyrics and the chorus is very catchy. Much like the sublime "Red Blooded Woman". I could write a thesis on the way this song divided fans but I loved it from the first listen. Bitches lamented the blatantly American sound - a criticism that seems ridiculous today when everyone with a recording contract is busily trying to jump on Rihanna's urban pop bandwagon. Then there were claims that Kylie was too old (at an ancient 35, mind you!) to sing lyrics about "freakin' around". Strangely many of the same people had no problem with 49 year old Madonna singing about her "sticky and sweet" candy shop. As far as I'm concerned, the song is a high camp triumph. I don't think anyone was buying the American makeover but I can't imagine my Kylie collection without this rubbish. The Whitey remix, in particular, is a trip to gay heaven. Happily, Kylie had the last laugh with this one. "Red Blooded Woman" is the only Kylie song apart from "Can't Get You Out Of My Head" that still gets played on Australian radio with any frequency (and that includes all the singles from "X") and the song has entered the national consciousness thanks to Kath & Kim. Who will ever forget Kim belting it out at Epponnee's wedding? Check it out below. The song starts at 1:20 mins. AMAZING!

The selection of "Chocolate" as the album's third and ultimately final single was a big mistake. I love the song - although I prefer the hilarious ghetto version with Ludacris that leaked a while ago - but fans were crying out for an upbeat dance track not a ballad, however dreamy and delicate it might be. The remixes were god awful and the promotion was non-existent, making the whole thing feel like some kind of contractual obligation. The only saving grace in my book is the kooky and extremely classy video that still pushes all my buttons. I was pretty harsh about "Promises" but Kurtis Mantronik redeems himself with "Obsession". This is 80s tinged electronica that actually works. The staccato beats are catchy, the lyrics are cute and I love the chorus. With a slightly beefier remix this could have been amazing. I feel exactly the same way about "I Feel For You". This track is so frustratingly close to being spectacular. The 90s piano is a surprising delight and the chorus is sublime but the verses don't quite work and that vocal sample annoys the hell out of me. It's almost like they tried a little too hard to make it cool and cutting edge. That being said, I always look forward to the pretentious thunder and rain in the last 30 seconds.

If I had to select a track from "Body Language" that deserves to be re-visited and re-evaluated by pop fans, it would have to be the big lump of sultry gorgeousness that is "Someday". I sometimes feel like the only card carrying Al Kylieda member that loves this but it's probably my favourite song on the whole album. Emiliana Torrini brings out a side of Kylie that I didn't know existed. The lyrics are so mature, the production is complex and eccentric (in a good way) and the cameo from Scritti Politti frontman Green Garside is a great touch. Whenever I find myself wishing "Body Language" had turned out differently, I just listen to "Someday" and get over it. That little gem is followed by the equally brilliant "Loving Days", which has to be in the running for Kylie's greatest ever ballad. Richard Stannard and Julian Gallagher create such a lush and dreamy canvas for one of Kylie's best vocal performances. Everything about this sublime gem just works. I wish I could say the same for the stinking turd that closes the album. "After Dark" is one of the worst songs of Kylie's entire career. Cathy Dennis should have been forced to sit on her Ivor Novello award as punishment for unloading this dire shit on poor, unsuspecting Kylie. What a disappointing way to end an uneven but extremely enjoyable album. At least the Australian edition finished with the lovely "Slo Motion", which is a favourite of mine despite sounding a little too similar to "Loving Days".

Half the problem with "Body Language" is knowing how different it could have been. Pascal Gabriel's "I'm Sorry" was an unexpected return to the introspectiveness of the Deconstruction era, while "Trippin' Me Up" is the dance anthem that "Body Language" was crying out for. When you throw "I'm Just Here For The Music" (recently raped by Paula Abdul), the trashtastic "My Image Unlimited" and the super catchy "On The Up" into the mix - you have the ingredients for one hell of a pop album. That's not even mentioning "BPM" and "Boombox", which were both originally recorded for "Body Language". However, even if I could wave my magic wand and completely overhaul the album, I don't think I would. Perhaps I'd ditch some of the tracks that needlessly pander to the American market (those decisions were clearly more corporate than artistic) but on the whole I'd leave it alone. Kylie has recorded enough killer dance-pop tunes for ten divas. Another dozen would have been nice but I'd miss the kooky shit on "Body Language". I respect that Kylie tried something different. A few of the risks came off and a lot of them didn't but that's what makes the album so frustrating and so fascinating.


tidusin said...

