Kylie Minogue is pop’s stealthy revolutionary. Though she is unproblematic to a fault and rarely as provocative as Madonna, for example, she has made a career out of proving people wrong. When she left Neighbours to pursue music in the late ’80s, some critics dismissed her as a “singing budgie” whose wings had been clipped by the Stock Aitken Waterman hit factory. But 35 years later, she’s still an international icon whose new eras are greeted feverishly, especially by her famously loyal LGBTQ+ fanbase.
At the same time, Minogue is no cosy legacy act. ‘Padam Padam’, the hypnotic lead single from her upcoming album ‘Tension’, has recently disproved the notion that female artists over 50 can’t score mainstream hits in the streaming era. Pretty revolutionary, right?
As she highlighted with a transcendent Legends slot performance at Glastonbury in 2019, Minogue knows how to deliver a knockout pop single. But throughout her career, she has also made smart, well-crafted and adventurous albums that have drawn from genres as varied as country, R&B, Britpop and trance. She’s a musical shapeshifter who retains a quintessentially human quality. If you saw her in Tesco Metro, you’d probably scream with excitement, but also feel comfortable asking for a cheeky selfie in the takeaway aisle.
So, as she prepares to release her 16th studio album ‘Tension’, here’s NME‘s ranking for every Kylie album ranked in order of greatness.
‘Enjoy Yourself’ (1989)
Like her 1988 debut ‘Kylie’, Minogue’s second album was entirely produced by Stock Aitken Waterman. The singles aren’t quite as strong, though ‘Hand On Your Heart’ has a killer hook and ‘Wouldn’t Change A Thing’ anticipates her future flair for melancholy dance-pop. Meanwhile, her chart-topping cover of doo-wop classic ‘Tears On My Pillow’ shows she already had more range than naysayers gave her credit for.
Minogue’s debut was a mega-hit that sold 2.1 million units in the UK alone. It’s a slightly tinny time capsule that lacks variety, but the big singles transcend their familiar ’80s sound. ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ and ‘The Locomotion’ remain crowd-pleasing staples of any Kylie concert, but the swooning Franglais bop ‘Je Ne Sais Pour Pourquoi’ is nearly as infectious. And the hair-hat she rocks on the album cover is a kitsch classic.
‘Kylie Christmas’ (2015)
This is probably – hopefully – the only album ever to feature duets with both Iggy Pop (a fun cover of ‘Christmas Wrapping’) and James Corden (a gratuitous ‘Only You’). Some of the festive originals are actually very good, especially ‘Every Day’s Like Christmas’, co-written by Coldplay‘s Chris Martin, and ‘100 Degrees’, a disco-fuelled duet with sister Dannii. Holiday albums are rarely essential, but ‘Kylie Christmas’ has more sparkle than most.
‘Let’s Get To It’ (1991)
Minogue’s fourth and final album with Stock and Waterman – Aitken had left a year earlier – was probably one too many. Though it includes a cute cover of ’70s soul hit ‘Give Me Just A Little More Time’ and ‘If You Were With Me Now’, a schmaltzy duet with R&B singer Keith Washington, ‘Let’s Get To It’ generally tries to reinvent Kylie as an edgy dance floor diva. It doesn’t always succeed, but the house bangers ‘Too Much Of A Good Thing’ and ‘Right Here, Right Now’ (both Minogue co-writes) are worth checking out.
‘Kiss Me Once’ (2014)
Minogue’s first and only album with Jay-Z‘s Roc Nation stable feels unfocused. Despite having Sia as its executive producer, ‘Kiss Me Once’ never quite finds the sweet spot between Pharrell-produced funk (‘I Was Gonna Cancel)’, perky pop (‘Into The Blue’, ‘Million Miles’) and reflective midtempo moments (‘Feels So Good’, ‘If Only’). Most of its songs are decent rather than dazzling, though ‘Les Sex’ sneaks in a cheeky lyric that Kylie is just innocent enough to get away with: “Take two of these and meet me in the shadows.”
GLASTONBURY, ENGLAND – JUNE 30: Kylie Minogue performs on the Pyramid Stage on day five of Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm, Pilton on June 30, 2019 in Glastonbury, England. (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage)
Minogue described her 14th album as being like “Dolly Parton standing on a dance floor”. Largely recorded in Nashville, it’s country-pop through a Kylie filter, which means lead single ‘Dancing’ riffs elegantly on mortality and standout banger ‘Raining Glitter’ sounds, well, more like Dolly doing poppers on a dance floor. ‘Golden’ is a bit too restrained to feel like a top-tier Kylie album, but it served its purpose at a point when she needed to try something different. A characteristically classy detour.
‘Kylie Minogue’ (1994)
After parting ways with Pete Waterman’s PWL, Minogue signed to trendy dance label Deconstruction. ‘Kylie Minogue’, her first of two albums for the imprint, is cool, classy and vocally accomplished – no one would call her a “singing budgie” now. The Middle Eastern-tinged single ‘Confide In Me’ is a clear highlight, but Minogue also shines on ‘Falling’, a cute electro tune written by Pet Shop Boys, and the slow-burn ballad ‘Put Yourself In My Place’.
‘Rhythm Of Love’ (1990)
Minogue’s third album was a self-assured step forward. Not only did she co-write four tracks, but she compelled Stock Aitken Waterman to come up with an all-time great singles run: ‘Better The Devil You Know’, ‘Step Back In Time’, ‘Shocked’ and ‘What Do I Have To Do’. Now dating INXS singer Michael Hutchence, Minogue was evolving from pop’s girl-next-door into a more sophisticated artist, and her music reflected this by tapping into house, rap and new jack swing. By this point, only idiots were underestimating her.
‘Body Language’ (2003)
Now 15 years into her career, Minogue was far too savvy to follow her 2000 blockbuster ‘Fever’ with a carbon copy. Instead, ‘Body Language’ is a sultrier affair that mixes squelchy electro (‘Secret (Take You Home)’, ‘Slow’) with frisky R&B (‘Red Blooded Woman’) and cooing slow jams (‘Chocolate’, ‘Loving Days’). Though she didn’t write it, a highlight comes on ‘Still Standing’ when she sums up her M.O.: “I’m still standing, keeping you dancing, yeah – you know you want it.” Damn right, KM!
Minogue understands her role as pop’s facilitator of joy, so her first album since undergoing breast cancer treatment was never going to be introspective. Recorded with a crack battalion of producers, ‘X’ is a slightly chaotic melting pot that pings between raunchy robopop (‘Like A Drug’), breezy R&B (‘All I See’) and Calvin Harris bangers (‘In My Arms’, ‘Heart Beat Rock’). It lacks the conceptual clarity of her best albums, but there are solid bops here – especially ‘The One’, a disco epic that should have been massive.
Kylie Minogue performing in 2001. Credit: Nicky J. Sims/Redferns
Mostly recorded in Minogue’s home studio, the singer’s 15th album was a fun and frothy lockdown tonic. She had dabbled in disco before on 2000’s ‘Light Years’, but here she embraces it with gold lamé-clad open arms. “Shake it on the floor now – like Studio ’54 now,” she commands on ‘Dancefloor Darling’. ‘Disco’ has moments of melancholy like the yearning ‘Say Something’, but mainly it feels like a big glittery hug from your favourite clubbing buddy.
‘Impossible Princess’ (1997)
The mid-’90s is often referred to as Minogue’s “Indie Kylie” era, partly because she teamed with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds for the hit murder ballad ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’. Released two years later, ‘Impossible Princess’ is her spikiest and most surprising album – and the one with most clues as to her real-life psyche. Co-written with Manic Street Preachers‘ James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore, the guitar-led ‘Some Kind Of Bliss’ is essentially Kylie does Britpop, but elsewhere she draws from trance, trip-hop and edgy electronica. It’s an outlier in her discography, but a vital one.
‘Light Years’ (2000)
Following the “Indie Kylie” era, Minogue pivoted back to pure pop. Led by the brilliant Number One hit ‘Spinning Around’ – “threw away my old clothes / got myself a better wardrobe” – ‘Light Years’ is the campest album in a discography not exactly known for macho moments. It’s so camp, in fact, that Minogue’s label deemed her Village People homage ‘Your Disco Needs You’ “too gay” to be released as a single. They were wrong, of course, but it hardly spoils her most consistently twinkly album.
Eleven albums in, Minogue had earned the right to compare herself to the Greek goddess of love and pleasure. Executive produced by Madonna and The Killers collaborator Stuart Price, ‘Aphrodite’ is cohesive, stylish and polished to a gleaming sheen. Blissful, sun-kissed disco-pop is the remit, seasoned with EDM on ‘Cupid Boy’, a dash of Janet Jackson on the title track, and an ’80s synth riff on ‘All the Lovers’. ‘Aphrodite’ also includes fan favourite ‘Get Outta My Way’, an anthem for fast-walking gay men everywhere.
Minogue’s eighth album could have been overshadowed by its era-defining lead single, ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’. That it wasn’t is a testament to the project’s effortless confidence and strength in depth. ‘Love At First Sight’ and ‘In Your Eyes’ are further slabs of dance-pop perfection, ‘Fragile’ offers a lovely hint of vulnerability, and the title track has a frisky sense of fun. “Doctor, just what do you diagnose?” Minogue sings with a wink. “So now, shall I remove my clothes?” It all adds up to the iconic high watermark of a genuinely stellar career.