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Kylie Minogue
DISCO CJ Thorpe-Tracey , November 17th, 2020 09:26

Kylie is back on the dance floor, but feels strangely unsure of her own place there, finds CJ Thorpe-Tracey

DISCO is Kylie's fifteenth studio album. It's rather nice that she's been at it since the mid-1980s and still wants to boogie. I wish people would stop being amazed though: she's not Vera Lynn. I danced to 'Better The Devil You Know' as a kid, I still dance now and I'm in much worse physical shape than Kylie is. It's also a pity they've felt the need to re-insert the 'Minogue' back into her branding more prominently, since the rise of that horrid influencer Jenner girl. If the rotten turd in charge of our country can get away with a one word stage-name, Kylie should definitely have hers intact.

Anyway, trigger warning: I know we all adore Our Kylie (I do too) but by the end of this experience I'll reluctantly have a Craig Revel Horwood hat on. I know we'll get a solid clutch of bangers. They've put the intent on the tin, calling the thing DISCO. I know it'll be a thoroughly uplifting ride, with Kylie's charming – if not quite belting – vocal supported by all the best technology. I know we'll get an A-list (albeit small-c conservative) team of collaborators, honing production and co-writing. Ms Minogue is a more than competent show-runner.

But this year there's no show to run. Meanwhile, this is also the year that Dua Lipa crowned herself an untouchable goddess of the broader genre, via sheer unswitchoffable brilliance, while at the more BBC tea-time end of the spectrum, Sophie Ellis Bextor collared Mums' Corner for her own, live-streaming through lockdown from her living room with her kids running around – and somehow pulled that off with sexy aplomb and total class. So I think, here, we've got to seek something more. Innovation in the songwriting. A little more variety. Complexity and nuance in the lyrical sentiment; some mining of The Kylie Soul. And it doesn't come. That's not to say DISCO isn't fine. It is fine. But it's just fine.

Early on, 'Miss A Thing' opens with Kylie telling us to "dance!" and instead of just bounding onto the floor, I wonder, why do you even need to instruct us? The beat is polished to the shimmering max, yet crucially, it does not boff. The feel throughout DISCO is more 1970s than 1980s, certainly nothing more recent than that. This nightclub has a massive mirrorball and those white star-shaped sunglasses, and people apeing Travolta, rather than anything more progressive. No lasers and glo-sticks. No jeans or trainers, even. Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Berlin anymore.

'Supernova' is killer fun, though. It could be off the second or third album that Kylie made under the unhealthy control of Stock, Aitken & Waterman, plus the song throws tons of random planet names and space-science words at the wall and quite a few of them stick.

Next, 'Say Something' nods to Robyn's restless, visionary four-to-the-floor heartbreak and, even without the punch – certainly without letting us see any scars – it's still a real highlight of the set.

But oddly, as DISCO gets into its stride, Kylie of all people comes across like when those late '60s Nashville stars went coyly funk in the early 1970s as a tactic to reach out beyond Tennessee to the mainstream pop world. This album feels more like she's Dolly Parton dipping her toes into club life than, say, Donna Summer in her pomp. I can't honestly understand this: how Kylie doesn't sound more like the authentic pop empress her legacy actually makes her.

Minogue's previous album, 2018's Golden, turned out to be a successful country-pop dance crossover, containing songs that would sit happily on a Ward Thomas record. And yes, it's bemusing but somehow that sounds more authentically Kylie than this. There are so many moments here to tease you with a better record. When 'Dance Floor Darling' speeds up near the end, for no apparent reason, with a Daft Punk synth solo incoming, it's suddenly brilliant. Rips it up. Like the team reaches for something magic, has the courage to fuck up the tempo, but not whatever the next step should've been.

Here's the thing – and I'm aware this is an unfair way to judge pop music – but in this later chunk of her career, whenever Kylie pops her head into our culture it's as a fulcrum of an important story, whether her own or a more widescreen tale. Think of her triumphant return to Glastonbury after having to pull out years before. Now set that against her heartbreaking, slippery, yet brutally honest appearance in the recent Michael Hutchence documentary. Or, a few years ago, a lighter but similarly iconoclastic appearance on a car ride with Nick Cave in his 20,000 Days on Earth film.

I'm not asking for memoir, or self-exposure, certainly not ugly tabloid fan service, I'm happy with the slipperiness and opaque delivery and all that. But what I'm yearning for is the iconoclasm of Kylie Minogue as she is now. Where is self-acknowledgement of her unique, potent power in our culture?

Why does this record not realise how important Kylie is?

The BBC headlined an article on the album: 'Why Kylie Minogue is pop's most underestimated icon'. As a collection of songs, DISCO is a terrific soundtrack to washing the dishes or a dance-off. But this album in itself underestimates its own artist, which is in a small way unforgivable.