Light Years- Kylie Minogue (Parlophone 2000)
UK Chart Position – 2
By the Millennium Kylie Minogue had been churning out UK hits for twelve years but things had gone just a little awry. After her excellent 1991 album for PWL “Let’s Get To It” (another of my Essential CD’s) attained disappointing sales Kylie moved away from the security of Stock and Waterman and joined the more street-cred label Deconstruction where her first single release “Confide In Me” became her 7th single to reach number 2 in the UK charts. The subsequent album was her second to give her a name check but this time she had matured to “Kylie Minogue” rather than the more teen-sounding “Kylie” of the first album. The number 4 placing gave her biggest album success for 5 years and produced two more hit singles demonstrating a cooler Kylie.
Where it went a little wrong for me was with the follow-up where Kylie became so cool that she seemed to have distanced her original fans and became embroiled in indie-chic which just didn’t seem like the Kylie we had known and loved. “Impossible Princess” was actually Kylie’s most personal work, as she had co-written all the songs and had a significant part to play in production and the whole image of the album. This was the Kylie that she wanted to be at that time and there were collaborations with the Manic Street Preachers and Dave Ball from Soft Cell. Unfortunately (and somewhat surprisingly) the title of this album was deemed inappropriate in the UK following the death of Princess Diana and it was referred to as “Kylie Minogue” – her second album in a row titled thus. It was a top 10 album although sales in her usually supportive UK were deemed disappointing. In Australia it did reach number 4. I never bothered to get it as it was a Kylie that I didn’t really buy into at the time.
Confusingly, both Deconstruction albums had the same title in the UK
Following this disappointment Kylie left Deconstruction and got herself a deal with Parlophone and made this clever “comeback” album which won back all the fans who were no longer sure as well as many more. It became her first album to top the charts in her native Australia, gave her a UK number 2 (her previous chart-topping album had been 11 years before), scored her a 5th UK number 1 single as well as three more Top 10 hits. The Kylie that we knew and loved was back with a vengeance. She may have gone on afterwards to have bigger selling albums but for me this is the career highspot and still sounds excellent 17 years on. Of the 14 tracks on show Kylie received co-composition credits on 9 of them – other names involved in the writing include Robbie Williams with hit-making partner Guy Chambers and 80’s mega-star Paula Abdul. There is one cover version, a highly successful version of a Barry White song recorded for his girl group Love Unlimited.
Spinning Around in gold hot pants
Opening track “Spinning Around”certainly spun things around for Kylie when it entered the charts at number 1 in July 2000, her 27th Top 40 hit, prior to the release of the album. It’s a great club track helped by a video in which Kylie sported what became an iconic pair of tiny gold hotpants. The song itself was written by a pair of future American Idol judges Kara DioGuardi and Paula Abdul with the intention of being on a comeback album for Abdul whose eleven year career had tailed off somewhat. With that album being temporarily shelved the song was given to Kylie, for whom it was perfect.
Paula Abdul who could have been Spinning Around at the top of the charts
“On A Night Like This” became the follow-up single released just before the album and became her 8th number 2 hit. It has more of a Europop feel than the opener, enhanced by the odd touch of a Spanish guitar sound and the whole thing feels very Ibiza. This fits in with the concept of the album with artwork by Vincent Peters being based upon a photoshoot in Ibiza. I actually think this is a stronger track than the chart-topping opener.
Kylie gets the first of her nine writing credits with “So Now Goodbye” which feels like a classic disco track and the first of three tracks produced by Johnny Douglas. It’s a great singalong song with strong hooks. It’s not the greatest of the Disco-tinged tracks on offer but if it had been on most of her previous albums it would have been the stand-out track. On “Light Years” the quality has been seriously upped. Further proof of this is “Disco Down” which perfectly recreates the time when Kylie could “boogie in my dreams/To Le Freak and Dancing Queen”. It’s not subtle but it is great. The vocodered male “burn this disco down” interludes makes it feel really quite funky with Douglas on production duties it is a real crowd-pleaser. The whole thing builds beautifully.
Kylie and Robbie Williams
The sublime disco continues with “Loveboat” written by Kylie with Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers, a track with as much summer in its pores as Wham’s “Club Tropicana”. The “ba-ba-ba” vocals give it a Pearl & Dean coolness, there’s French lyrics and the whole thing is exquisitely Mediterranean (or what a couple of Brits and an Australian see as Mediterranean). Kitsch levels are ramped to high with its nod to the ultra-camp 70’s TV series of the same name- but unlike this series this track certainly goes somewhere. It’s also a perfect track for the kind of highly visual performance which would go on to dominate Kylie’s career.
