Before I review Kylie Minogue's new album, Aphrodite, I first want to look back at the 10 discs that preceded it. I have all of Kylie's albums, but I didn't get into her until 2002, so I wasn't clued in during the time most of her earlier albums were hits. So, while I don't feel nostalgic for anything prior to Fever, I can certainly appreciate them.
Kylie's musical career falls neatly into three distinct phases: her initial work for Mushroom/PWL, which was produced by the Stock Aitken Waterman team, her more "serious" work with Deconstruction and then finally her current (and best) modern dance pop for Parlophone.
Here's a rundown....
Stock Aitken Waterman Years (1988-1992)
Kylie (1988). This is where it all started. Buoyed by the success of "Locomotion" in Australia, the former soap star traveled to Britain, hooked up with super pop production team Stock Aitken Waterman and produced this late '80s pop classic. "I Should Be So Lucky," the first track and biggest hit, is a clear standout, but there are other bubbly late '80s synth pop gems here, such as the updated version of "The Loco-Motion," for years Kylie's only US hit; "Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi," which sounds like a newscast at first; and "It's No Secret," a single in the US but nowhere else. "Look My Way" is an interesting album cut since it sounds like The Whispers' "Rock Steady." Best: I Should Be So Lucky, The Loco-Motion, It's No Secret, Got to Be Certain, Turn It Into Love (4/5).
Enjoy Yourself (1989). At first blush this differs little from Kylie, yet unlike her first album there aren't as many good songs. "Hand on My Heart" was another #1 hit, but not as joyously good as "I Should Be So Lucky." I actually think I prefer "I Wouldn't Change a Thing" and "Never Too Late," which was a #1 hit in Ireland. Despite these great singles, the albums suffers from too many ballads, most of which aren't very good, save for the '60s-leaning "Tears on My Pillow" (another UK #1). Best: Never Too Late, I Wouldn't Change a Thing, Hand on My Heart (3/5).
Rhythm of Love (1990). New decade, slightly new sound for Kylie. This is still S/A/W, but updated for the '90s with a little more mature sound. Among these early albums, this was the best, delivering glossy, high-class dance pop. "Better the Devil You Know" in particular is a standout of Kylie's early work. "Step Back in Time" lives up to its name with some funky retro touches. No ballads this time; a wise choice. Best: Better the Devil You Know, Step Back in Time, What Do I Have to Do, Secrets, Things Can Only Get Better (4/5)
Let's Get to It (1991). By this point, Kylie was ready for a change. It's clear enough from the album's cover shot that she meant this to be something different. But what? Unfortunately, Let's Get to It doesn't answer that question. Halfway through the promotion of Rhythm of Love, Kylie retooled her image to be sexier (some said trashier), a look the press dubbed "SexKylie," with her big hair and fishnets. Despite apparent intentions to the contrary, Let's Get to It isn't very sexy; only "Finer Feelings" comes close to conveying much sensuality. The rest is a jumble of Kylie as usual--dance pop like "The Word Is Out," retro-flavored pop like "Give Me Just a Little More Time"--and then some big missteps, like the "Whole New World"-esque duet with Keith Washington, "If You Were with Me Now," "Let's Get to It," a rip off of Color Me Badd's "I Wanna Sex You Up" and "I Guess I Like It Like That," which liberally samples from 2 Unlimited's recent hit "Get Ready for This." The least enjoyable album Kylie would ever make. Best: Finer Feelings, The Word Is Out (2.5/5).
Deconstruction Years (1994-1998)
Kylie Minogue (1994). Having finished her PWL contract with a greatest hits set, Kylie moved on to Deconstruction, a more cutting-edge club-oriented label. From the opening notes of the first song--the quite stunning "Confide in Me"--it is clear that Kylie has made a different record. In fact, I'd say this is the record Let's Get to It would have liked to have been. Much of the album is slower songs, but amazingly, they work, conveying an easy sensuality missing from her previous work. "Confide in Me" burns with Middle Eastern influences. "Surrender" and "Put Yourself in My Place" both slink along with a seductive synth-based melodies. "If I Was Your Lover" has a funkier beat. "Where Is The Feeling?" dives into disco (too bad it was completely remade for the single, since the original album version is quite cool). The rest of the album follows a similar template. A re-invention that worked, at least for now. Best: Confide in Me, Where Is the Feeling?, Surrender, If I Was Your Lover, Put Yourself in My Place (4/5).
