Kylie Minogue’s ‘DISCO’ Is Much More Than A Return To Form
'DISCO' isn't a summary of Kylie's career - it's one of the strangest and boldest albums she's ever made.
At first blush, DISCO, the 15th album from Kylie Minogue, promises to be a return to form — a nostalgia machine, in which the most famous popstar to hail from Australia turns back time and re-examines the genre that made her famous.
But the first thing DISCO does is lie to you.
It’s that title and album cover that set up those initial false impressions. Kylie has always liked to give her albums simple, underwhelming names, a trick that has always felt like a sly comment on how complex and oversaturated the music contained within is.
DISCO is the Home Brand of Kylie album titles, a white box adorned with nothing but red text, splashed in big letters over a photo of the popstar that could have been sitting in a drawer since the late ’90s.
Then there are those first few tracks. ‘Magic’, which sets up gaudy camp at the precise mid-point between Chaka Khan and the Bee Gees, feels more like pastiche than anything else; a summa of the disco genre up till this point, studded crudely with diamantes and lyrics about stars looking different tonight. By the time you’ve soaked yourself in 15 minutes of this two-side album, it can feel like the formula hasn’t just been set — it’s been painted in huge splashes of yellow on the side of a barn. It’s fun, it’s lively, and it’s far from ground-breaking.
But slowly, ever so slowly, something starts to change. ‘Monday Blues’, which opens with a strummed acoustic guitar riff and sounds like it was recorded in the middle of a rave thrown for Smurfs, is the kitschiest thing that Kylie has released since the neon contours of Impossible Princess.
Later on, ‘I Love It’ opens with a small forest of string parts that sound like they were stolen from Boney M, but by the latter half, it’s become a mix of plastic trumpet parts and heaving vocals — a kind of meme, not a simple recapitulation of the pleasures of the past.
And so it hits you. DISCO is no mere dress rehearsal, or a fun if flawed attempt to crystallise both Kylie’s career and the historic achievements her preferred genre.
It’s a punch-up in the aisles of a community theatre production of Oklahoma — a camp, often brutal piece of excess that seems to shatter the limits of good taste at every single turn. Somehow, 15 albums into her career, Kylie has picked a new, heavy-lidded horizon and run for it, gold gown whipping in the wind behind her.
The Platinum Ladder
This isn’t the first time that Kylie Minogue has attempted a reinvention, of course. But the last chameleonic persona-shift was an explicit one: Golden, released in 2018, saw the musician pull on a long pair of cowboy boots and sing about heartbreak and loneliness. It was still a Kylie album, of course. How could it not be with a song like ‘Raining Glitter’ jutting into proceedings right at the end like a golden hook bursting through a wall? But it was one drenched in a new kind of simplicity and sadness.
Gone were the full-throated pleasures of a song like ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’, replaced with admissions of wrongdoing. It was something that Kylie had never really aimed for so directly. It was real.
Which is what makes DISCO such a fascinating counterpoint. It’s not just that Kylie is deconstructing her own formula implicitly rather than explicitly this time around, a sleight of hand so fast and expert it looks like a dance move. It’s that she’s side-stepping reality entirely. If her early career was always about constructing a complicated fantasy and then situating herself right into the middle of it, DISCO eradicates the boundary between fantasy and reality all together. It’s all batshit here — there is no reprieve of normalcy.
Even something like ‘Celebrate You’, the album’s most upfront track, has a subversive delight entirely of its own. It opens like a flower, Kylie rhyming “Mary” with “ordinary”. But then, when that impossibly glitzy chorus hits, the whole thing wilts, and decomposes into a sodden, florid pile of goo. It’s not a love song. It’s a hysterical one, Kylie Minogue climbing a platinum ladder that seems to never end and bellowing down at the listener as they slowly recede from her view.
DISCO Isn’t An End. It’s A Beginning
Such wild re-invention is only wilder given that Kylie is at that stage in her career where no-one would begrudge her a sedate, old school album. In fact, we expect it of popstars at her critical heft. The only other artist who’s still pushing boundaries so deep into her career is Madonna, and those are often risky swings that don’t really pay off — an album like X was received unfavourably by those critics who clearly expected something a little more rote.
So it goes, in fact, with Kylie Minogue. DISCO hasn’t exactly been warmly received by critics. Word has been mixed, and even those who like the record tend to guard their praise of it.
Not that such matters seem to particularly matter to Kylie, least of all now. What makes her art great is precisely her lack of care for those other spectators to her craft. Indeed, if her career has shown anything, it’s that sometimes she is not even willing to kowtow to the supposed demands of her most rabid fans. The three-album run of Fever, Body Language and X should be proof that the only music she follows is the snare drum trill buried in her own lopsided songs.
To that end, one of the most exciting things about DISCO isn’t any of the music. It’s those few ecstatic moments after ‘Spotlight’, the album closer, has dropped off a cliff into silence, and you are left to consider what you just heard, and wonder what might possibly come next.
Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Junkee. He tweets @JosephOEarp.
Photo Credit: Darenote