Good taste, charm, a deceptively versatile voice – the Australian singer’s fifteenth studio album has all these and more
2023 has seen the arrival of what could be considered Kylie Minogue’s fourth or fifth wave, depending on interpretation. Padam Padam has transcended her core fanbase in a manner not seen since All The Lovers, and frankly that would be a triumph even if the rest of Tension was awful – luckily that’s not the case here. Featuring old friend Richard “Biff” Stannard as well as new faces like Kamille and Ryan Ashley, Kylie delivers bops of various kinds with love and lust top of the agenda.
The album opens with Padam Padam’s snaking sequence and uber-polished vocals, a 4×4 beat and copious sidechain leading up to its slap house drop. We’re a long way away from warmed over country pop and the titular line seals the deal, flicking up at the end of the word in a kooky, quizzical manner. Hold On To Now follows as if to reassure older Kylie fans that she hasn’t sold her soul to TikTok: busy synth ostinatos and vocal harmonies from the House Gospel Choir accompany lyrics about a euphoric, romantic experience (“can you just imaginе magic taking control / and every second’s yours to have and to hold / shining like gold”).
The song Tension has an intriguing mix of elements, sounding for all the world like a Paul Woolford number until the bit-crushed hook provides an unexpected blast of intensity. It’s genuinely heartening to hear a pop artist trying out new sounds 35 years into their career, and the syllable-twisting verse lyrics are wonderfully silly (“call me Kylie-lie-lie / don’t imitate-tate-tate / cool like sorbet-bet-bet / I’m your esca-a-ape / I’m your vacay-ay-ay / hot like chilli-lli-lli”). Hands treads new ground in another way, as it features rapped vocals over a guitar-laden groove reminiscent of Doja Cat’s more commercial material. Kylie’s tone of voice is a bit tricky to pin down – especially as the beginning of the first verse isn’t her – but she certainly sounds more authentic than Iggy Azalea, and it’s a fun, summery tune.
There is a certain irony to the 80s-themed tracks on here, as their gated snares and pulsing synths were out of fashion by the time I Should Be So Lucky was released. The style suits her though, and You Still Get Me High is particularly effective featuring downtempo verses, themes of nostalgia, a wordless topline that slots around the chords perfectly. Things We Do For Love, meanwhile, adheres to the trend of brevity in the streaming era by eschewing a middle 8 or final hook: instead the track just keeps building for the final 100 seconds, each section more blissful than the last, pure pop gold. It’s a testament to Tension’s casual nature that Ten Out Of Ten is included, an Oliver Heldens track that was first released separately. A tribute to ballroom culture, it hits all the right spots with its syncopated bassline and steamy vocals from Kylie, and helps bring the energy back up after Green Light’s rather flat Rodgers-isms.
At several points in Kylie’s career (1992, 1997, 2005, 2014) it would have been completely understandable if she’d stepped away from the limelight. Times change, stars fade, and careers in pop music can’t last forever, can they? She’s been able to defy expectations time and time again due to a combination of good taste, charm and a deceptively versatile voice, and Tension has its fair share of all three. Contemporary sounds don’t diminish her identity, everything we love about 21st century Kylie is still present in spades – her reign continues, and indeed it may never end.