Kylie - the remix

Australia's most vilified chanteuse is back. This time it's serious.

Kylie Minogue knows there's a place for muscles, but possibly not on her. Svelte as a dancer and clad in sugar-plum fairy lilac and turquoise heels of such delicacy a spider could have improvised them, she notices my biceps when we shake hands; the discovery that they're the result of hoiking a mountain bike around only makes it worse. "You cycled here? You must have a butt of steel. Well, uh..." she wags a finger, "those thigh muscles will bunch if you don't do some stretching exercises." She mimes a neanderthal knuckle-dragger. And we walk out to the garden, Tarzan and Jane (though I'm a mere two inches taller than her microscopic 5ft 1), Ellie May Clampett and Tinkerbell.

Kylie is not quite the fragile instrument she may at first appear. She is almost the only one of the Stock, Aitken and Waterman roster, whose dizzy beats were the theme of the vapid late Eighties, to have survived to make a continuing, if so far bitty, career. Looking at her now - pale and self-contained, with an element of the diva - it's hard, too, to reconcile her with raw-faced, toothy Charlene, the tomboyish car mechanic who was for so long her Neighbours alter-ego. These, though, are the ways she's still remembered. The style media once hailed her as a kitsch trophy of the SAW era, a representative of the florid grotesquerie of "soap", and perhaps it's her efforts to put those things behind her that explain the tabloid vilification she's endured.

In the last year or two, though, the woman Australia still tartly calls "the singing budgie" has moved more than a few paces toward genuine credibility. She has linked up with rock's ubermeisters of cool - Tricky, the Manic Street Preachers, lugubrious goth genius Nick Cave - has surprised audiences with intelligent guest spots, and on 22 September will release an album for which, for the first time, she wrote the lyrics and most of the melodies. It's a mix of techno, rock, dance and drum 'n' bass and, if it wears its influences rather obviously, it remains a highly listenable departure. Unfortunately, it's already hit a pothole in that the title, Impossible Princess, has had to be dropped. The phrase is from a book by cult writer Billy Childish. "As soon as I heard about Diana, I thought, I don't know that this is... That title summarised so much for me, and I took to it so instantly, that I couldn't think of anything to replace it. So now the CD will just carry my name. Maybe in the future we could bracket it back. More direct that way, too. Kylie Minogue (Impossible Princess) - you know: her."

It's not so far-fetched to see something of Diana in Minogue, a woman once dominated by the firm she worked for, once irritatingly omnipresent and reviled by the press, taking a measure of control. There's a similar innocuous edge, a daffy habit of deflecting criticism by criticising herself first. Mention that, on the album, she sounds variously like Paula Abdul, Madonna, Bjork and Kate Bush and she admits: "Perhaps because I'd been given space, I went everywhere. I'm too inquisitive, like my parents' Jack Russell - if there's an opening there, I'll go have a look [snuffles doglike over the edge of the table] hmm... still, it's been a journey for me."

The real path to the light probably began in 1995 with "Where the Wild Roses Grow", the tar-black duet she sang with Nick Cave on his album Murder Ballads. Cave had been unhealthily preoccupied with Minogue for some time, keeping a Kylie promo bag in his writing den alongside shots of Karen Carpenter and James Ellroy, and the song gives her the sordid charisma of a bludgeoned Nancy Sinatra. The video was a vision of Southern swamp madness shot on location in Kent, and she exuberantly relates the details of lying, apparently dead, in a pool while the snake wrangler trained his client to slither along her torso, though this was as nothing compared to her regard for Herman the millipede, who'd come hotfoot from working with Depeche Mode.

In telling such stories, Kylie seems less like a 30-year-old veteran than a girl released from a heavily barred cage. Reasons become clear when she explains her reaction to her little sister's first LP, many moons ago. Kylie was already shackled to the SAW treadmill when the gruesomely- named Dannii called to say what a fine time she'd had. "I was shocked - `You mean, you were laughing and having fun in the studio?' " Kylie's experience had been rather the pit pony kind. Pete Waterman tells an apocryphal story about how her first single was recorded. Kylie has her own take. "I don't know clearly how it happened, because I didn't know anything then, but my manager and I came over with the intention to record a song. We were ignored for a week, and on our way to leave we arrived at their HQ . Apparently, they called through and said Kylie Minogue is here, which must seem an odd name if you've never heard it before. `Who? Who?' `Y'know, the girl from Australia, you were meant to ...' `Ah. Well, get her a cup of tea.' Meanwhile, they wrote this song in 10 minutes. I sang it, and left."

