‘Golden’: Kylie Minogue’s Nashville-Inspired Ode to Heartbreak, Death & Dancing (Album Review)

Kylie Minogue stays gold by finding her freedom in the sound of Nashville.

I wanna find love,
Make a great escape, get lost,
Get away from everyone who tells me it’s too late.

The name Kylie Minogue – or Kylie, just Kylie, as she’s still the only Kylie, thank you very much – conjures visions of disco balls, stilettos and oiled-up muscle men. And until recently, the only thing “golden” synonymous with that name was a pair of hot pants.

With her fourteenth studio album, released in the year of her fiftieth revolution around the sun, Kylie’s all but betrayed what we’ve come to associate with the pint-sized pop princess, as she’s opted to slip on a pair of cowboy boots, strum a gee-tar and ride off into the sunset.

Another country-pop foray? In this economy?

“Dancing,” at first, mostly infuriated me. How could she of all people abandon us? Indulging in the twangy, serious-faced singer-songwriter trend currently plaguing our pop stars? Take Gaga. Take Kesha. Take Miley. I don’t care. But Kylie? Our Kylie? Our disco needed her – now more than ever.

As it turns out, she hasn’t actually left us all alone and crying at the discotheque: she’s just found a new source of inspiration.

Crafted alongside familiar faces like the legendary Biff Stannard, Ash Howes, Eg White, Mark Taylor and newer additions like Lindsay Rimes and Sky Adams, this is Kylie’s first wholly co-written project since the album most diehard fans would agree to be her most personal: 1997’s experimental Impossible Princess.

And while calling Golden her “Most Personal Album To Date” is dangerous in a post-Britney Jean world…it, well, sort of is.

Golden is actually about things – which, despite the unquestionable brilliance of her back catalog, isn’t something you’d necessarily point out first about songs like “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” “Speakerphone,” or “Get Outta My Way.” That’s not to detract from the pure pop euphoria and escapism of Peak Kylie, but Golden has some tales to tell.

Kylie’s made no attempt to hide the fact that turning fifty was on her mind while writing this record – or, at least, that she’d be asked about it relentlessly in interviews.

“I had this line that I wanted to use: ‘We’re not young, we’re not old, we’re golden’ because I’m asked so often about being my age in this industry,” she said of the album’s title track, a Spaghetti Western-inspired beacon of light.

“This year, I’ll be fifty. And I get it, I get the interest, but I don’t know how to answer it. And that line, for my personal satisfaction, says it as succinctly as possible. We can’t be anyone else, we can’t be younger or older than we are, we can only be ourselves. We’re golden. And the album title, Golden, reflects all of this. I liked the idea of everyone being golden, shining in their own way. The sun shines in daylight, the moon shines in darkness. Wherever we are in life, we are still golden.”

After feeling uninspired by the album’s initial writing sessions, which produced more of the same sort of dance-pop she’s known for, Miss Minogue struck gold(en) in Nashville. Country music, while far from my cup of tea (whiskey?), is rooted in storytelling, and Kylie’s never had more to say for herself, more cohesively, than with this record.

Several of the songs, including the lead single “Dancing,” find Kylie contemplating the bigger picture. It’s an album less about going out for the night, and more about going out literally. Morbid? Potentially, but Kylie couldn’t sound more optimistic about her future.

When I love, I come with stories / Hidden glories like the kind you’ve only dreamt about,” she proudly proclaims on the throbbing, baggage-and-all anthem “Every Little Part Of Me,” one of the album’s standouts. Coming from a legend who’s already lived a fuller life than most of us could ever imagine, there’s actual weight to those words.

Kylie Minogue Golden 2018 Dancing

Heartbreak? She’s had her fair share of that, too. And if you’re at all aware of the goings-on in Kylie’s personal life, especially in the past year or so, her public airing of grievances doesn’t come as much of a surprise.

Cupid don’t love me like he used to do, ’cause I’m broken-hearted way too soon. I let my guard down, a devil’s gone and left me a bruise,” she reveals at the start of the jangling, demon-exorcising “A Lifetime To Repair.” That urgent chorus – “If I get hurt again, I’d need a lifetime to repair!” – already feels like the stuff of group shout-along therapy when it goes down live in concert. (Hopefully!)

She’s at her most vulnerable, both emotionally and vocally, with “Radio On,” a soft-strumming, early Sunday morning bout of sadness that finds our beloved Mighty Aphrodite aching her way through the pain, turning the volume all the way up in between the tears to find some solace.

I really need a love song to rescue me. I really need a love song to believe,” she heartbreakingly pleads. Given that she invented the very concept of love with “Love At First Sight,” those words are difficult to process coming from Kylie.

