Kylie Minogue – Kiss Me Once
When a pop star announces a Christmas album it generally means one of two things – their career is either going really well (Mariah Carey) or really badly (Leona Lewis). In Leona’s case, Christmas With Love appeared a year after the whole Glassheart debacle (I still hope that the original album will escape from the vaults at some point) and was promoted with exciting quotes from its maker like “I had such fun recording this record and that really comes through in the songs. I am looking forward to spreading a little Christmas cheer!” This of course roughly translates as “I am being forced to do this against my will. Please find the best entertainment lawyer money can buy.” Shortly thereafter Leona left Syco and took up with Island, promising a new era of creative freedom, at which point everyone – including her new label, it seems – lost interest.
Imagine my horror then, when Kylie Minogue – in my opinion the world’s most effective pop star in terms of fulfilling the job description – scheduled Kylie Christmas for a late November release. If it’s successful it doesn’t really matter because the season of goodwill is just that: a season. A festive album exists in its own bubble, having little to no effect on a star’s general popularity, and if anything it makes things a bit harder when you get back to proper pop (just ask Leona and, to a certain extent, Kelly Clarkson).
The real question here is why Kylie felt the need to go down this route, and the answer is sadly quite clear: the resounding flop of 2014’s Kiss Me Once album. Now, Kylie is no stranger to underperforming long players – Rhythm of Love, Let’s Get To It, Impossible Princess, Body Language and X all struggled to one degree or another but they still yielded multiple hit singles. As the last album in her deal with Parlophone, Kiss Me Once became the first Kylie record to spawn only one top 40 UK hit. I can be guilty of being something of a conspiracy theorist when it comes to matters like this, but something was definitely afoot. Lead track Into the Blue – classic Kylie, although with some annoying poor grammar – was all set to be big, with the single version nestling comfortably inside the iTunes top ten for the first couple of days after its release. Then, inexplicably, this version was yanked from sale, leaving the album version (which had been floating around in the 50s) to do all the work – and Into the Blue never recovered. It eventually entered at no.12 and immediately downgraded the whole era from ‘event’ to ‘occurrence’. Matters were made worse by the deployment of the not very good Emergency Pharrell Collaboration I Was Gonna Cancel as the second single, accompanied by a truly terrible (and cheap) video that, according to Kylie, is “an abstract look at pedestrian life.” Wow.
I don’t mind when something flops if it deserves to, but things could have been so different. The album, while generally being a bit of a rum do, does contain some of the most brilliant pop Kylie’s ever made – specifically Les Sex (an exciting title, especially if you read it phonetically) and the title track, Kiss Me Once, which is one of my contenders for ‘greatest unreleased single ever’.
I first encountered Kiss Me Once while sneakily listening to the album sampler at work one day, and just as my forehead was about to hit the desk I suddenly felt the sensation that I was being lifted by a million balloons. Goosebumps everywhere. I must have gone over that snippet at least twenty times that day, and when the full version arrived a couple of weeks later it was confirmed: this was one of Kylie’s greatest moments – a shoo-in for her all time top ten.
Few people do the euphoria of being in love better than Kylie – what I call the ‘whoosh’ moment – and Kiss Me Once (co-written by Sia, of course) is basically three minutes and eighteen seconds of whoosh, composed of exquisite anticipation in the verses (“the air is thick / with the sense of it”) and valedictorian ecstasy in the chorus (“me and you / we’ve got some loving to do”). And there are bells. BELLS.
What elevates the song to proper classic is Kylie’s knack – something she possesses more than any other pop star on the planet – of singing a love song that also reads like a love letter to the fans. She did it beautifully on my favourite single of hers, All the Lovers: “All the lovers that have gone before / they don’t compare to you” – and again here with the lyric “Me and you…baby we made it through”. When you’ve stuck around for twenty eight years lines like this do tend to take on a personal meaning, and it feels genuine, understated and classy.
I suspect Parlophone knew they had a killer song here, but assumed that – as with Your Disco Needs You and Fever – it would sell the album without needing to be a single. And with Kylie’s coaching role on The Voice UK I expect they reckoned her weekly visibility would do all the promotional work for them, forgetting perhaps that the BBC’s strict rules about these things meant that Kiss Me Once‘s very existence could barely be acknowledged. And so the whole thing was a bit of a disaster, which has led us directly to the one-album-only deal for Kylie Christmas and goodness only knows what thereafter. Eek.
Entered chart: Was not released.
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Perhaps Sia should reclaim this for herself.