So began a five-year term of employment which, by all accounts, made the cramped hell of the Neighbours set seem a paradise. Did it feel like an office job? The response is judicious. "What did annoy me was that I was given no choice. It was just, this is the way the factory works. Looking back, I can see why they said the things they said. They're writing No 1 hit singles all the time. Why would they listen to this... girl... and her `Oh, I'd really like to write...' Why? Everything is going perfectly well. `Have you ever written before?' `No, but I...' `Well, then.' They'd say, `Here's the song, do it.' Though it worked, and I credit them with that, I've not been able to look back so fondly until now. It's taken me two years to do this album, and they'd knock them out so quickly, were so precise in what they did. They've got their place in the history books."

Catharsis was achieved at last year's Hip Mass, the poetry all- dayer at the Royal Albert Hall, where, on Cave's advice, Kylie turned the fatal "I Should Be So Lucky" into a Hamlet-style soliloquy. It brought the house down.

For non-poetry fans, her ticket to adulthood appeared to be the highly publicised 15-month affair with INXS rocker Michael Hutchence. The liaison looked incomprehensible, and when Hutchence drily observed that his hobby was "corrupting Kylie", it seemed he'd have his work cut out. Or possibly not.

"It was my first major heartbreak, but there has to be a first, and it might as well be Michael. I learnt so much from him, and it's a shame it's always boiled down to sexual stuff, though that was part of it - I was 21 when I started seeing him and my blinkers were suddenly removed." She furrows faint, blonde brows. "I've tried to imagine what it must have been like from his point of view, when he had this girl who was so eager to try everything."

Every man's nightmare, obviously.

Kylie is stern. "He probably found it quite frightening. He'd say, `You're changing in front of my eyes', but every change was for the better. As much as he is `man of rock and roll nature', he is very intelligent and well-read and poetic - all the good things."

Maybe, but Kylie's tsunami of unleashed sexuality expressed itself in a deluge of titillation. In 1991, she toured in a fish-net catsuit and G-string, clutching her behind. She posed naked for magazine covers, and a book of artful soft-porn snaps was circulated what felt like minutes after Madonna's Sex portfolio. "Now that I know myself better," she says, "I don't think I'll be making those kinds of mistakes again."

Can she help it? This year at the Melbourne Casino, she staged an entrance by leaping from the mouth of a giant clam. "It wasn't even my idea - it wasn't! And I thought, they really know what I'm about. It was like, `We were wondering - we don't know how you'll feel - but maybe you could go - Oh! A giant clam!" She throws her arms wide, blinks theatrically and gasps like a kittenish Monroe. It's in her bones, she says. "I should've been born in the heyday of Hollywood, and been the all-singing, all-dancing, all-acting - hey, I can skydive! - girl."

It's a frantic momentum, leaving little time for contemplation - perhaps of the fact that the catalysts in her life are still men, often with their own agenda, from the gay fanbase and its Kylie clones to the Manics, who had her in mind for "Little Baby Nothing", their song about a helpless starlet. Part of her remains a usable canvas, "but I like being that". Nevertheless, before we part (no handshake), Kylie admits to a new and interesting habit. "If I'm crying, sometimes I catch myself in a mirror.

Your skin is a different colour then, and your eyes are different. It's you without your mask, but it's a stranger. I'm getting quite intrigued "

Suggested Topics
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

£20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

Trend Writer / Copywriter

£25 - 30k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Trend Writer / Copywriter: Retail, Design and...

Business Development Manager / Media Sales Exec

£28 - 32k + Uncapped Commission: Guru Careers: A Business Development Manager ...

Digital Marketing Assistant

£17 - 27k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Digital Marketing Assistant to join ...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering