Kylie’s at No. 1. She’s fun, she’s feminine, she’s everything the Taliban hate most. All the more reason to love her. —The Daily Mail (London), September 27, 2001
We obviously have some catching up to do. In this country, until a few weeks ago, Kylie Minogue was remembered as an ’80s singing soap-star casualty from the land down under, an evolutionary step between the Olivia neutron bomb and the Natalie imbroglio. Her name conjured little beyond the poodle-perm hi-NRG of “I Should Be So Lucky” and the office-party conga line of “The Loco-Motion.” Here’s what the rest of the world already knows: Her four-album tenure at the Stock/Aitken/Waterman assembly plant ended with a reincarnation that the British press dubbed SexKylie, full credit apparently to then-boyfriend Michael Hutchence (who went around declaring that his hobby was “corrupting Kylie”). A delicately slinky self-titled 1993 album represented the first tentative declaration of independence. Four years later, Impossible Princess spiked the recipe with guitar roughage and a pinch of angst, only to be swamped by the saltwater flood of “Candle in the Wind ’97.” The Sydney Olympics-timed Light Years served as the comeback victory lap every gay icon needs in her résumé. Fitting too that it was all popper anthems and popping show tunes—even a Village People clone called “Your Disco Needs You.”
I had five buzzwords for this year and they were: poolside; cocktail; disco; beach; and pink. —Kylie Minogue, in a letter to GQ UK readers, accepting the magazine’s Services to Mankind Award for 2001
The 33-year-old’s eighth LP (and first stateside release in more than a decade), Fever might be termed a concept album, insofar as it’s styled as a self-refueling disco inferno. The opening track is called “More More More” (not the Andrea True Connection song, but stocked with porntastic squeals all the same), the last one “Burning Up” (not the Madonna song, though featuring similarly suggestive use of the verb quench). The lyrics might have been composed by the circa-’78 Human League program CARLOS (Cyclic and Random Lyric Organization System): an automatic-writing collage of iconically banal snippets.
The recombinant DNA yields one beautiful mutant. Only modestly hooky, “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” (No. 1 in 17 countries) makes good on its title with pointillist kraftwerk—every sonic element isolated, dipped in chrome, and aimed at a particular erogenous zone. The anesthetized synth pulse stabs away at a rubbery arpeggio; the glassy la-la-las nestle in between listless android handclaps. Kylie summarizes her no-exit predicament (“Boy your loving’s all I think about. . . . Boy it’s more than I dare to think about”), and the music is her mirror ball. Even as she begs her unspecified captor to “set me free,” she’s preparing to tailspin into permanent orbit: “For ever and ever and ever . . . ”
Kylie’s fellow Ozzies called her “the singing budgie” way back when. These days, let’s just say the machines are fancier and the songs more compatible. Her collaborators after the S/A/W break have been consistently London A-list: Pet Shop Boys, Manic Street Preachers, Nick Cave, Robbie Williams. On Fever, she turns again to faceless architects (only she gets to do the hiring this time) and to her first love of trash (but without pomo defensiveness). Sure, Fever‘s brushed-steel Eurodisco is old hat, Munich ’77 via Paris ’98. But mainlined along FM frequencies, it sounds totally 2002.
“Out of My Head” co-writers Rob Davis (guitarist for ’70s glam rockers Mud, also responsible for Spiller’s monster club hit “Groovejet”) and Cathy Dennis (D-Mob co-conspirator on “Touch Me”) resuscitate the single’s spooked, syncopated groove elsewhere: spacier on “Fragile,” stompier on “Come Into My World.” But if the album’s cryogenic nerve center signals tantric zero-gravity robotsex, the rest of Fever adopts the more conventional disco syntax of tension and release—all filters and flanges, slurpy kisses and Doppler whispers. The music flatlines and fibrillates, plunges underwater gurgling and comes up for air, blue in the face, grinning from ear to ear.
I was like, “Oh, that’s really cool, OK.’‘ So I was really excited. —Britney Spears on Madonna’s Britney T-shirt
She asked me if I liked the T-shirt and I said, “Yes, I do like the T-shirt, thank you.” —Kylie Minogue on Madonna’s Kylie T-shirt
1. Kylie and Madonna might share a tube stop now, but they would never shop at the same beat boutique. Madonna’s big-bucks production shares the standoffishness and one-upmanship of haute couture; Kylie’s ready-to-wear sound signifies that she’s part of her own mass market. They deal with the specter of the big ’80s differently too. Madonna says she won’t perform “Like a Virgin” anymore. At a posh poetry event at the Royal Albert Hall a few years ago, Kylie (reportedly at Nick Cave’s behest) recited the lyrics to “I Should Be So Lucky”—an act somewhere between hara-kiri and recovered-memory therapy.
2. Kylie and Britney both know what it feels like for a girl. Britney’s “Lucky” cry, cry, cries in her lonely heart, but Kylie’s lucky, lucky, lucky is in the future conditional tense, which makes it sadder. (“Lucky Star,” we all know, is the opposite of sad.) Madonna gets kudos for paving the way for all the honeys who makin’ money, but Kylie released a single called “Did It Again” a full three years before Britney’s “Oops.”
I ask visitors to think about the way they would behave to the real Kylie and not to touch her. —a Madame Tussaud’s spokesman to The Mirror (London), after the underwear on the Minogue waxwork had to be replaced due to excessive groping
Will the real Kylie Minogue please stand up? Fever, her best album by miles, is purposefully devoid of personality, slave to the rhythm is a dancer. It’s a neat special effect that works even better in this backwater: She can brandish disco-diva vacancy more effectively here than in her biggest market, the U.K., where the tabloids muddy the context daily (News of the World once reported that she was an alien). But Fever has already sold over 2 million copies worldwide, and the colonization of our virgin territory can’t be far off. She’s made it through the wilderness. Her last name, she’s been known to remind tongue-tied Americans, rhymes with vogue; her first comes from the Aboriginal word for boomerang.