Before news broke during her 2005 Showgirl tour that she had breast cancer, it seemed almost impossible that the effervescent, larger-than-life Aussie pop princess Kylie Minogue was capable of human illness. Over the past twenty years, she has built a massively successful career on the juxtaposition of her adorable girl-next-door personality and racy sex-kitten persona -- she could be baking cookies in a latex micro-mini and it would make sense. Her music has operated under similar guidelines. Sexed-up while retaining a sense of humor, her output (particularly since she started recording for Parlophone in 2000) has been a well-executed blend of camp and disco-chic. And where her vocals occasionally left a little to be desired, her sheer likeability picked up the slack.
With the much-anticipated X
, her tenth proper album and first since beating cancer, Minogue doesn’t tread much new ground. More surprising, however, is X
’s lack of identity. Whereas previous albums found her tackling specific genres -- 2000’s Light Years
embraced disco; 2002’s Fever
, club music; and 2004’s Body Language
, R&B -- X
tries too hard to please everyone, and it suffers for it.
Only occasionally does X
reach the ecstatic heights of past hits like “Can't Get You Outta My Head” and “Spinning Around.” On standout track “Speakerphone,” the highly stylized product of Swedish hit-writing duo Bloodshy and Avant (writers of Britney Spears’s “Toxic”), Minogue goes robotic. And while it features some of the emptiest lyrics found on X
(“Breath taking/ Rump shaking/ Music making/ Lose control/ Say it on your speakerphone/ Track repeat go on and on”), it provides an unexpectedly good time (for a song about speakerphones).
“Like a Drug” features a sample of New Romantic-era techno group Visage’s “Fade to Grey,” and it grinds and stomps with razor precision. “The One,” a new-wave powerhouse boasting an infectious disco beat, begs to be remixed and played at the club. Equally engrossing “In My Arms” is fuzzed-out, synth heavy, and full of the kind of exuberant charm that made a track like “Love at First Sight” a past hit.
But with many a pop album these days, X
has its filler. On the Gwen Stefani-esque “Heartbeat Rock,” Minogue’s vocals simply aren’t capable of generating the excitement needed to make this song engrossing. The R&B-infused “All I See” sounds like a post-Super Bowl Janet Jackson reject. And on “Nu Di Ty,” lyrics like “Just let it slip inside” come off as raunchy and unnecessary, a far cry from a girl who has never had a problem doing sexy with style.
With a whopping fourteen producers and twenty-six writers on board, these weak links may simply be a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. It makes for an uneven overall listen, even if there are plenty of worthy tracks. X
isn’t the comeback album some may have been hoping for, but it is a welcome return for Minogue.