Kylie + Ballads = ? It can mean the devastating soul-ache of ‘Put Yourself in my Place’ the cool psycho-eroticism of ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’, the electro existentialist breakdown of ‘Breathe’ or if you’re really stretching it, the wonky tick-tock of ‘Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi’. Kylie and ballads are a mixed affair, not being one of pop’s big belters she’s shied away from traditional emotional grandstanding, finding more comfortable ground in being pop’s finest cheerleader. She’s spinning around to erase the dinginess of the working week, giving you a perky grin and a slap on the back to carry on, to forget the mundane and live in the moment of glittering fantasy. She’s your carefree friend ordering one more drink, the one that says ‘fuck it’ wear those insanely high shoes, who cares if you fall on the dancefloor. She’s the Saturday night in every week. Kylie, as Rufus Wainwright so deftly put it, is gay shorthand for joy.
When she does tackle emotional terrain she prefers to inject those moments of cruel disaster with a lightness of touch, no heavy handed string section for Ms. Minogue, she wants us to dance out our pain. Now, to celebrate 25 years in the palm of pop she’s decided to strip it all away, to see what it’s like when the sequence becomes unstuck and the wig has been abandoned. Can those words mouthed across sticky nightclub floors and screamed at live shows be anything more than fleeting moments of pure freedom? Now more confident in the idea of ‘being Kylie’ she’s boldly declaring that pop has meaning, pop has purpose and for those not willing to dance, she’s slowed it all down for you.
Usually when popstars decide to do ‘ballad style’ versions of their greatest hits, it’s just an ego driven desire to be taken seriously, a stopover on the way to Boringville, a bobbins idea for a Christmas chart placement but this is a bit of a liberation for so-called Smiley-Kylie, free from the big hair the gloss and those hot pants, she’s having a moment, a very Blossom Dearie moment. Breaking open ‘Better the Devil You Know’ and scooping out its sinister contents it becomes a tinkling torch song for the hopeless, permanently downtrodden lover. She finally, triumphantly reclaims ‘Hand On Your Heart’ from beardy Jose Gonzales transforming the SAW powerhouse with gentle guitars, plinking pianos and showcasing a voice of sweet, stunning vulnerability that poor Jose just couldn’t muster.
The clever, considered arrangements turn ‘On A Night Like This’ into the great missing Bond theme, while ‘Come Into My World’ becomes a sultry delight that the beeps and breakneck speed hid and the often forgotten classic ‘Never Too Late’ is a revelation, utterly transformed into a teary-eyed, spine-chiller begging to be the soundtrack to someone’s midnight howlathon. The Dark Lord himself (Nick Cave) even turns up to spit some bitterness over the honeyed beauty on the best collaboration since Lee n’ Nancy making you yearn for an album full of this alluring, macabre combination.
Sadly it’s not all triumph and brilliance: not all Kylie hits can be given the lush, expensive make-over, ‘Confide In Me’ loses all its mystique and coldness when the sweeping strings and punchy backbeat are removed and a twangy guitar and annoying backing vocals added. ‘I Believe In You’ becomes a bizarre Christmassy church-like hymn, slowed to a funereal pace and lacking it’s spacey ‘hands in the air’ magic, ‘Slow’ should never ever sound like the beginning of ‘Especially For You’ and the less said about the colossal drunken Auntie embarrassment of the parped-up ‘Locomotion’ the better…
In 25 years Kylie has become the last word in funtime, life-affirming pop but in the next 25 if she ever decides to hang up the spangly headdresses The Abbey Road Sessions prove that somewhere there’ll be a glitter encrusted piano waiting for her to perch her perfect behind on.