Sex meets nostalgia in Kylie Minogue’s euphoric new album Tension

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Kylie Minogue, Tension

Never underestimate a comeback queen.

That’s the message Kylie Minogue delivered back in May when she dropped Padam Padam, her biggest hit in more than a decade and one with cross-generational appeal. Too evolved for the folly of ageism, kids on TikTok drank up the lusty lyrics and tasteful EDM beats and helped Minogue garner plenty of excitement around the release of her 16th studio album.

Arriving 23 years after her last triumphant renaissance, Light Years, and three years after DISCO, an underwhelming celebration of a genre that Minogue has mastered in records past, Tension does a much better job of facilitating dance floor euphoria on an album Minogue says is about “celebrating each song’s individuality”.

Kylie Minogue’s Padam Padam was a viral sensation.

Lyrically, Tension is chiefly concerned, as is Minogue’s MO, with sex, love, and dancing, but the music is less theme-bound than that found on her 2018 country album Golden and DISCO. The title track and second single rivals Padam Padam for catchiness and sex positivity as Minogue, alternating between helium vocals and a robotic deadpan, coos “touch me right there” over clubby beats. The kitschy, camp 10 Out Of 10, with EDM producer Oliver Heldens, makes Minogue’s priorities clear (“body”, “touch” and “energy” of the sexual variety), while One More Time shares with Padam Padam its unapologetic pursuit of pleasure, this time “something that’s worth repeating” with an ex.

Tension is out on Friday.

There’s a romantic flipside to all the unabashed horniness, however, and it comes drenched in nostalgia. In Hold On To Now, a twinkling power ballad that hits the upper limits of tolerable schmaltz, Minogue’s heartbeat is “lonely” and searching for something more meaningful. The loping beat of Things We Do For Love feels even more indebted to the ’80s, while You Still Get Me High takes its cues from the same decade. There’s nothing original about its candied synths and rapturous chorus, though it’s fun to hear Minogue in punch-drunk Carly Rae Jepsen mode.

We have to assume that Vegas High, a song more suited to the city’s clubs than its cabaret scene, was written ahead of Minogue’s imminent residency at The Venetian Resort. Lyrics such as, “make my eyes roll back when I feel that Vegas high,” seem like a sparkling ode to MDMA, rendered impressively dreamy via Minogue’s airy, starry-eyed delivery. There’s a touch of The Veronicas’ epic Untouched in the galloping synths and breathless vocals of album closer Story, and though it’s only fractionally as thrilling, it’s the closest Minogue gets to confessional on the album, ostensibly a thank you to an ex (“you’re part of my story”) who encouraged her to dust herself off and try again.

The cheerful guardedness that has worked to protect Minogue’s personal life throughout her career turns out to be the main fault in what is an otherwise easily digestible album. At 55, and having weathered 33 years in the cutthroat pop industry, Minogue surely has more to express than sexual desire, generic romantic yearning and paeans to dancing.

We already know Kylie can rock a disco and fall in love at first sight, but before she did that with such emphatic conviction on Light Years and Fever, she released the most experimental and vulnerable record of her career, 1997’s Impossible Princess. Its failure to resonate either critically or commercially at the time has deterred her from releasing anything as risky since, but I can’t help but feel the album would hit very differently now. Alongside the handful of bangers on Tension, some of the stylistic daring and emotional rawness last seen on Impossible Princess might turn a decent record into something great.

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