A GUEST POSTING by SWISS ADAM
(JC says….be still, my beating heart)
I’ve submitted several ICAs to The Vinyl Villain before: a 20 track double album attempting to summarise the career and spirit of Andrew Weatherall; the adventures of Mick Jones post- Clash in Big Audio Dynamite; the SST years of US punks Husker Du; a short in length but long in love appreciation of San Pedro’s Minutemen; a follow up to Echorich’s A Certain Ratio ICA, ten more songs from Manchester’s most underrated post- punk/ punk- funk pioneers; a 10 song compilation fleshing out Iggy Pop’s solo career.
Since the Iggy one I’ve started but not finished several ICAs including a sketchy outline of a Spacemen 3 ICA, a Primal Scream one (which essentially turned into another Weatherall one), thought about writing a Durutti Column one to follow the first one from years ago, sketched out an ICA for Factory Records (one without New Order or Joy Division) and had some vague ideas about a Creation Records one. I part wrote an Aphex Twin one but struggled to commit. I haven’t managed to get any of these finished for one reason or another. Flicking through the TV channels the other night and I happened upon a Top Of The Pops special and suddenly it became clear who my next ICA should be about…
In 1987 Kylie and the cast of Neighbours performed the Little Eva song at half time at an Aussie rules football game. This led the young Kylie to a recording contract with Mushroom Records and a cover of the song being released the same year in Australia. In the UK, PWL picked it up, re-recorded it and sent it to the top of the charts. Well, very near the top, it stalled at number 2 where it sat for four weeks.
I’m sure you, like me, were not a fan of PWL in 1987- 88. PWL were the antithesis of what we listened to, conveyor belt pop designed to part teenagers and their pocket money. Even more annoyingly they were an independent label so their singles would top the indie charts with ease, beating our indie heroes in the only chart they could be winning in. We, of course, were listening to The Wedding Present, The Primitives, The Smiths final lp, The Mary Chain’s Darklands, Public Enemy’s debut, Sonic Youth, Pet Shop Boys maybe if you nodded towards chart music, S’Express maybe or Bomb The Bass if you were into the new sounds, The Housemartins, R.E.M.’s Document, That Petrol Emotion, Billy Bragg’s great leap forward, anything but not PWL.
But to deny the brilliance of Kylie’s version of The Locomotion is to deny Kylie. Totally disposable, utterly efficient, cheap pop music. Which is exactly what pop music should be, you might argue. Kylie’s Top of The Pops performance to promote the single is peak early Kylie, her in a red body con dress skipping about the stage like it’s the only thing in the world, and four male backing dancers with the biggest grins and none-more-1988 stage clothes, 501s, Doc shoes and white t-shirts.
Some of Kylie’s PWL singles were throwaway, functional, and forgettable. Many in fact. The ones they gave to their lesser artists were even worse. But occasionally, with Kylie, they could hit the mark. Better The Devil You Know is a 70s disco throwback and catchy AF. Her cover of Chairman of the Board’s Give Me Just A Little More Time is similarly good.
JC adds (with apologies for interrupting the flow of the ICA)
Nick Cave is a huge fan of Better The Devil You Know. In 1998, he delivered a lecture entitled ‘The Secret Life of The Love Song’ at the Vienna Poetry Festival in which he waxed very eloquently about the lyrics
Say you won’t leave me no more
I’ll take you back again
No more excuses, no, no
‘Cause I’ve heard them all before
A hundred times or more
I’ll forgive and forget
If you say you’ll never go
‘Cause it’s true what they say
Better the devil you know
Our love wasn’t perfect
I know, I think I know the score
You say you love me, O boy
I can’t ask for more
I’ll come if you should call
I’ll be here every day
Waiting for your love to show
‘Cause it’s true what they say
It’s better the devil you know
I’ll take you back
I’ll take you back again
“When Kylie sings these words, there is an innocence to her voice that makes the horror of the chilling lyric all the more compelling. The idea presented within this song, dark and sinister and sad, that love relationships are by nature abusive, and that this abuse, be it physical or psychological, is welcomed and encouraged, shows how even the most seemingly harmless of love songs has the potential to hide terrible human truths.
Like Prometheus chained to his rock, the eagle eating his liver night after night, Kylie becomes Love’s sacrificial lamb, bleating an earnest invitation to the drooling, ravenous wolf to devour her time and time again, all to a groovy techno beat. “I’ll take you back, I’ll take you back again.” Indeed, here the love song becomes a vehicle for a harrowing portrait of humanity, not dissimilar to the Old Testament psalms. Both are messages to God that cry out into the yawning void, in anguish and self-loathing, for deliverance.”
Quite……I’ll hand back now to Adam. JC
In 1994 Kylie signed to DeConstruction, Mike Pickering’s label that had massive hits with K-Klass and Bassheads but wanted someone who was a name signing. Kylie wanted some credibility and to work with different songwriters. The result was this, a superb adult pop song, Kylie with Brothers In Rhythm on production, some trip-hop drums, Middle Eastern melodies, a didgeridoo and a string section. The strings are seriously giving the song gravitas and sexiness, there’s a moody undertow and she sings of being hurt, of bearing crosses and sharing secrets. The breakdown part where she whispers ‘stick or twist/ the choice is yours’ is Kylie grown up, the PWL years consigned to the past.
