I’m not a fan of country music.
There, I’ve said it, so you can only imagine my initial reaction when I found out Kylie Minogue’s fourteenth studio album, Golden was taking a trip down Nashville. In fact, I ignored the album and its singles for ever, explaining this delayed review that I’m finally writing for the Australian pop queen, who turns 50 today.
Following a moderately received dance-pop album Kiss Me Once in 2014 and two Christmas releases in the years between, Kylie fulfilled her contractual obligations with Parlophone, the record label she’s been with since 1999. Last year, she signed a joint deal with BMG as well as Mushroom Group, an independent company in Australia that will oversee Kylie’s Oceanic releases.
Her first offering under the new label? A country pop album called Golden.
Since the 2000s, Kylie rarely dabbled outside the sounds she does best. Excluding a orchestral album in 2012 that reinterpreted her greatest hits, Kylie’s music has been consistently dance and electronic. What would she know about country?
But I recall an interview with Alan Carr back in 2010 to promote Aphrodite, when Kylie shared what she dubbed the “Dolly Parton litmus test”. It’s a fun process during the production of that album where she would re-sing her songs country style to determine if they were any good. Clearly, country has subtly informed Kylie’s artistry, and the dance-pop singer is now putting that genre to the forefront of her music.
The era started when the Kylie dropped “Dancing” back in January. I recall attempting to listen to the song a few times, but turning it off shortly after surviving the acoustically-driven first verse. Guitar strums are just not my thing, and country is a tangent of the singer’s electro-dance sound.
I wish I had given that single a complete listen, because “Dancing” is actually Kylie’s most blissful lead single since 2000’s “Spinning Around”.
Throughout the 30 years of her career, the pop superstar has sung predominantly of two major subjects: the highs and lows of love, and her insatiable desire to party. “When I go out, I wanna go out dancing!” she sings on “Dancing”, almost as carefree as when she first announced, “I’m spinning around, move out of my way” 18 years ago.
The upbeat song is a fusion of country and dance-pop, with a phenomenally catchy synthesized post-chorus hook in true Kylie style.
This party-themed hybrid genre resurfaces consistently throughout the track list of Golden.
“Stop Me From Falling,” the album’s second single re-recorded as a duet with Cuban duo Gente De Zona, is a sonic clone of “Dancing”. Kylie, unabashed at her age, sings about the temptations and hesitations of going further with a friend; evidently, falling in love remains equally nerve-wrecking even when you’re on the cusp of turning 50 (“we’re becoming more than friends, getting closer to the edge / Stop me from falling for you”.
On “Live A Little”, which opens with a country verse before erupting into a dance chorus accompanied by heavy claps and synth-piano, Kylie declares to the world to “get ready to dance and live a little!”
Kylie hasn’t sounded this happy and confident on an album in awhile. On “Raining Glitter”, Golden’s promotional single which forays back onto the disco floor with its bass line, Kylie invites the listener to “put your hands up to the sky and let it rai-ain!”
Perhaps country is the singer’s way of unleashing her inhibitions as the self-assured woman at an age deemed too old for pop radio. She headed down to Nashville, Tennessee to record the bulk of Golden, and for the first time since 1997’s Impossible Princess, she co-wrote every song on the album.
But Golden creates gems when Kylie combines the Nashville guitar with her studio synthesizer. When she sacrifices that dance-y sound, the results are less than desirable.
The rapidly-strummed “One Last Kiss” is the album at its most country (and too country for my liking). While fun and melodic, I would’ve preferred this love song remixed into an 80’s revival song. Similarly, I barely made it out alive from the banjo-driven “A Lifetime To Repair”. Even its four-on-the-floor chorus couldn’t convert me.
On the title track “Golden”, the singer repeatedly squeals the title in cinematic Western style; it almost sounds like a spoof. And “Love”, while not fully country, is the album’s blandest, most unnecessary offering.
Kylie opted for upbeat, energetic country with Golden, but the album isn’t without its quieter, more reserved moments. “Sincerely Yours” is a pure pop ballad with light strums and snaps similar to Kiss Me Once’s “Beautiful”; it could’ve been a leftover track for we know.
“Shelby ’68” is a cozy midtempo where an enthusiastic Kylie embarks on a ride on the Mustang of an alluring man, cooing “I know you’re gonna break my heart when I get in your car”.
An entire acoustic production backs the album’s quietest, most heart-wrenching number, “Radio On”, ranging from harp to violin, maraca to piano and even a bit of xylophone towards the end. “I really need a love song to rescue me,” begs a broken Kylie. “I put the radio on, saving myself with a song.”
The final track on Golden, “Music’s Too Sad Without You”, is a duet with British folk singer Jack Savoretti. The haunting midtempo is Kylie’s throwback to her Nick Cave collaboration, “Where The Wild Roses Grow”, now complete with a haunting, echoey vocalization. I wouldn’t have put it at the end of the album, because Golden should have ended with an upbeat bang.
The fun, celebratory music that floods Kylie’s new studio album is liberating for the singer who hits the big 5-0 today. I cannot be more elated knowing the Australian queen of pop has never been more confident and excited for life.
After all, the Australian queen of pop has been around 30 years and has proven time and time again that she is a force to be reckoned with, from 1987’s “Locomotion” to 1994’s “Confide In Me”, 2001’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” and 2010’s “All The Lovers”.
There is really nothing left for the songstress to prove. She’s sent dozens of hits to the top of the charts, so Kylie can pretty much do as she damn well pleases, even if that means crafting a country album left of field of her usual music.
The album may not be perfect; I remain adverse to pure country, but Kylie’s country pop concoctions are a welcomed addition to her glorious discography.
And regardless, Golden is already gleaming, having debuted at #1 in Australia and the UK. This 50-year old queen is truly in her golden years.