All aboard the Loveboat baby!
Things get just a little rockier with “Koocachoo”, but in a finger-snapping cool rock world. It takes us away from the Disco camp for a four minutes but we are certainly plunged back with the anthemic “Your Disco Needs You” – the greatest Kylie track not released as a UK single, although it charted in some territories. The power of Disco is here seen as the cure to world’s ills and Kylie is the recruiting officer. It’s as tongue in cheek as the best of Robbie Williams, who with Guy Chambers took on writing duties. From its opening Pet Shop Boys influenced “Go West” vocals (something Robbie was still using with his 2016 release “Party Like A Russian” ) from the breathy reprise of the word “ass”, to the French section (translated into other languages for different markets), to the great build of female operatic voices and its explosive ending, this is a real statement and a “follow that!” track. It is for me the undoubted highspot.
Following that is the much more gentle but classy Spanish influenced track “Please Stay” with it’s handclappy castanet feel and guitar sound. As the fourth single off the album it reached number 10 and provides the perfect cool-down after the previous track. It is another of the first-class tracks. Things get even gentler for the only ballad on the album, the very pretty “Bittersweet Goodbye” written by Kylie with producer Steve Anderson. Although some might think of “Light Years” as Kylie’s disco album, when you listen to the whole thing the range of styles of tracks is impressive. The same writing team works on next track “Butterfly” although this is produced by American club DJ Mark Picchiotti and it is back to the more contemporary club feel of the opening tracks .
It takes a brave artist to cover a Barry White song with their lushness and complex arrangements but Kylie gives Love Unlimited’s 1973 hit “I’m Under The Influence Of Love” a great go. There isn’t quite the build as there is in the original but this is a very good Kylie cover even if it doesn’t eclipse the original where I love the soon to be Mrs Barry White’s Glodean James’ vocal and the whole girl-group sound his production gives this. I do love the swirling opening bars of Kylie’s version .
Kylie vs Love Unlimited – both under the influence!
The William/Chambers/Minogue next collaboration “I’m So High” is the least successful of their tracks and is the only track which smack a little of album-filler. It leads into the duet with Robbie, “Kids”, which became chart runner up number 9 when it attained second position when released as the third single. It feels more like Williams than Minogue, with its “Let Me Entertain You” rocky vibe, but it doesn’t feel out of place and saw the duo paired in a swimming pool for the closing moments of the video with its typically unsubtle Williams champagne cork popping for the video’s climax!
Closer track “Light Years” has the feel of Giorgio Moroder and sees Kylie as our space age purser for the trip of our lives. It’s “I Feel Love” meets Crown Heights Affair’s “Galaxy Of Love” with a great heap of Kylie kitsch. A strong closing nod to all that has gone on before. With this release Kylie had tweaked the image somewhat and the public was back with her. Her next album “Fever” contained the international smash hit “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head” which topped the charts in over 40 countries and gained sales of over 5 million. That album saw her back at number 1 in the UK, Australia, Austria, Ireland and Germany amongst others and took her to number 3 in the US Billboard charts, returning her to the worldwide market stronger than she had ever been. “Fever” is another first-class, but not essential album. Kylie’s subsequent albums have been strong but have never attained the heights of the two early Millennium albums.
Kylie may have started out with a music career tacked onto her soap star celebrity status but through hard work and a shrewd awareness of what was going on around her, perhaps even more successfully than the Queen of Reinvention, Madonna, she has remained much loved for thirty years. She has battled breast cancer and many broken relationship headlines (There are rumours which link her currently to Prince Andrew). The public have always adored her. We, of here consider her a national icon and she is not even British! In 2010 she was proclaimed the most powerful celebrity in Britain in a survey of brand identification and only The Queen has had more Madame Tussauds waxworks made of her – showing the sheer power of her longevity and ability to reinvent.
“Light Years” , for me, remains her finest moment.
Just in case you doubt the power of disco here’s Kylie recruiting the whole of the Royal Albert Hall!
Light Years is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £2.53 and used from £0.01. It can be downloaded for £9.99. In the US it is currently $8.15 new and used from $0.56 and downloaded for $12.49. In the UK it is also available to stream on Spotify.