I consider it a beautiful EP conforming "Slow", "Red Blooded Woman", "Chocolate" and one of her best songs ever: Sweet Music.

The rest is pure crap. Like happens in most of her albums. Not even Britney puts so many fillers on her albums!

Jay said...

Chocolate is sublime and one of Kylie's best tracks ever. It could have worked as the first single

Red Blooded Woman is an urban masterpiece and ahead of its time. I don't see why so many sayheyers threw massive tantrums and claimed it was pandering to the US market (funnily enough the same ones that screamed for All I See to be a US single...) and its no different than Kylie going "urban" for ROL, LGTI, KM...

Slow was a way forward from Fever though it was more of a side-step and was too much of a grower to be a lead single at that time (though if released in todays market it would be the ideal lead single).

I like Promises, STYH is good but yet again fairly urban and again before its time, yet funnily enough the same people hating on RBW were screaming for it to be a single... Obsession would have been a good single that continued the urban / dance crossover thing they were doing.

Someday and Loving Days are beautiful. I don't get IFFY and I like After Dark though it seems unfinished.

Sweet Music is a vile aural turd that is one of Kylies worst ever tracks - infact it is one of the worst tracks ever recorded by a Minogue! I expect the poopoo to be ripping it off for her next shitefest...

In terms of bonus tracks, Cruise Control is the best by far and YMMF the worst.

Overall Id give it a 6 / 10 as its slightly too incohesive and patchy (and ends on 3 - 5 downtempo tracks depending on which edition you get). Still its better than Filler and the MOR snoozefest that was KM94

Nasty G said...

Girl, I loved Body Language from the get go, and the hate it received on Say Hey made me leave the forum for awhile. Then again, we didn't get as much Kylie as you in Canada, as only her first two albums and then Light Years onward were released here, so I had less to compare it to. But being an 80's baby, I got the references and loved them. So brava for your reawakening!

tommie said...

"Body Language", along with "X", was released during an interesting period in Kylie's career - she had just had the biggest hit of her career and of course the pressure was on to deliver - sadly, it seems like they cracked under the pressure; a lot of the album either seems demo-ish or overworked as you pointed out.

I only really like Slow, Secret, Sweet Music and Loving Days though, with a few tracks that I think are "okay". Promises AND Obsession are useless fillers though, sorry! And I'm among those who can't stand Red Blooded Woman and After Dark is just vile; Kylie must've pissed Cathy off...

At the end of the day, maybe Kylie should've done what Beyoncé is doing now - one side for the US market and one for the European Kylie loons.

Jamie_movietrip said...

I was with you all the way up to Someday, Mike! There's so much rubbish on this album, I love Slow and Secret, the rest of it either average or appalling - those ballads are dire! Loving Days? Give me strength!! This is when I really went off Kylie and trasferred my affections of Dannii, whose vastly superior Neon Nights rocked 2003 for me!

Peibols said...

This post is so complex... I must make a popst-reply (in English for you to understand it!) to say all I feel as I read it.

First, I'm gonna put it on my iPod and re-relisten to it.

Just two points.

I Feel For You is one of my very best favourtie tracks EVER. I used to playe it all alone, stuck on repeat, with the thunders making the loop easy.

I prerfer keeping B.P.M. in the Ultimate Era.

The Prophet said...

Body Language is her best album.

Sweet Music is the worst song on the album though. Most of the album is either really subtle or really funky, and Sweet Music just sounds like a trashy gay b-side. The whole thing that makes Body Language so good is that it isn't an in your face gay cheese-o-rama.

I can't believe you don't like After Dark, it's amazing. It's the perfect way to close out the album. I feel in love with it after seeing her perform it on the Body Language DVD.

Oh and Promises is the business.

Still Standing does have a chorus, just maybe not one as obvious as "In Your Arms" or one of her other gay anthems.

My favourite tracks from BL are Obsession, Chocolate, and Slow.

undisco_me said...

I would agree about the tap-dripping electro of Slow being gorgeous and ice-cool, but it's a cheap skin-peel off Sweet Harmony by The Beloved, which is not cool.

Still Standing is cute; it's a pity there aren't any other rippling and vibrating, gass-passing hi-nrg tracks here (I haven't heard any of those outtakes). Sweet Music doesn't advance any further that this, showing how Body Language sacrifices what made her so crucial to dance-pop.

Her tooth-pic vocals work best on Secret - it's all kinds of Denise Lopez funky.

