Saturday, September 17, 2011

Essential Albums of the '80s: Kylie Minogue - Kylie (1988), Risk Astley - Whenever You Need Somebody (1987)

Is there a more defining late ‘80s British dance pop sound than Stock/Aitken/Waterman? They were huge and their breezy tunes, kissed by rat-a-tat drum programming, staccato keyboards and studio-perfected voices from fresh-faced artists generated a plethora of hits. Kylie Minogue and Rick Astley were their poster children, particularly these debut albums.

Both albums had their signature hits—her “I Should Be So Lucky,” his “Never Gonna Give You Up”—plus quite a few other singles. Those two songs, which are essentially the same, begin each album, which both unfurl with similar dance pop after. They both down for some mid-tempo numbers but not really any ballads, save for Astley's terribly misguided remake of “When I Fall in Love.”

Much of Kylie’s songs have a laid-back feel, such as “Je Nais Sa Pas Pourquoi” and “It’s No Secret,” a minor US hit. It’s front-loaded with the better songs (and singles) and loses steam once you reach “I Miss You,” although I do like “Look My Way,” which bears more than a passing resemblance to The Whispers’ “Rock Steady.” The album concludes with perky “Love at First Sight,” which bears no resemblance to the vastly superior track of the same name from Minogue’s 2001 album, Fever.

Interestingly, Astley’s album was the bigger of the two in the US, where “Never Gonna Give You Up” and “Together Forever” were #1 hits. Minogue scored a top 10 hit with her remake of “The Loco-Motion,” but that was her only major American hit until “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” struck gold 13 years later (“I Should Be So Lucky,” despite its pop brilliance, couldn’t even reach the top 20). Globally speaking though, Minogue is by far the bigger artist, having used this album to launch a successful dance pop career that continues to today, whereas Astley seems a fine candidate for a “where are they now” special. Yet, it could have easily gone the other way, as his album is no less a guilty pop pleasure than hers. The aforementioned #1 hits, plus the title track and “It Would Take a Strong, Strong Man” are all worthwhile, semi-disposable pop that can get stuck in your head to this day (walking on the beach earlier today I couldn’t get “Together Forever” out of my head). His album tracks aren’t as strong as hers. “The Love Has Gone” has more of a mature, adult feel to it, but “Don’t Say Goodbye” could have been a boyband hit. Most of the other few tracks aren’t very distinct, particularly “You Move Me,” which has about the worst lyrics I’ve ever heard for a pop song.

Kylie best: I Should Be So Lucky, The Loco-Motion, Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi, Got to Be Certain, It’s No Secret.

Whenever You Need Somebody best: Never Gonna Give You Up, Together Forever, It Would Take a Strong Strong Man, Whenever You Need Somebody.

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