It’s been a year of comebacks. Justin Timberlake’s “Man of the Woods” and Toni Braxton’s “Sex & Cigarettes” remind us of artists who have managed to remain essential to the pop vocabulary over several decades. Add Australian pop star Kylie Minogue to that list. Minogue, who recently released her 14th studio album “Golden” on BMG, has been a staple of dance-pop since her debut album “Kylie” (1988). With “Golden” the singer takes an unexpected turn toward country while giving more than a nod to her longtime fans.
“Golden” is somewhat of a departure from previous albums such as “Kiss Me Once” (2014) and “Aphrodite” (2010). Leaving the purity of the dance floor anthem, Minogue moves to a self-reflective genre, and not without precedent — we need only think of Lady Gaga’s recent country-esque turn with “Joanne” (2016). With a writing credit on every track, Minogue has taken a more direct ownership over the content, signaling a return to an earlier iteration of her musical career. In fact, the song “Cowboy Style” from her album “Impossible Princess” (1998) anticipates both the style and feel of “Golden.”
The album’s two singles, “Dancing” and “Stop Me from Falling” provide a fair sample of the pop/country blend Minogue is aiming for.
“Dancing” is just what the name suggests suggests — a well-produced dance track engineered for mainstream radio with the potential for country crossover. The accompanying music video, however, is much more telling. It features Minogue in vintage country star glamour (think Dolly Parton), complete with glitter, cowboy boots and line dancing. Minogue imagines herself a queen of country, surrounded by dancing cowboys — a fantasy straight out of a Nashville bar, the city where Minogue recorded parts of her album.
“Stop Me from Falling,” the second track on the album is a hand-clapping appeal to contemporary country. The imagery is all right, but it still ends up sounding more like the various country covers of Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” than country music per se.
But to make a serious comparison between Minogue’s album and country is perhaps to miss the point entirely. “Golden” is much more like a costume party than a real crossover album, and that is partly why it’s so fun.
The title track demonstrates this playfulness with genres. Beginning with an unmistakable variation on the theme from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” it quickly transforms into a upbeat dance track. This almost humorous movement between two different genres is what gives the album its character. Banjos and acoustic guitars mix freely with synthesizers throughout. The line-dancing country bar becomes a nightclub.
That said, there are two notable exceptions to the otherwise widespread genre mixing, which are “Radio On” and “Sincerely Yours.”
“Radio On” is a real candidate for country radio. The song has the most depth of any on the album. Without resorting to a pulsing electronic beat, Minogue breaks through the kitsch and camp of her other country-inspired songs, demonstrating her talents as a versatile singer and songwriter. It makes for a welcome contrast to the upbeat tracks and gives authenticity to the whole project.
The other deviation comes from “Sincerely Yours,” a return to classic Kylie. A pure dance-pop track, it’s as though Minogue is reminding fans that this is all a phase and that she will be returning to the normal order of business when she’s done.
While by no means a revelation, “Golden” is a good album overall and a enjoyable distraction from ordinary pop. At its best, it showcases Minogue’s ability to write fresh, fun and occasionally deep songs. At its worst, it is offensively palatable — a sometimes forgettable wash of dance beats and banjo. But if one thing is clear, it’s that Minogue is looking to have a good time. And she’s taking us along for the ride.