A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with David Medsker – my comrade in arms both here and over at Bullz-Eye.com – about Kylie Minogue. He’d just heard “Wow,” the first single from her new album, X, and in the process of researching a post he was writing about the song, he learned that Kylie had gone to Number One in every major country in the world…except, of course, for the US.“Here,” he informed me, “she has two Top Ten singles, which are also her only two Top 20 singles. In England, she has seven Number One singles, 30 Top Tens, and 40 Top 20 singles. Forty. Here? Two. Jesus.”
I totally get his frustration, but I also understand why Kylie ended up being shunned by American audiences.
In 1987, Kylie was already a proven entity in both the UK and her native Australia, courtesy of her years spent as a cast member of “Neighbours,” so it was easy enough for her to score attention with her first single, the dangerously catchy “I Should Be So Lucky,” and take it to the top of the British charts. Stateside, however, it only crawled to #28, so Geffen played the cover-song card and giggled gleefully as Kylie’s take on the Little Eva classic, “The Locomotion,” soared to #3. Unfortunately, instead of making her into a household name, it merely served to transform her into an instant novelty; the follow-up single, “It’s No Secret,” struggled its way into the lower reaches of the Top 40 before dying a quick death soon after, and if Geffen bothered to release any singles from her second album, 1989’s Enjoy Yourself, they didn’t manage to chart. It took the U.S. twelve years to renew their membership in the Kylie Minogue Appreciation Society, and they only did it then because it was painfully evident that no-one…no, not even slope-browed American radio listeners…could deny the brilliance of “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head.”
Well, that and the fact that she looked like this:
It was more than half a decade prior to that, however, when I first began to realize that there was very possibly more to Ms. Minogue that I’d originally been led to believe. I’m sure we’ve all found ourselves prone to appreciating someone’s work simply because of the company they keep, and that’s what started me on the road to rediscovering Kylie.
â€¢ She teamed with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and contributed vocals to their single, “Where the Wild Roses Grow,” giving everyone who hated her the opportunity to hear her sing about Cave cracking her skull open. (“And the last thing I heard was a muttered word / As he knelt above me with a rock in his fist…”)
â€¢ She collaborated with James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore, members of the Manic Street Preachers, for two songs on her 1997 album, The Impossible Princess: “Some Kind of Bliss” and “I Don’t Need Anyone.” (The album also saw her co-writing a pair of tracks with Dave Ball, best known as Marc Almond’s compatriot in Soft Cell.)
â€¢ She contributed vocals to “GBI: German Bold Italic,” a 1998 single by Towa Tei, formerly of Deee-Lite. (Tei and Minogue would team up again in 2005 for “Sometime Samurai.”)
Ultimately, however, it wasn’t until Kylie turned up on one of my favorite albums of 1999 – Robbie Williams’ Sing When You’re Winning album (the pair duetted on the fan-fucking-tastic “Kids“) – that I finally said, “Okay, goddammit, that’s it: I’m buying a Kylie album.”
Given the event which had spurred me to make such a purchase, there seemed no more appropriate place to start than the album which shared ownership of the Williams / Minogue collab: Light Years. (Okay, granted, the cover art helped its cause a bit, too.) Minogue might’ve been working with a lot of cool people and enjoying the chance to finally do things her way, but the fact of the matter was that her sales had drooped considerably since her days as part of the Stock-Aiken-Waterman stable of artists. With Light Years, however, she staged a serious commercial comeback by hopping into the wayback machine and returning to the days of disco. It’s no wonder that Madonna was spotted wearing a Kylie shirt right around this time; Minogue’s work on this album was positively diva-tastic, with the kind of danceable material that make gay men swoon, but the songs were filled with hooks to die for. And if you think you’re just too darned hetero to appreciate an album that features a kick-ass disco number like “Spinning Around,” then maybe the video will change your mind:
Don’t worry, though: the song “Your Disco Needs You” (co-written with Williams and his regular collaborator, Guy Chambers) will probably change your mind right back. In this day and age, it’s pretty hard to get away with using the phrase “that is so gay,” but this song is so over-the-top hilarious in its gayness that absolutely qualifies as an opportunity to write the words and not feel guilty about it.
Light Years is a right ass-shaker of a pop album. The album’s second massive single, “On A Night Like This”,” is just as catchy as the one that preceded it, while the other Williams / Chamber co-write, “Loveboat,” provides another highlight. “Koocachoo” actually sounds more like ‘60s bossanova than ‘70s disco, leading one to suspect that Minogue had been listening to the soundtrack of “Austin Powers” and said, “Ooooh, I like that! Write me a song that sounds like that!” Kylie even dares to cover Barry White’s “Under the Influence of Love,” and damned if she doesn’t pull it off rather successfully.
Despite its huge international success, the U.S. couldn’t be bothered to risk released Light Years here, waiting until the follow-up, Fever, to finally join the Kylie convoy. On the whole, though, Light Years holds up as the better album; if you’ve got the balls to have an album by Ms. Minogue in your collection, it’s definitely the one to get.