Loving Days, Chocolate (what a racist bitch), and Someday all try to filter cinematic moods with dark, drooling melodies. The clatter of Red Blooded Woman would have been my choice for lead as she looks unbeatably beautiful in the video despite the skimming close-ups (*face-lift*).

Promises is propped with lush, feathery synths fanning against your tilted face. It's an album track, which is where I'll leave it.

All fusion, no tempo.

Chicago_Sexbox said...

Body Language has grown on me too over the years but I still say it contains some of the biggest turds or her career!

BruDé said...

Loving Days is still my favorite track of the album... Perfection !

The 2 bonus tracks in Canada were pretty good too... Cruise Control and You Make Me Feel. The last one has a beat perfectly made for headphones. Can't wait to see you in october Kylie!

bomitoni said...

I have to say I haven't even listened to this album since it came out. I adored 'Slow' but I have to say I still hate 'Red Blooded Tampon'! I guess I'll have to go back and give it another whirl...

John said...

I think you're dead on in just about every way with this breakdown. I was pretty disappointed at first, but maybe Kylie was just ahead of the curve, because I eventually caught up to it. It's not her masterpiece, but it was a good way to push the Kylie sound on a bit.

Calle said...

I LOVE AFTER DARK!! lol Kylie is amazing. Good read

Saoirse said...

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Aaron said...

Great review!

Ok - I'm going to make a confession, I've been a bit of a bad Kylie fan. I only heard Body Language a few months ago for the first time...I'd heard the singles, but everybody was slamming the album and I didn't really feel the need to give the album a listen.

It's quite a pleasant listen, that I really did enjoy - Obviously Red Blooded Women and Slow are brilliant, but the other tracks are fantastic too

Hidroboy said...

I am so, so, so, so in love with Loving Days that I would save the whole album only for that masterpiece.

D'luv said...

Nice retrospective, doll. Gonna put it on my headphones now while I work work work.

Guy said...

Great post! Completely captures my shock and despair upon hearing the album (or, actually, upon watching Body Language Live).

As you say, Slow was the perfect next step of Fever-era Kylie. Stark, simple, elegant and unusual. And it was pretty bold too. But how on earth did she reconcile that kind of perfection with After Dark, Promises etc. Such poor quality control. And her breathy high-pitched vocals verge on the child-like, giving everything a creepy edge.

But for me the most appalling moment of the whole Body Language era was watching Kylie writhe uncomfortably on the back of an oil tanker in the Red Blooded Woman clip. Hmmm, thinks Parlophone... lets make her a poor man's Beyonce to follow up the *dance smash* that captivated America.

Robpop said...

Lovely retrospective. It takes me back to our discussions in Pizza Express.


For me, Body Language is a great album but it contains lots of "album tracks". For sure there are really strong songs. There no real fillers. But no real killers. I think we were spoilt with Light Years and Fever. They oozed catchy choruses, bombastic narratives and groundbreaking pop.

Body Language on the other hand was a different affair altogether. It was a different journey. I loved it. But not in the same way as I adore LY and Fever.

There were some real stinkers on Body Language. Those being (for me) Red Blooded Women, After Dark, Obsession and Promises.

I love Still Standing, Someday, I feel For You, Slow, Secret, Sweet Music and I love that Loving Days has earned the support that it deserves.

My heart is with Sweet Music. Karen, Kylie & Ash really did write a poptastic anthem there.

As for the songs that didnt make the album...I adore Soul On Fire! Its beautiful. Also You Make Me Feel. Swoon. Thats pure sex.

Cruise also adorable. But for many reasons. I'd have preferred that to be released over Red Blooded Woman for some reason.

I think the imagery/photography/styling was also absolutely beautiful.

Yuяi said...

Great description as the anti-Fever. It's not one of my fave Kylie albums, but there are some gems on it, like Still Standing.

Scarlett said...

I know this comment is coming months after you posted this wonderful entry, but I just had to say I really enjoyed reading your thoughts about Body Language. I have a soft spot for it because it reminds me of my senior year of high school. I remember at homecoming that year, a friend of mine who also loved Kylie played some of "Slow" for me on his car stereo as he was leaving. I was amazed at this because it hadn't even been released yet - so this was the first time I was introduced to song leaks. :)

I'm so glad to read that someone else loves "Someday." I played that beautiful song over and over back in the day; it's really one of Kylie's hidden treasures.

Anyways, what a great retrospective! :D