The video, dayglo and comic strip-like, gives us 6 Kylies, one in camouflage, one in black PVC, one in a babydoll dress and so on. Pills flash on the screen and messages to ‘call now for salvation’. It’s knowing and clever and very mid- 90s and gave her the new nickname SexKylie. Confide In Me is her best song, a genuine mid- 90s peak.
Kylie’s 1997 album, titled Impossible Princess then untitled in the wake of the death of Diana and renamed ‘97, was another wide-ranging, more adult album, taking in trip-hop, indie and house. The Manic Street Preachers were on co-writing duties on two songs and Dave Ball from Soft Cell and the Grid on Breathe. Electronic pop, floating on a groove, experimental and open and Kylie singing about meditation, stopping and letting go. The album sank a little bit and she moved on but this song is, like Confide In Me, a genuine highlight of the time.
All The Lovers was a comeback in 2010, produced by Stuart Price who was the in-vogue producer a decade ago. Euphoric mid-tempo pop with synthesisers buzzing and wobbling and Kylie declaring and swooning in a killer chorus ‘all the lovers/ that have gone before/ they don’t compare to you’.
By this point Kylie was achieving that elder stateswoman status the media confer on someone who has been around for a few decades. She was older, wiser, several public breakups down the line (not least her very public time with Michael Hutchence). She was also post-treatment for cancer which inevitably put her career on the ropes for a while. Thankfully she recovered fully and her postponed Glastonbury performance in 2019 showed the warmth of feeling people have for her.
Incidentally, not so long ago I watched a documentary about Michael Hutchence, which is well worth catching even if you think you’ve got little interest in INXS, Hutchence, or Kylie. In the middle, it dealt with his relationship with Kylie and had some amazing home video footage of the pair of them on holiday and on a sleeper train, clearly a period of their lives that affected both of them deeply.
Slow is hot, full-on Mediterranean, being in the sun all day hot, the sort of heat where you have a shower at teatime, get dressed, step outside and start sweating again. Hot hot heat.
Co-written by Emeliana Torrini, it is three and a half minutes of that kind of hot, synth bass, pattering drums and Kylie’s voice, decorated with a minimalist synth topline, pure electro- pop. ‘Slow down and dance with me’ she purrs. A perfect slice of how pop music sounded in 2003.
The Chemical Brothers remix is a blast, an intense bleep- ridden ride which takes off in the second half, all breakdowns and lift offs and eyes closed tight under the strobe light.
Dance-pop from 2002, slightly moody, more jerky robotic dancing and a dash of Europop with a heart-stopping sweep into the chorus and the song’s title.
All build up and release, dance-pop that shows the influence of French house and disco. Daft Punk without the helmets. Another eye- catching video, supposedly shot in one take and with a slightly disorientating effect and geometric shapes spinning around.
In 1995 Kylie duetted with Nick Cave on this murder ballad, a grim tale sweetly sung by Kylie and with Nick well out of tune at least twice, where Nick smashes Elisa Day’s head in with a rock in the third verse and then puts a rose between her teeth. Kylie makes the step up to serious rock singing with ease. Nick wrote it with her in mind and sent it to her parent’s house, a cassette with Blixa Bargeld singing her lines (that version was eventually released on a Bad Seeds B- sides compilation). In a year of Britpop, parochial flag-waving and media storms about the race for the number 1 slot between two distinctly average guitar pop singles, Where The Wild Roses Grow stands out as both pop and art. It remains The Bad Seeds most successful single worldwide.
The perfect start of the 21st-century pop song – a sleek, modern, hook laden monster, peak synthesis of music and video. Kylie in a science fiction sports car zooming around the city of the future. Kylie in a hooded robe, almost revealing everything, striking poses and doing the dance. Red shirt and black tie clad male dancers in red visors, so 2020, marching in a Kraftwerkian homage. Slow-motion Kylie on the roof of a skyscraper in a post-modern city, hips swinging from high to low in a panelled metallic mini- dress, surrounded by light bulbs flashing and dancers now dressed in black. And beneath the sheer surface and the obsession of the chorus there’s something darker, ‘a dark secret within me’, which gives the song an edge. You know this song inside out and it’s one of those rare occasions where familiarity doesn’t breed contempt.
At the Brit Awards she mashed it up with Blue Monday, New Order’s stuttering drum machine announcing Kylie’s entry on to the stage, a nod and a wink to one of the previous century’s sleekest, most hook-laden monsters.
In his book Words And Music Paul Morley sees all of pop music’s forward progression since 1955 leading towards this song and Kylie in her yellow sports car to ‘the city of sound and ideas’ and while I usually find Paul Morley pretty irritating, he’s got a point. Can’t Get You Out Of My Head is the sound of pop music in the 21st century, a lighter than air bouncing robot bassline, some la la las, Kraftwerk and New Order’s synths and an Australian pop star merged together playing on a screen somewhere near you right now.
4 songs to make up an indie-friendly bonus disc, just in case the above (Nick Cave excepted) is too pop for the purists.
JC adds an additional bonus
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Where The Wild Roses Grow (Blixa co-vocal)