Artist: Kylie Minogue
It would have been hard to predict, 30 years ago, that Kylie Minogue’smusic career would have such longevity, given her vocal limitations and the disposable nature of the dance pop genre. Yet here she is, three decades later, still a prominent pop star around the globe, now releasing her fourteenth studio album, Golden.
Powered by her skill for reinvention, the new record finds the Australian artist seeking inspiration from Nashville and wading into the waters of country pop for a set of 16 songs, all of which wereco-written by the singer herself.
The album starts strong with lead single ‘Dancing’, a catchy, country-infused dance pop gem about enjoying life in the face of mortality. But things soon start to lose steam. The instrumentation starts to feel samey with each new song, the singer’s attention inevitably moves to relationship woes, and the over-processed vocals get progressively underwhelming, which makes much of Golden seem unexceptional.
When the songs work, it’s simply because of the singer’s considerable charms, and her fans are likely to appreciate the confessional lyrics; they may not be poetic masterpieces but her personal musings are still likely to interest her admirers. But her foray into country feels too tepid, like using a genre as an occasional, vacant adornment instead of actually exploring its sounds and depths. And while this detour won’t damage her brand, it is not likely to expand her appeal either
Sure there are some songs like ‘Dancing’ that instantly stand out and could find a home on your iPod, but after giving Golden a listen, only the most diehard Kylie fan would be eager to press play on this entire disc again.
Highlights: ‘Dancing’, ‘Stop Me From Falling’, ‘A Lifetime to Repair’
Artist: The Vaccines
Album: Combat Sports***1/2
The Vaccines sound revived on their new album, Combat Sports, a record that may not have had the smoothest road to creation but has ultimately turned out to be perhaps their most satisfying effort todate.
After a period of uncertainty and a line-up change, the British rock outfit has returned with another energetic set of guitar rock driven by frontman Justin Young’s wry lyrics and Ross Orton’s focused, on point production.
You can hear their influences in their work – the Strokes in particular are channeled a couple of times on tracks like ‘Your Love Is My Favourite Band’ and ‘Maybe (Luck of the Draw)’ – but it’s still
hard to resist songs as catchy as ‘I Can’t Quit’, ‘Surfing in the Sky’ and ‘Someone to Lose’ that put together infectious pop melodies with slick guitars and spunky drums. The up-tempo songs remain the band’s strength. The only time the group really falters is on the slower ‘Young American’ but that track isn’t a major faux pas; it’s just a bit dull.
Overall, this is a pleasant set of 11 radio-friendly pop rock tunes that are imminently enjoyable but don’t show much variation or experimentation. The band sticks to a safe sound here and does notchoose to try anything particularly innovative, but their enthusiasm certainly makes Combat Sports a contagious, entertaining listen.
Highlights: ‘I Can’t Quit’, ‘Surfing in the Sky’, ‘Out On the Street’, ‘Someone to Lose’
Artist: Janelle Monáe
Album: Dirty Computer****
Janelle Monáe has put together her singing, rapping, dancing, acting, and artistic talents to create the terrific concept album Dirty Computer and its accompanying “emotion picture”, a fierce, bold, sensual, defiant statement about identity, individuality, sexuality, and empowerment.
With a dystopian sci-fi narrative revolving around Jane 57821, a “dirty computer” who is being cleansed by being stripped of her memories, the set serves as the multi-talented artist’s third record.
Like a cross between Janet Jackson and Prince, Monáe glides her way through 14 songs, weaving genres from R&B and soul to funk and new wave into an intriguing sonic tapestry. And even when that leaves her sounding distractingly derivative, it’s still hard to not be impressed by her craft that has been influenced so meticulously by some of the industry’s brightest trailblazers.
Her beautiful voice is showcased on melodious songs like ‘I Like That’ and ‘So Afraid’, while danceable tracks like ‘Make Me Feel’ and ‘Take a Byte’ are just undeniably catchy. Her social commentary may be direct, and at times a bit on the nose, but it is always accompanied by a hummable tune or a toe-tapping beat.
Monáe knows how to craft a solid pop song, and she has done so repeatedly on Dirty Computer. With the help of primary producers Nate Wonder and Chuck Lightning along with contributions from guests including Brian Wilson, Grimes, Zoë Kravitz, and Pharrell Williams, Monáe has arguably made the most interesting pop album of the year so far.
Highlights: ‘Crazy, Classic, Life’, ‘Take a Byte’, ‘Make Me Feel’, ‘I Like That’, ‘Americans’