Kylie Minogue’s ‘X’ Is An Underrated Masterpiece And We Should Give It The Respect It Deserves
'X' never got the attention it deserved.
Even to this day, critics tend to talk about X, the tenth album by Kylie Minogue, as her “comeback record” — which is weird, given that she never really went anywhere.
After all, her previous album, the sexy and languid Body Language, had been released a mere four years before. In the early two thousands, that was par for the course — musicians were given the luxury of time in a way that they’re not these days, and some of the biggest stars of the era routinely took long vacations away from the press.
Instead, it was Minogue’s cancer treatment that had the critics constructing their own narrative of triumph and catharsis. It was widely known that Minogue had briefly questioned whether or not music was for her while in remission for cancer, and she had spent a year not writing anything at all. But that was only a blip, and the pop star quickly and repeatedly reassured her fans that she was in it for the long run when it came to the disco hits on which she had forged her reputation.
And yet the critics couldn’t be abated. In the weeks ahead of X‘s release, journalists geed themselves up for a human, trembling work of honesty and tragedy; the sound of a storied musician overcoming the odds.
When it hit, they quickly realised that X was firmly not that. Funny, light and energetic, it shrugged off expectations and stood firmly on own two glittering feet. And so the critics ignored it. Though Kylie fans were as onboard as ever, the album’s reception was lacklustre, and has only grown more so in the years since. Even today, X doesn’t get the attention that it deserves. Which is a shame, because with its big, throwback choruses, it’s one of the most enjoyable and odd pop albums of the early two thousands.
A Record About Love
Since her debut, Kylie Minogue had always been obsessed with coupling. But usually, she took that phrase euphemistically, writing long, gold-plated records about sex and flirtation. X, by contrast, is in it for the long haul. The opening track, ‘2 Hearts’ is genuinely romantic, suffused with the desire to settle down and keep passions burning forever.
Which is not to suggest that this is some chaste, serious work. There’s a chintzy sense of fun to the entire proceedings, from the glitchy and techno influenced ‘Heart Beat Rock’, to the tongue-in-cheek ‘Nu-Di-Ty’. That latter song in particular laid down the formula for everything that Lady Gaga would do in the first five years of her career, mixing up big choruses with an avant-garde sense of deconstruction. It’s pop drilled down to its most bare essentials, and lit up with an arch sense of fun.
Yet the record’s most understated pleasure remains ‘The One’. Released to an apathetic listening public in Australia — the song didn’t even crack the charts here — and sniffed at by most critics, it is Kylie trading in winking jokes and ribald eyebrow-raises. Susan Sontag once described camp as that which is “alive to every meaning in which something can be taken” and there’s perhaps no better way to describe ‘The One’. That we all let it tank is a stain on our cultural life.
Hell, that we did the same thing to X as a whole is even worse. Sure, the album sold over a million copies. But its impact on the world of pop culture at large was negligible.
Kylie sprung back pretty quickly. Her next album, Aphrodite was cited by multiple writers as a “return to form”, as though X were indeed the ugly blip on the radar so many had treated it as. Aphrodite‘s commercial impact, however, was relatively subdued — it would be a few more albums before she started to shift units like the Kylie that the world had once known.
In the years since, there have been only muted attempts to resuscitate the reputation of X. In Kylie Minogue rankings, it always underperforms, and makes up only a slither of her recent live sets. That’s a shame. But despite such unfair dismissals, X still had a major impact in one way — on the careers of Kylie’s contemporaries.
The album’s omnivorous attitude towards sonic influences and its sincerity obviously had an effect on Madonna, whose Hard Candy is a kind of sister album to X. Lady Gaga obviously listened to X, as did P!nk — Funhouse is the most giddy and enthusiastic record that the pop-rocker has ever released.
Nowadays, X sounds better than ever. Even its daggiest moments, like the gloriously dated ‘All I See’ make perfect sense in a culture saturated by irony and nostalgia. We have ignored one of Kylie’s best records for years. It’s time we put some respect on its name.
Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Junkee. He tweets @JosephOEarp.