op stars. Attention whores. Idealistically bankrupt sex-babies with glossy mouths and fear in their eyes. Before a populist mutiny retched its own terrible creation from its throat like a piece of virally infected beef, these artistic deviants roamed in a realm parallel to the sweaty reality of those who idolized them. What was their aim? Ostensibly, it was to divert: whether they were pandering to the camera’s unblinking eye with dead smiles in entertainment magazines, having their sordid tales spread out across tabloid newspapers ("Britney snorts two-foot coke mountain in Miami nightclub!" "Christina’s slips into rigor mortis after ‘lip’ incident!"), or seen jerked around in the studio, having their tiny voices digitized into something awful and inhuman, these naVve child-people unselfishly emblazoned their lives into a silicon and plastic shell, offering bagfuls of grist for our conversational mills.
Then the whole thing went to hell because everyone decided that this somehow wasn’t enough; that despite Britney attempting to expand her boundaries by recording with, say, a small battalion of Taiwanese string players, she was the one grifting us all. People! Did you not hear her paean to loneliness and woe, "Lucky"? "If there’s nothing missing in my life/Then why do the tears come at night?" Indeed, the recent Pop Holocaust signaled the captivating free-fall of a slew of tormented ingénues: Hanson’s cherubic tweens are now fully grown, and suffering the stigmatizing after-effects of their androgyny; Christina Aguilera is hanging desperately onto her popularity by conducting a surgical re-imagination of herself as collision between Ayn Rand, Betty Page, and an iguana; the Backstreet Boys I think are all dead.
But there is one woman who miraculously—impossibly--survived the tongue-lashings, the pitiable accusations slathered across the television set. I attribute Kylie Minogue’s survvival to the same sort of visual mechanism that zebras use to escape their predators; her "stripes," a genial sexiness that has enabled her to continue her musical endeavors for nearly two decades, have always been alluring and winsome. Something about the looseness with which she delivers her songs, the ease with which she has slipped from frizzy-haired and toothy, and urging Americans to engage in the foreign "Locomotive" dance, to Nick Cave’s gothic duet partner on Murder Ballads, has proved extremely enduring. By merit of her willingness to take chances and "lay it all out on the table," Kylie doesn’t constantly need to pander for our approval, or commit actions of unsound mind and questionable lawfulness, for our attention. She knows she has it.
After Kylie dazzled us with the electro-waifery of 2001’s Fever, she seemed to have finally found her niche: Matron of sex-bomb pop thrills. Thus it’s no surprise that her new Body Language isn’t so much a massive artistic leap as it is a total distillation of her sound and style. As the title infers, the album’s emphasis on pure dance music (And less on lyrical content, which is, let’s face it, nothing more than a syllabic device to fill out the blips and bleeps), approaches a sort of kinetic, orgiastic transcendence—music that communicates not through sound, but through the movement it inspires. Body Language isn’t a surprising record, but that’s the whole point; as in Fever Kylie has again superceded her American counterparts with an album of fashionable thrills, dance-pop artisanship, and total, utter hotness.
Though there’s no set theme (and I certainly doubt Kylie or her producers intended there to be), Body Language could be read as a bildungsroman of the listener’s gradual coming to grips with their love of dance music–of how Kylie first taunts the listener with her irrepressably "party-up" nature, insidiously coaxes them into joining the dance floor with her, and teaches them the rules and logistics of dance-floor etiquette: how one should "grind," how one should seduce, and most importantly, how one should have a good time. "Slow" is a tentative start of disjointed Prince-isms. As the music coils around Kylie’s writhing body like a snake, Kylie lures the listener away from their dimly-lit corner table with the sultry demand, "Come on dance with me...slow." How could one not oblige? At this point, the listener is open to Kylie’s demands, and willing to resort to any means necessary to impress her. "Still Standing" wields its gurgling keyboard hook like a leather whip, keeping the listener’s less pure intentions at bay. The songs celebratory vocals–"I’m still standing, still dancing, yeah! You know you want it!"–is at once an indictment of the critics who thought Kylie would have long since faded into pop obscurity, and a celebration of her irrepressible nature.
After that, there’s no turning back. Kylie proves herself to be a consummate entertainer, breezing through the chill muzak of "Promises" and "Chocolate"’s wild disco jam with equal ease. But probably the penultimate moment of the album comes during the irresistible psuedo-funk of "Sweet Music." Propelled by a sticky bass groove and a halo of whirring synths, Kylie purrs "And we can go crazy like that, feel it like that, move it like that, drop it like that...I’m looking for that new sensation!" as the music increases in fervor, eventually reaching the heights of a full-fledged rave-up. Out of the most basic elements of disco music–the brisk clap of a hi-hat, astral keyboard effects–Kylie asserts herself as the pocket-sized Disco diva she truly is. In fact, the album only falters when it attempts to process Kylie through the Pop-Star Machine, artlessly tacking on unnecessary vocal echoes and an overabundance of sultriness that undercuts the purity of the entertainment on display. But those are anamolies; as the album progresses, it becomes sparser, funkier, and sexier. Unlike other pop starlets who might see it fit to back-load their albums with their most gaudy and bombastic numbers, Kylie settles into an athletic, whip-smart groove midway through the album, and doesn’t let up until the end.
"But it’s just pop music!" I know you’re thinking this (And even if you’re not, I am). In response to this remark, I’ll point out that pop music constitutes most of what the average American hears for most of his or her life. Why shouldn’t the best of it be reclaimed as something more than window-dressing? Much as one wouldn’t consciously choose to live on the perimeter of a sewage plant, or ingest massive amounts of glue for supper, we should make efforts to avoid the soul-deadening artificiality of song-whores like the Matrix* and all those Swedish guys that write Britney’s music, and instead flock to the warmth of what is carefully made and true. With Body Language, Kylie makes like an antibiotic and invades the Mainstream—curing the myriad pop maladies we suffer aurally every day, and leaving a trail of dead in her wake.
Reviewed by: Eric Seguy
Reviewed on: 2004-03-03