Considering she’s the sweetest, sparkliest star in pop’s galaxy, we don’t usually look to Kylie for a reality check. But when Apple Music host Zane Lowe gushed that the Aussie showgirl’s 15th album had the controlled sound “of an artist taking control of her narrative and deciding that actually there’s a lot to look forward to”, she shrugged. Who among us has honestly felt “in control of their narrative” in 2020?
Instead of offering confidence and hope, Kylie gestured at the star-studded backdrop she’d selected for their Zoom interview and told Lowe: “There’s a whole lot you don’t know. And you can't explain. You can grab on to something at certain points in time but you just don't know. So just try to enjoy the glow you can feel at any point in time.”
And DISCO comes with that glow guaranteed, as Kylie channels the sounds of the original American disco scene, born in the underground clubs of New York in the years after her own birth in 1968. Those spaces offered moments of fleeting escapism to those otherwise oppressed by mainstream society. Gay men (banned from dancing together in New York until 1971) did the hustle, while black women like Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor and Grace Jones took the mic and sang songs celebrating their strength and sexuality. Spaces like Studio 54 and The Loft offered nights of giddy hedonism during which all dancers were encouraged to feel like stars until the lights came back up in 1980 when the former’s massive financial fraud was revealed and the first Aids cases were reported.
Looking back, we see glitter, tears and a few parallels with life in a world rocked by another socially divisive pandemic. Kylie began working a Studio 54-themed segment into her Golden tour in 2018. Now she’s stretched the attitude across 12 dancefloor-ready tracks. There's nothing wildly inventive about her modern take on the vintage vibe. But it’s nonstop fun from the strobe-pulse of opener “Magic” to the finger snaps of closing track “Celebrate You”, as Kylie’s breathy vocals shimmer over hip-twanging bass lines and crisp flicks of funk guitar, which owe an ongoing debt to Nile Rodgers.
Top tracks include the slinky “Miss a Thing” (on which Minogue encourages us to treat life like a catwalk, not snooze like a lapdog), the bass-slapping “Real Groove” (“She got that perfect body/ But she ain’t got the moves/ Nothin’ like me’n’you”) and “Last Chance”, with punchy echoes of ABBA’s “Voulez-Vous”. Best is “Say Something”, all throbbing intergalactic synths, intoxicating layers of vocal and murky guitar riffs. But there is daft fromage, too – perhaps to accompany the range of wines Kylie also released this year – in tracks such as “Monday Blues” (Club Tropicana drums and background-barbecue sound effects) and “I Love It” (cowbell? Clunk! Beach bar brass band? Parp!).
But Kylie has, by now, completely owned the right to keep us dancing through all this silliness. Like Gloria Gaynor, she has survived. She’s been sparkling for us since Neighbours, through Stock Aitken Waterman’s Hit Factory, that Michael Hutchence fling, breast cancer and all manner of romantic heartbreak and genre-hopping. We can always hear Kylie smiling through her tears and shrugging through her joy. Sometimes I feel convinced I can actually hear the frosting of her lipstick.
I was at the first night of her Showgirl Homecoming Tour at Wembley Arena in 2007 – her first following the cancer treatment – and have rarely felt so much love directed towards one tiny human, or seen it reflected back so sincerely from every sequin on her spangly costume. Her ability to acknowledge the unknowable, uncontrollable darkness around us – as she did in that Lowe interview – makes her glitterball pop all the more potent. “Reach out your hands/ open your heart/ turn out the light/ shine in the dark,” she sings on the penultimate track, “Unstoppable”. It’s not a wildly memorable song. But Kylie’s spirit glows in through it and these are grey days. Carpe diem. Carpe Kylie.
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