Kylie - Golden (Review)

Martin_Canine
KYLIE
Golden
★★★1/2☆

Before I dig into the album, you must know, there is something that I like to call my “club of childhood music heroines”. My relationship with these stars over the years is a bit difficult, and I take their work a lot more personal than that of any other artist I am into now. Among the members are Madonna, Cher, Nena and Kylie, who were among my very first music exposures. All four were 80s pop stars (in Cher’s case, even longer) who evolved into a then more modern and somewhat experimental electronica style around the turn of the millennium. Having been born in 1996, I grew up with songs like American Life, Believe, Anyplace Anywhere Anytime and Can’t Get You Out of My Head, all of which were among the first impressions I got of the music world. Also, it was the peak of the music video age, and the accompanying clips enchanted me as a little kid and strengthened the impact (don’t worry, the German music channels only aired the flag version of the Madonna song). Of course, I wanted to hear more than just their newest output and my parents helped me dig deeper into their previous releases from past decades. I learned to love both their then recent style and the energetic pop they delivered in the 80s. Throughout all of the 2000s, these artists kept me very satisfied and entertained with their music, in a way that I can call them the peak of modern pop music. But the inevitable happened: they released music in the 2010s, and their music dramatically changed to fit the modern sound, and my impression was always… very, very underwhelming. While they didn’t stray too far from what other recent pop artists I actually liked did, it felt off and strange hearing the voices I knew for so long performing tracks resembling the hottest new chart successes - often layered with effects that weren’t there before. The thing was that to me it felt like the loss of personality and spirit, while sounding fresh and exciting on other, newer singers - also it sounded a bit like parents who try to keep up with their teen kid’s trends. I wouldn’t say I hated albums like MDNA or Closer to the Truth with a passion, but they definitely were among my biggest disappointments in this decade. They deliver the very basics of house pop with little outstanding, but they aren’t disastrous.

There’s also a fifth female singer of the 80s that is a core member of this club of music heroines from when I was at a one digit age: Kim Wilde. Now, she released an album in 2018 too: Here Come the Aliens. It is not unlikely my most listened to album of the year so far, I gave it massive praise in my review and am considering updating it from 4 and a half stars to a full 5 star rating. The reason why I just ADORED this album in such extreme ways is that it features exactly the Kim Wilde I grew up loving. The singing, the instrumentation, the mixing, the overall sound is just the same as 20 years ago - in fact, it easily passes as an early 90s record. This woman is 59 years old, and nothing hints at the amount of time that has passed since. It doesn’t even sound like she’s trying hard, it just feels like all natural and top notch new wave music.

Now, since a couple of weeks, Kylie’s Golden is out. It’s impossible to miss because copies of the album are very prominently placed in every Austrian store that sells CDs. I was actually stunned it only peaked at number 5 on the charts, not 1. So far, Kylie left the littlest negative impression with her more recent output, as her 2000s music always had a disco touch that wasn’t too far off the house pop that’s popular in the 2010s. But, oh my gosh, everybody positively commented on the fact that Golden marks a departure from her previous sound, and I was already panicking that this would be the next stab in my heart.

It is the first album since the 90s pearl Impossible Princess that has Kylie credited as a writer on every single track. Don’t get me wrong: her classic record marked a breaking point in her career from being solely a performer to being the driving creative force of her projects, and she has written a bunch of tracks on each of her albums since then, on some more than on others. But still, it is a sign that this new album meant a lot to her, and that she has put much effort and thought into it, which in turn could hint at that maybe Kylie pulls off her own thing and doesn’t give a damn about the current trends. And yup, that hint turned out to be true. Gladly.

Golden is a thoroughly pleasant listen, full of melody and fun, that, even though being in a completely different genre, is fully Kylie. Featuring a bunch of steel guitars while tuning down the BPM and stomping kick drums, her new style is referred to as country pop, although I’d prefer to call it acoustic pop or singer-songwriter folk. It’s surprising that out of all artists it’s Kylie, whose career relies pretty much on getting the most out of electro pop, settles for a more organic approach, but it works out surprisingly well. Of course, it wouldn’t be Kylie if she wouldn’t sneak in a few pulsating synths, techno drum patterns and flanger vocal effects, but overall, this show belongs to the plucking instrument and to the big star herself in a slideshow of laid back down to earth music.

Next to the title track, One Last Kiss and Stop Me From Falling stand out as uplifting tunes that are perfect for a summer holiday on the countryside, while Music’s Too Sad Without You is simply a wonderful ballad in a timeless style that’s not trying too hard to be dramatic. On these tracks, Kylie’s doing what she can do best: making absolutely pleasurable pop music, just that she relies more on acoustic than technological help this time. It’s tunes like this on which you get a feeling that she’s just fooling around with different approaches while maintaining her very own characteristics. While the folk-ish feeling remains throughout the record, some songs go quite far into her comfort zone: the disco vibe of Raining Glitter could be taken straight from X, while the RnB-esque Sincerely Yours would have fitted well onto her 1994 self-titled record - and it also somehow reminds me of Natasha Bedingfield in the best of ways. Since there is always a touch of acoustic in it, the album is also surprisingly homogenous, no matter if she faithfully sticks to the premise or delivers what’s essentially pop with slight country elements. She’s not Miranda Lambert - but she is Kylie who interpolated a bit of that style into her own.

From Impossible Princess to Body Language, Kylie’s music was among the best that the pop genre had to offer. The albums are pure bliss, full of memorable catchy tunes and a whole variety of soundscapes and ideas. Golden isn’t THAT irresistible, and it probably won’t show up on any list containing my favorite pop records, but it’s more than satisfying for a mainstream artist that’s been in the business for that long. It’s not free of fillers, but there’s nothing that’s truly gone wrong, and nothing that feels as if she gave up everything that made her great in favor of a more youth oriented sound. Instead, Golden is the work of a great pop diva that just wanted to try out something new, and succeeded. Is it very refreshing to hear? Yes, it is. Did it keep me entertained? Yes, it did. Is it as good as her past records? Ehh. Is it one of the best pop albums of the last years? Also not as much. But, and this is why I’m on much better terms with it than with other modern records of my child heroine club, it’s fun, and it’s fully Kylie as I know her. And that’s a good thing.

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