Sometimes, even turning up the radio fails: “Music’s Too Sad Without You,” a devastating duet with folk-pop singer Jack Savoretti, feels like a cross between the cinematic suh-suh-summertime sadness of Lana Del Rey and Kylie’s own haunting 1995 murder ballad with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, “Where The Wild Roses Grow.”

I can’t sing along to the songs like I used to / The music’s too sad when you’re not around,” she mourns. Not since Cher‘s “The Music’s No Good Without You” has a gay icon so mournfully captured that same sentiment.

Kylie Minogue Golden Dancing 2018

Golden could have been a total downer, between a broken heart and the upward climb for a pop star fourteen albums deep into her career. And she’s open about those woes! But the heart-on-sleeve (or is it hand-on-heart?) hopeful romantic isn’t giving in: she’ll be forever chasing that next great thrill.

Scared of running out of time / I wanna do all those little things,” she reveals on the album’s defiant carpe diem anthem, “Live A Little.” As with “Dancing,” Kylie confronts the emptying hourglass – and she’ll be damned if she spends any of her time playing it safe.

And so, she allows herself to get lost and just enjoy the ride: “Shelby ’68” is like Kylie’s own take on Taylor Swift‘s late night getaway with “Style” (thematically, not musically), as she hops in the passenger seat with her very own Steve McQueen. “No destination, we’re racing baby, just drive,” she purrs. Even more special – and, yes, personal: the track features the sound of her father’s real Shelby ’68, recorded by her brother.

Revving engines, rodeos and swinging lassos? The subject matter might feel overwhelmingly un-Kylie at times and trigger anxiety, but she’s very much still here: that signature sparkle is in the DNA of much of these productions. It’s as though Kylie had a rendezvous (at sunset) with one of country’s own queer icons: Dolly Parton.

“Raining Glitter,” for instance, plays like a whoop!-filled wink-wink at the hoe-down, showing the pink pound that she’s still on our side. Country accoutrements aside, the track is all sorts of glittery, earnest dance floor delight. Come on: what’s gayer than a good ol’ whoop?

This isn’t goodbye. I just need a little time to hide,” she assures on the shimmering ballad “Sincerely Yours,” a song that similarly feels far from “country.” It might be an ode to a flame, but if anything, the song plays like a love letter to her fans, kindly asking for a little room to breathe as she rediscovers herself: “This is not the end, I’ll come back again.

Escape is a recurring theme on Golden, whether she’s losing herself in new sounds or just plain running away from it all: perhaps the most non-country cut on the record is “Lost Without You,” a sleek electronic rush that finds Kylie desperately seeking solo adventures across atmospheric synths, balanced somewhere between E•MO•TION and the Drive soundtrack. It’s hard to believe this absolute gem is just sitting pretty as a deluxe edition album track, but hey.

Kylie Minogue Golden Dancing 2018

There’s very little on Golden that will meet the electro-pop expectations of those unwilling to warm to the idea of hearing anything other than sleek, sexy come-hither pop from Kylie. Don’t expect a “Skirt,” nor a “Timebomb” – and certainly no “Sexercize” to be found.

Nothing is going to take away from the brilliance of an “On A Night Like This” or “All The Lovers,” or any of the other billion or so dance-pop classics from Kylie’s catalog: “Love At First Sight” remains one of the most perfect pop songs in modern history, and that will never change.

But it’s wrong to suggest Kylie’s never done something like this before: Impossible Princess found her riding cowboy style, seductively stripping away her “I Should Be So Lucky” past as Indie Kylie, and Body Language saw her slowly sink her teeth into some chocolate for a #SomethingMoreUrban foray into U.S. R&B. Neither record, although both essential, tell Kylie’s full story. This is yet another part of her journey, and her discography genuinely feels richer now for it.

And here’s the thing: it doesn’t feel fair to demand more of the same from this woman for the rest of her career; a pop star who’s spent decades supplying us with campy, glittering dance-pop goodness. It’s unreasonable to think she wouldn’t eventually explore other styles to satisfy her creative appetite. And it’s hard to deny how inspired and happily reinvigorated she sounds on this record.

The truth is, Golden isn’t Fever. Or X. Or Aphrodite. That’s a tough cowboy hat-shaped pill to swallow – at first, anyway. With time, however, the record increasingly feels less like losing the pop goddess in a Tennessee saloon, and more like we’ve won her back from personal anguish and an extended creative slump.

This is the musical escape Kylie wanted – or needed, really – for the sake of her own heart and healing.

Golden was released on April 6. (iTunes)

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Photo credit: BMG Records

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