A goddess with no childhood; vain, ill-tempered and easily offended; a frequent love cheat. One presumes that Kylie chose Aphrodite as the flagship persona for her latest studio venture for the associations of nubility and infinite desirability rather than these more complex attributes (but then she does like to keep us guessing). Infinite desirability is an attribute with which any artist may legitimately begin to concern themselves with eleven studio albums into their career, not least an artist who has undergone so many transitions. We’ve had, in her biographer’s words, “Dance Kylie, Cute Kylie, Sex Kylie and Indie Kylie” – and let’s none of us pretend we don’t have a Favourite Kylie – as well as attempting a 2007 post-breast cancer comeback with all the success of a broken boomerang.
Aphrodite gets off to a promising start with the muted synth-euphoria of opener ‘All The Lovers’, setting the tone for a smart, anthemic, if slightly formulaic brand of electro-disco which, while it might not light up dancefloors, will most likely get them crowded. ‘Get Outta My Way’ maintains the pace and beat, being as fine a slice of clean-cut disco-pop as any in the Kylie canon. There’s a Beyoncé-esque address to an unworthy ex in the chorus lyrics (“Get outta my way / got no more to say / he’s taken your place”), but with nothing like the ferociousness exuded by the keeper of Ms Sasha Fierce; this is a Kylie record after all, and when it comes to family-friendly, one-size-fits-all electro-pop, nothing, least of all threatening sentiment, is going to get in the way.
Boasting contributions from an array of deities of the electro/pop pantheon, including Jake Shears, Calvin Harris, Nerina Pallot and Keane’s Tim Rice-Oxley, it’s fun to guess who had a productive hand where on Aphrodite; the feelgood falsetto and acoustic backbeats of the Pallot-penned ‘Better Than Today’ are as joyously catchy as any of the Scissor Sisters’ more rollicking numbers, while the spiky piano and slightly wistful vocal melody of ‘Everything Is Beautiful’ are redolent of Keane dipping a tentative toe on the dancefloor. However, the stars shining behind the record don’t do much to stop some of the tracks fading into so much forgettable synth-pop; the baroque flourishes on ‘Closer’ and the classically-inspired opening riff of ‘Looking For An Angel’ go some way to breaking up the ennui of the samey synth-led sound, as does the retrotastic ’80s feel to tracks like ‘Illusion’ and ‘Put Your Hands Up’, but one can’t help picking up on an overall lack of feeling across an album which, at times, plays a little like synth-by-numbers.
The title track is a case in point: what should be a triumphant, return-to-form anthem falls oddly flat. Genuine passion or emotion seems to have been phased out of the final mix. Kylie may be thrilled to be back in the studio continuing not only her life but her life’s passion, yet the chorus line “Can you feel me on the stereo?” sounds like little more than a polite enquiry. Similarly, ‘Can’t Beat The Feeling’, on paper containing all the ingredients for a party smash, might make a passable soundtrack to warm-up weeknight drinks for worried people. “The way I feel about you, it’s too much,” Kylie sings on the high-gloss ‘Too Much’. From our perspective though, it seems to be the opposite problem – it’s not always enough.
[Parlophone; July 5, 2010]