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.