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Kylie Minogue
Tension Jeremy Allen , September 22nd, 2023 07:08

Jeremy Allen applauds one of pop's great chameleons

Kylie Minogue has achieved a no.1 album in each of the last five decades, including the one we find ourselves in now, and the only thing standing in the way of an eighth UK no.1 is the Canadian rapper Drake, apparently. Chart experts anticipate Minogue trouncing her competitor in physical sales with new album Tension, while Drake will likely flex harder as streams inflate throughout the week. Whether or not her newfound appeal with users of TikTok – where ‘Padam Padam’ first took off – will hold sway in the ensuing chart battle remains to be seen.

Irrespective of where Tension finally ends up, Minogue has enjoyed a remarkable 35 year career as a singer, and it doesn’t get said enough that to maintain that sort of success with few dips in popularity is genuinely exceptional. She’s never quite been given the credit she deserves for the nous required to reinvent herself and then to keep reinventing herself in the way that Madonna does (in the early days, Minogue was regularly written off as a Madonna copyist). To try to put that longevity into perspective, her singing career is two years longer already than the entire career of Edith Piaf of earlier ‘Padam Padam’ fame, who was plucked from the streets of Pigalle aged 14 and died prematurely aged 47 in 1963. Kylie’s been at it as long as Mariah Carey, while artists she debuted on the charts with in 1988 like Tanita Tikaram or Yazz have fallen by the wayside, as is to be expected in pop, especially if you dare to cover ‘The Only Way Is Up’.

With that all in mind, it seems almost churlish to pass critical judgement on Minogue’s sixteenth studio album given her unerring ability to stay relevant. Lead single ‘Padam Padam’ is a case in point – a song that captured the imagination of post-millennials while also appealing effortlessly to, say, middle-aged men who write for the Quietus. The Piaf title is a red herring, borrowed judiciously and tethered to some icy electro in a minor key, adorned with subtle musical arabesques, a formula that worked on some of her finest moments like ‘Confide In Me’ and ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’. But shrewdly, she rarely repeats herself, keeping things fresh by always being adventurous. That’s worked throughout her career, and it works on Tension especially.

The title track is very different to ‘Padam Padam’. It leans in hard on what Gen Zedders apparently like in a pop song, and is more likely to alienate the 50-year-old blokes, though there’s only one demographic she really needs to keep on board. It’s auto-tuned and chopped up to the point where Minogue’s vocal seems to have been replaced by a bawdy replicant with an eerie, automated American twang, juddering jarringly with the machine-like production. There’s further trickery with pitch on the final track ‘Story’, which scales impossible octaves in a far more imaginative and bonkers way.

Tension is more in your face than 2020’s Disco, a fine, cohesive dance album that had the misfortune of landing during the pandemic when nobody could dance. Here we’ve gone up a notch, with most of the tracks exuding an almost unhinged Hi-NRG feel, but always performing the neat trick of being kinetic and carefree at the same time, ably assisted by her regular Biffco collaborators. Even what purports to be the one schmaltzy ballad, ‘You Still Get Me High’, changes its mind 45 seconds in, turning into a John Hughes-adjacent punk-pop song at its most bouffant-y and sheeny.

The unevenness is almost Tension’s greatest strength given its intended audience, where songs compete with each other from their own hermetic worlds, with each aware that at any point it could be liberated from the stodgy rigidity of the album format to take up a new life on a digital platform somewhere. Accordingly, songs like ‘Vegas High’ and ‘10 Out Of 10’ provide rushes that may end in sugary comas inside thirty seconds. At the other end of the spectrum there are several well-crafted disco numbers: ‘Hands’ evokes the Studio 54 sophistication of her last album and ‘One More Time’ is a nod to late 90s French Touch with a half-inched Daft Punk title to boot. Overall, Tension is as confident as it will be unstoppable, and what I think about it has never felt less important. All I can really do is move out of the way and applaud as it unceremoniously whizzes by.