Back catalogue is big business in the music industry these days, whether through "heritage" editions of old albums, live performances of supposedly classic albums in their entirety, or – the latest craze – re-recorded versions of an artist's signature works.
Sometimes, as with Jeff Lynne's recent ELO collection, it's a matter of an artist – in his case, a picky, perfectionist studioholic – wanting to present the material as close to the original as possible, but with the benefit of modern sonic clarity. But Kylie's Abbey Road Sessions is a more traditional makeover, an attempt to give a more elegant lustre to callow pop kitsch, usually by slowing the song down and loading on strings.
And in some cases, it succeeds rather impressively: "All The Lovers" works well as a smooch anthem, and "Slow" oozes a sultry inner warmth thanks to the subdued keening of the backing vocals and the languid jazz feel imparted by the yawning double bass part. Best of all is "Hand On Your Heart", re-worked with a delicate, cyclical guitar figure augmented by a few telling piano chords, laid over a quietly shuffling snare whose gently scudding momentum allows the melody to glow at the heart of the song.
But the more iconic the song, the less successfully it transfers to the new arrangement. Transposing the "la-la-la" hook from vocal to strings simply evaporates all the erotic charm from "Can't Get You Out Of My Head", and "Better The Devil You Know" sounds pointless as a full-on piano ballad; ironically, all the devil has been taken out of the song. As for "The Locomotion", the result is catastrophic, akin to an uncool auntie at a wedding karaoke.
There are questions about Kylie's adaptability, too: in some cases, that sugary voice which works so well as a pop vehicle lacks the full-bodied character to carry a big ballad. She doesn't lack technique: the way she flats the occasional note to try and bring a bluesy tone to a balladised "I Should Be So Lucky" is smart and gutsy, albeit doomed. As it is, that song offers the strongest argument here that, while any song can be re-cast, some do have a definitive form, and in this case it was the original single that furnished Kylie's breakthrough hit.
Download: Hand On Your Heart; All The Lovers; Slow
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