Impossible Princess (1997). While Kylie Minogue was a a new direction, Impossible Princess was a flat out experiment. Inspired by her then photographer-director boyfriend and recent work with Nick Cave, Kylie sought to make something really different from anything that came before (or after). Impossible Princess is eclectic, surprising and personal--things a dance pop diva aren't typically known for. It largely works, although it's so "un-Kylie" as we know her now, that it's difficult to assess. "Too Far" kicks off with a spoken-word intro, harsh beats and blasts of strings. "Cowboy Style" has a cool Western vibe with fiddle and guitar. "Some Kind of Bliss" has a confident rock swagger. "Did It Again" blends electric guitar, sitars and beats into a hard-hitting pop song. "Drunk" is the album's most insistent dance cut. "I Don't Need Anyone" is high-tempo, guitar-driven and retro all at once. Despite all these interesting elements, the album failed. Its release was botched when, after the death of Princess Diana, the album's release was pushed back and its title removed. First single "Some Kind of Bliss" failed to catch on, and nothing subsequent made many waves. The pop princess tried to make something else of herself; but the public took a pass. Best: Cowboy Style, Some Kind of Bliss, I Don't Need Anyone, Too Far, Did It Again (3.5/5).
Parlophone Years (2000 to present)
Light Years (2000). With Light Years, Kylie started the third and best segment of her musical career. Leaving behind the experimentalism of the Deconstruction years, Kylie embraced a more mainstream dance pop sound. This was not a return to the bubblegum pop of the S/A/W years, but a whole new direction into disco-inspired modern dance pop--a sound wholly fitting of Kylie's less than powerful but quite expressive vocal style. The album is a real gem, featuring a delightful mix of modern dance pop (particularly big hits "Spinning Around" and "On a Night Like This" plus the title track), retro disco (fantastically campy "Love Boat," "Your Disco Needs You," "Under the Influence of Love" and "Disco Down") and some more rockin' songs co-written with Guy Chambers ("I'm So High" and the Robbie Williams collaboration, "Kids"). The album is fun, fresh and slickly produced. Best: On a Night Like This, Spinning Around, Love Boat, Your Disco Needs You, Disco Down, Please Stay, Under the Influence of Love (4.5/5).
Fever (2001). As good as Light Years is, Fever is even better--perhaps the best dance pop album ever made. I recently ranked it my favorite album of the last 10 years. I've said much about it in the past, so there's no point in really rehashing it, only to reiterated that this 12-track album is Kylie's most cohesive work: less kitschy and more contemporary sounding than Light Years with no ballads and no duds. It's best known for Kylie's signature hit, "Can't Get You Out of My Head," a #1 hit in more than 14 countries. Simply perfection. Best: Can't Get You Out of My Head, Love at First Sight, More More More, Come Into My World, Your Love, In Your Eyes, Burning Up (5/5).
Body Language (2003). After the successful disco/pop of her last two albums, Kylie advanced a decade this '80s electro-inspired set. It doesn't work quite as well, and her sister Dannii released a similar and better album earlier the same year, Neon Nights. Still, there are some great songs, like the sexy/silly #1 hit "Slow" (which I absolutely adore), stomping "Secret (Take You Home)," which really should have been a single, sly cool number "Chocolate" and R&Bish hit "Red Blooded Woman." Best: Slow, Secret (Take You Home), Chocolate, Red Blooded Woman (3.5/5)
X (2007). After a 4-year gap in albums filled delightfully with the retrospective Ultimate Kylie and less delightfully with Kylie's bout with cancer, the Australian singer roared back with this winning and eclectic dance pop album. While less cohesive than Light Years or Fever, it was better than Body Language, delivering a big dose of sound with its first single "2 Hearts," electro-pop hit "Wow," and the stunning House number, "The One." Best: 2 Hearts, The One, Wow, In My Arms, Like a Drug, All I See (feat. Mims) (4/5)
1. Fever (2001, 5/5)
2. Light Years (2000, 4.5/5)
3. Rhythm of Love (1990, 4/5)
4. Kylie Minogue (1994, 4/5)
5. X (2007, 4/5)
6. Kylie (1988, 4/5)
7. Impossible Princess (1997, 3.5/5)
8. Body Language (2003, 3.5/5)
9. Enjoy Yourself (1989, 3/5)
10. Let's Get to It (1991, 2.5/5)