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In my Superlative Albums I Wrote About in 2018 list, Golden was awarded the Dirty Diamond Ring for Broadest Appeal
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It is presently the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Eighteen.
In the Chinese zodiac, this is the year of that elegant and noble creature, the humble dog. In popular culture, this is the year we celebrate the decenary of Coldplay’s string-drenched masterpiece ‘Viva la Vida’, and the unveiling of Steven Spielberg’s magnificent, towering, most magnum of opuses, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. In the circles of conspiracising susurrus, this is the year the world will meet its doom totally definitely fingers-crossed no-takesy-backsies for real this time, through flood or fire or rapture depending on whom you ask, or perhaps through a concussive impact with the long-lost Nibiru, finally arriving to put us all out of our miserable misery.
So we are well past the peak of country-infused EDM music.
The subgenre saw its heyday around five years ago, shortly after Mumford and Sons made banjos cool again, shortly after an emergent Taylor Swift made banjos popular again. The likes of hundred-proof Rudimental, top-shelf Calvin Harris and the late but so damn great Avicii churned out hit after hit after hit from the same simple formula: take a sample of fingerpicked guitar noodling, hammer it around the industry-standard neon dancefloor anvil, solder it to a boilerplate four-on-the-floor rhythm, make it rain fat fat stacks of cash.
And now the princess of pop has thrown her rhinestoned Stetson into the ring.
Kylie’s just here to have a good time, and boy can you hear it. She has scooped a sample of every conceivable country cliché into a honeypot of pop trimmings and simmered it down sweet and smooth. The quaint fiddle decorations of ‘A Lifetime to Repair’, the understated balladry of ‘Radio On’, the flirtations with Mexicana on the title track’s plaintive wail, and the standout disco barnstormer of ‘Raining Glitter’. Heck, there’s even a song about a car.
Though Golden has shown up a little behind the curve, it fares a hell of a lot better than recent country dalliances from other pop stars, namely Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga. Pulling it off is a question of authenticity. It hardly matters how much moonshine you drank or how many cows you tipped growing up, as long as you sell it, which Man of the Woods and Joanne did not. Moment-to-moment, each has a lot to like, to be sure (the incomprehensible ‘Filthy’ is a low-key banger — don’t @ me), but on the whole they feel hollow, calculated, inauthentic. Both musicians have earned themselves reputations as Serious Artists: JT as the bow-tied boyband darling gone bad, Gaga as the second coming of Andy Warhol, and for better and for worse, country music is simply not Serious Art. This baseline incompatibility even overrides Timberlake’s upbringing in rural flyover Montana, and highlights Gaga’s in a wealthy upper-class district of New York City.
There’s no pressure to create a seminal crossover manifesto on Golden, just a statement that hey, this is a fun thing I’m trying out at the moment, like a pair of stiletto cowboy boots.
(If you’re looking for a legit country album to quench that particular thirst, I heartily recommend Kacey Musgraves’ superlative Golden Hour, released just a few weeks ago. Last year, I gave a glowing review to Kacey’s Pageant Material, which you can enjoy here. My piece includes references to juleps and biscuits (??) and grits, lashings of city-boy smugness, and a genealogy of American country music, which traces its pedigree back to Elizabethan lute balladry.)
So apart from single-handedly keeping the disco flame alive, what’s Kylie been up to recently that would lead to such an experiment Golden? She provided guest vocals on an electrifying single from Giorgio Moroder’s comeback LP and released the requisite latter-career Christmas album, as well as The Abbey Road Sessions, a collection of spacious, classy reupholsterings of her greatest hits. Her last two studio albums were nothing to sneeze at either. 2010’s Aphrodite boasted non-stop bops — the swooning ‘Cupid Boy’, the chiming ‘All the Lovers’, the imperative ‘Get Outta My Way’ — while 2014’s Kiss Me Once predicted the trend of athleisure in the video for the gloriously camp lead single ‘Sexercize’ — “Let me see you bounce bounce bounce bounce” simpered Kylie against spurts of sizzling dubstep static — balancing a fine blend of several Olivia Newton John vintages in a ‘Let’s-Get-Physical’-but-actually-classy way.
It’s a costume that Kylie wears well, as is the Abbey Road aesthetic of glamorously lounging in a gown of jet-black silk, trailing diamonds and champagne through architectures of glass and steel in a Fifty-Shades-but-actually-classy way, as also is her dangerously teensy red velvet number with matching white-trimmed headpiece and tinselled garters.
To look good in anything and everything is an underrated talent, and over the years Kylie has stuck endless fingers into countless pies. Pies of vinyl and digital, pies of stage and screen. I never watched Neighbours myself, but I found her impishly, memorably charming when she guest starred in the 2007 Doctor Who Christmas special. Who knew a space waitress fleeing murderous robot angels through the capsizing Starship Titanic could be so nuanced and so delightful a character?
Kylie’s uncanny chameleonicity makes Golden such a success. There are innumerable ways to flatter the instantly recognisable voice of hers: sweet and coquettish, just an edge of a knowing wink, with widespread, general appeal. It is certainly no small feat to land precisely in the country-pop Lagrangian that JT and Gaga both thoroughly overshot or undershot depending on which you think works better for the metaphor, a feat that could only have been achieved when the pressure was dialled down. After all, Kylie is nudging fifty, and for her fourteenth (!) studio album, taking a diversion such as this carries little risk.
Though I imagine it won’t be long before she hangs up that lasso (you know what they say about a jack of all trades), I’ll forever wonder what it would have been like to see Golden come out just a few years sooner. Still, Kylie’s country cotillion is a ball of a time.
Giddy on up, y’all.
Yeehaw, et cetera.