Kylie Minogue’s ‘Golden’: Album Review

Kylie Minogue's Glittery 'Dancing' Video
The pop icon takes a twirl at a country & western bar in her 'Dancing' video.

The prospect of Kylie Minogue, patron saint of dance-pop, going country filled me with deep, all-consuming terror. The misconception that you need to pick up a guitar to make authentic music is enraging, while dubbing it her most “personal album to date” evoked bad memories of Britney Jean and Joanne. But then, “Dancing,” the year’s most giddy pop oddity, arrived with its absurdly catchy chorus and defiant message of facing the second half of your life with as much joy and enthusiasm as the first, and I unclenched. A little.

Now, after a couple of weeks of living with Golden, I can see the album for what it is — a sequel or, more accurately, a bookend to 1997’s breathtaking Impossible Princess. While that opus is a timeless snapshot of the mental fatigue and emotional chaos associated with your return of saturn (the end of your 20s), this is an equally engaging look at the dawn of middle-age. A subject matter conspicuously absent from the greater pop canon. Facing it head on feels revolutionary, particularly when the tone is this light and celebratory.

That really comes across in the album’s aforementioned lead single, which also serves as its mission statement and introduction. The title track and “Rollin'” cover similar ground thematically, but the most fun example of Kylie’s fucks-free attitude is “Live A Little.” This irresistible anthem finds Kylie railing against societal expectations and the ever-foul music industry over perky synths. “I wanna find love… get away from everyone who tells me it’s too late,” she coos in the opening verse, before raising a middle finger in the chorus. “At the end of the day, there ain’t no stopping me now.”

It’s one of a handful of songs on the album that double down on the pop component, relegating country elements to musical garnish. Instead of being a cop out, the 3/4 pop to 1/4 country mix is inspired. The enduring hitmaker finds a soul mate in producer Sky Adams, who inherently understands that her genius is the ability convey pure, unadulterated joy in a three-minute ditty. Their other great collaboration is a bonus track. “Every Little Part Of Me” is a sugary piece of fluff — in the best possible way. Every Kylie album gets at least one tooth-rooting delight and this will give you diabetes. Think of it as Golden’s “Wow.”

Another pop-centric example is the endlessly lovely “Shelby ’68,” which is the closest the Aussie pop icon is ever going to get to a Bruce Springsteen moment. It’s a heady cocktail of nostalgia and longing that yanks at the heartstrings. It also reunites the diva with Ash Howes and Richard Stannard, who she previously worked with on Fever singles “Love At First Sight” and “In Your Eyes.” They also have a hand in “One Last Kiss,” which sounds like LeAnn Rimes circa 2001. And that’s the biggest compliment I can give a country-pop track.

Golden also delivers some of Kylie’s best ballads. “Lost Without You” is an achingly beautiful, unashamedly romantic track that is a poignant reminder that the search for love doesn’t end at 30 (as most songwriters would have you believe). In many ways, the optimism of “Lost Without You” is the exception to the rule. There’s a welcome melancholy and world-weariness to “Radio On,” which is best described as a post-breakup song. “We were close to somethin’, ended up with nothin’,” she laments. “All I hear is echoes of the words we said.” It’s an emotional gut punch.

The same applies to “Music’s Too Sad Without You,” a dreamy collaboration with UK singer Jack Savoretti. This is a beautifully arranged break-up anthem that is adult contemporary in the truest sense. At a different time, when the charts weren’t dictated by hook-heavy, streaming-friendly clones, this could have been a huge hit. Matters of the (slightly battered) heart are also the subject of “Sincerely Yours,” a very adult break-up song doubling, I think, as a message to fans, and “A Lifetime To Repair,” a track about dipping your toe back in the dating pool.

Despite the genre shifts, Golden is a remarkably consistent and cohesive album. It explores its very mature themes with honesty and hope, but does occasionally play it a little too safe. The title track is clearly meant to be anthemic, but, in comparison to the rest of the material, feels a little generic. I would also place “Low Blow” and “Raining Glitter” in the enjoyable filler category. The latter seems to be a fan favorite, so I’m very much in the minority on that one.

Ultimately, Golden is a wacky risk that somehow payed off. But Kylie has always been a chameleon, transitioning from SAW bubblegum pop to ’90s indie goddess, before reemerging in the ’00s as the queen of electronica. It’s also worth noting that she has never been averse to guitars. Obviously, they soundtracked most of her ’90s output, but the hitmaker was still dabbling in guitar-pop well into the Fever era with B-Sides like “Never Spoken.” I’m not sure if I need another Nashville opus from Kylie, but I’m very fond of this one.

Score: 4/5

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