Global superstar Kylie Minogue has had a remarkably fluid music career. Since her time as a well-scrubbed ’80s teen-pop star, she’s graduated to glittery synthpop, sultry electro, and campy dance music, with the occasional curveballs (a Nick Cave duet, some Manic Street Preachers collabs, an orchestral record) to keep things interesting.
Kiss Me Once, the singer’s 12th studio album, also feels like a departure from past work. Besides being the first record she’s released since joining Jay Z management company Roc Nation, the collection boasts a slew of new collaborators with serious chart cred: Sia, Pharrell Williams, Enrique Iglesias, and MNEK, to name a few. Consequently, Kiss Me Once sounds like a record aimed squarely at the mainstream U.S. pop market, where Minogue has never been able to find huge success.
The unfortunate result is music that drains the personality and nuance from her coquettish, expressive voice. On “Into The Blue”—a generic, midtempo electropop rush with both watery piano and overblown strings—and the minimalist electro-house of “Feels So Good.” Minogue sounds like a supporting character, not a driving force on both. Kiss Me Once’s attempts to assimilate current trends also fall flat. The candy-coated techno rush “Million Miles Away” feels like an outtake from Britney Spears’ anemic last record, down to Minogue’s odd pronunciation of “million” as “mill-EE-on,” while “Beautiful” is a syrupy duet with Enrique Iglesias that’s full of unnecessary, Imogen Heap-reminiscent vocal manipulation. “Sexercize” is even more cringe-worthy: Dubstep beats lurk around every corner, and she actually growls, “Let me see you bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce.”
Kiss Me Once succeeds mostly when Minogue keeps things playful and direct. The Pharrell Williams-produced and written “I Was Gonna Cancel” is a self-esteem pump-up with a no-nonsense funk-rock backdrop; the soaring, delicate electropop track “If Only”—a co-write with Sky Ferreira and Vampire Weekend producer Ariel Rechtshaid—is an open-hearted cry for romantic satisfaction; and the retro new wave, funk throwback “Les Sex” is fun and flirty.
Twenty-five-plus years into her career, it’s commendable that Minogue is still motivated to push her sound and image forward, especially because she could easily coast on her reputation and catalog. But this evolution comes at the expense of the spunkiness and originality that made her a beloved pop star in the first place. In the end, Kiss Me Once is a disappointing record that tries too hard to mold Minogue into something she’s not.