Back in the eighties, an Australian soap called Neighbours hit our TV screens. Not being a huge soap fan in general, I didn’t pay all that much attention and was a little puzzled by all the gossip it generated. Though I’ve never been a soap fan, I am hugely susceptible to having my attention hijacked by the small screen, so I didn’t manage to evade exposure. The actual storylines and characterisations washed over me somewhat, but there was something that stood out and shone like a beacon for me… one of the characters was a teenage girl who worked as a trainee motor mechanic!
Why would this be remarkable? At the time, it was a huge, bold, clearly feminist statement. Young girls in the UK wanting to become motor mechanics at that time would have faced a decidedly uphill struggle… and this was Australia, a place fabled for it’s laddish culture; a place that, on reputation, was considered to leave the UK trailing way behind in the misogyny stakes. Neither was this played as the stereotyping exercise it could so, so easily have been presented as; had it been played by a butch presenting girl with masculine features, cropped hair and dungarees… well, the dungarees were there while she was ‘at work’, but this girl was anything but butch. She was petite, feminine, bubbly, cheeky, cute and she was played by Kylie Minogue.
So Kylie was someone who had come to my attention in a positive light, even before her singing career began. I have to admit that at the time when it did begin, I was one of those who thought she should have stuck to acting – not that there was anything amiss with her singing ability – it was that her first few hits struck me (and indeed many) at the time, as formulaic, manufactured, artless. They were the kind of songs that you hear far, far too often; so often that you find you know all the words even though you’re actively trying to shut them out… on reflection, it was pop perfection, yet something that left me cold.
I remained largely oblivious to Kylie’s progress through the nineties. I wasn’t taking much notice of popular music generally then and later dubbed it “the decade that music forgot” though it would probably be more correct to call it “the decade when I lost interest in music in an attempt to accommodate the ‘real world'”. I became responsible, I became serious, I made commitments to those I loved, I struggled to build a career that my heart wasn’t in, in order to provide for those to whom my heart belonged. I became distracted. I did hear then current music played, but little of it made any impression and I preferred to listen to things that were infused with nostalgia.
Soon after the millennium turned, things changed very markedly. The career dissolved and after an effort to create an online business that was just too far ahead of the curve to have any chance of success, I fell into amateur dramatics and the odd bit of background artiste work, primarily to take my mind off things. I also began to notice there was some good music around. One summer evening in the early naughties, I was recruited along with a few of my amdram colleagues to perform a tableaux for guests as they arrived at a grand fundraising ball. We were provided with transport and sandwiches and were permitted to join the guests for the music and dancing once they’d finished dinner. I wound up on the dancefloor with someone very sexy, moving to Can’t Get You Out of My Head… I’d heard it before, but it was only in this context that it really hit me how perfect it was. I find that music resonates… if at all… in particular areas of the body. This resonated in my pubic bone, in a way that nothing else ever had.
As the noughties moved on, I noticed and liked a few other Kylie songs. I wouldn’t have considered myself a fan though, or even particularly interested in her work generally; it was more of a passing appreciation of particular songs. Her overcoming breast cancer was something that raised my interest more. This was something completely worthy of celebration and truly inspiring.
In 2009, I began an online relationship with someone I have still never met, but with whom I fell deeply, completely, utterly in love. Even though she… let’s call her N… declared her undying love for me too, there was much that she skirted around telling me about herself, her life, her likes… though there were also some things where there was great depth of disclosure… that she was in a civil partnership for example (though that relationship appeared potentially terminally shaky at the time – it recovered, needless to say). It was thus not until 2011 that I learned N was possibly Kylie’s number one fan, when in response to my text message asking if she had anything interesting coming up, she announced that she and her partner were going to see Kylie at the O2 that same evening. We had a conversation in which I teased her about her admission of a huge crush that’s lasted since she was a little girl when Kylie first appeared on the scene (N is somewhat younger than I am).
The following year, I saw Kylie’s performance at the Queen’s Jubilee Concert on TV and was impressed. I saw someone who I felt had improved as she’s matured, yet who still has that essential spark. She stood out, possibly even stealing the show (though Grace Jones and Madness were also impressive). The seeds were planted. Later, I purely by chance stumbled on the film of the Aphrodite tour shows at the O2 being shown on TV. I’d been aware that Kylie puts on a stunning show, but seeing just how spectacular that was knocked me out! The way she weaves elements of burlesque, fetish, high camp and general sexiness together, is breathtaking. The only downside was that I wept my heart out through All The Lovers, because not being able to sing along to that while looking into N‘s eyes was just too much to take.
Then The Abbey Road Sessions came out and having heard a couple of tracks, I had to buy it. It has to be one of my favourite albums of all time… and believe me that is saying something! Lush arrangements utterly transform those older songs that I once would eye-roll at and sidestep where I could. And now even hearing them in the original arrangements makes me smile. As an aside here, this effect isn’t something that’s confined to Kylie’s early efforts – I’ve noticed something similar quite often… you hear a song that made you cringe a couple of decades ago and find yourself smiling, singing along, dancing round your kitchen; because what it evokes now, is not the cringeworthiness, but happy memories of the good things that were happening in your life at that time… because however unwelcome it was then, that song was the soundtrack for those memories.
Fast forward to this year and the release of Kiss Me Once. My first impression was slight disappointment, perhaps because I’d taken The Abbey Road Sessions as a statement of a new direction and was expecting something more aligned with that than with Kylie’s earlier work… I even made a comment to the effect that I felt it was perhaps a step backwards. Yet after hearing it through a couple more times, I was sold and I admit I love it.
[In Part Two, I’ll talk about what happened next… in my thought processes and in how following an intuition led to something amazing happening]