How many compilation albums is too many? Lee Williscroft-Ferris listens to Kylie’s latest greatest hits collection for TQ.
Kylie Minogue’s pop prowess is unquestionable. Back in 1987, few would have imagined the fresh-faced Neighbours star would embody the mass commercial appeal necessary to sustain a long-term career in a fickle music industry. Yet, 32 years and 14 studio albums later, Minogue is releasing a ‘definitive collection’; from the early SAW-drenched ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ to the mature, country-inspired sound of more recent singles such as ‘Dancing’, this was always going to be a gloriously joyful, if not slightly incoherent, anthology.
Step Back in Time is Minogue’s 13th compilation album (although, admittedly, not all have enjoyed global release) and by far the most comprehensive with 42 tracks. It is testament to her enduring success that there are literally no fillers and no deluge of new singles, the only one being the excellent ‘New York City’. This truly is a compendium of pop success – a ‘How To Ride The Unsteady Waves of Popular Music for Dummies’ if you will. Minogue is making a bold statement, effectively waving her longevity in the faces of Swift, Perry and co and challenging them to match it.
Effectively, the collection is chiefly (but not entirely) a rollercoaster ride through Minogue’s dancefloor-fillers and carefully crafted morsels of pop perfection in the form of firm favourites such as ‘Better the Devil You Know’, ‘On a Night Like This’ and ‘Slow’. What distinguishes this compilation from those that preceded it, however, is the creative decision to avoid chronological tracklisting in favour of an approach that eliminates the risk of the listener focussing on specific ‘era blocks’, skipping over swathes of the artist’s back-catalogue they may be unfamiliar with or unenthusiastic about. Naturally, this runs the risk of addressing everyone while appealing to no-one; on the whole, however, it is a wise move that serves to highlight both the diversity of Minogue’s output and the features underpinning the album’s claim to ‘Pop Precision since 1997’.
Nothing symbolises Minogue’s ability to sustain and reinvent like opening number, ‘Can’t Get You out of My Head’, the biggest selling single of her career and one of the most successful of all time. Released 14 years after ‘I Should Be So Lucky’, the song continued the commercial revival that followed the wilderness years of the late 1990s, in which Minogue pursued a different, more indie-inspired sound to limited commercial success before reverting to type, complete with impossibly tight golden hot pants (we’re looking at you, ‘Spinning Around’). Ironically, it is precisely on tracks from the Impossible Princess era of 1997-8 that Kylie’s most intimate, reflective and critically-acclaimed work is to be found. It is, though, largely absent from Step Back in Time, the only exception being the outstanding ‘Breathe’. This feels like a missed opportunity to further demonstrate the Australian’s versatility; ‘Did It Again’ sandwiched between ‘2 Hearts’ and ‘Red Blooded Woman’? Now, that would have been pop precision with an edge.
Kylie Minogue may not have had a UK top ten hit since 2010 but her popularity, especially in the LGBTQ+ community, remains firmly intact. Few make a successful transition from soap star to pop star in the long term (take Jason Donovan and Holly Valance as Exhibits A and B). That Minogue is still notching up number one albums – arguably far more significant than scoring number one singles – is evidence of her ability to read the mood, react and re-adapt. Step Back in Time has something for everyone. This, combined with the sheer volume of Minogue’s 31-year repertoire inevitably makes any compilation album somewhat incongruous. It’s best not to overthink or overanalyse what is essentially a joyous retrospective of some expertly crafted pop creations.
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