Kylie Minogue, Australia’s cult disco chanteuse returns, only this time without the disco. Instead of opting for more familiar Minogue arrangements, Kylie Christmas () aims to please a broader, more casual audience.
The majority of the songs are classically arranged and feature lush orchestrations, but they struggle to rekindle the sincerity of the originals — as well as the long trail of cover versions that have come before. When not burdened with injecting life into fairly predictable song choices, the singer is more effective utilizing her soft and silken pipes on the original material on offer. Lovingly produced with all the usual festive trimmings, songs such as “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Let It Snow” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” all blur into one, and are more filler than stocking filler.
Predictable arrival “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” isn’t so much a duet with Frank Sinatra as it is Minogue simply singing on top of him. The vintage sound quality of Sinatra cackles through warmly and richly, which are both comforting qualities that the Australian pop princess cannot quite match with her own uniquely rich and feathery voice.
Seemingly engineered to secure an advertisement campaign with a department store, “Winter Wonderland” is fine for timeless Christmas covers fans, just not Minogue fans. On “Let It Snow,” she might as well be singing “make it stop, make it stop, make it stop.” Minogue often relies on her overly-stylized coquettish delivery, and these orchestral Disney-like arrangements heavily emphasize this slightly overcooked persona, making them something of an acquired taste. Showing even less effort, “Santa Baby” was originally recorded 15 years ago, and as a “gift” to fans, here it is again.
Name-checking Clooney and Obama, “Oh Santa” is almost the same song again, only written by Minogue. That its melody slips into Jingle Bells highlights its shortcomings. By the time one reads that “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is on the track-list one knows exactly what to expect.
The obligatory covers detract very little from existing versions. Therefore, disappointment lies with a lack of originality more than it does any technical accomplishments. Her take on the post-punk pop classic “Christmas Wrapping” (now with Iggy Pop) makes little use of the juxtaposition of Minogue’s crisp and perky delivery and Iggy’s more than a little merry, deep drawl. Recorded separately, their playful interaction is a brief glimpse into how reworking such a ubiquitous composition could have worked out better. Whereas the original benefits from a slightly sarcastic and disconnected delivery, as if conveying the rueful task of cleaning up the wreckage of last night’s party with a hangover, Minogue opts for a faithful karaoke rendition instead. While one couldn’t realistically expect Iggy to offer up a Christmas collaboration equivalent to her duet with Nick Cave, it’s a notable missed opportunity and an example of the risks not being taken — ones she formerly delighted in taking.
Kylie Christmas isn’t completely free of sparkle. “Only You” (featuring James Corden) transforms the Yazoo classic into a meditative, inspirational lullaby. And if only every song on this album were in the same vein as “Every Day’s Like Christmas” — it not only justifies, but strengthens her reputation. Beautiful and lilting, it is truly deserving of future classic status. Written by Coldplay’s Chris Martin, it’s a shame such heart-melting beauty and ambition cannot be matched elsewhere.
Her one woman take on the girl-group pop of “I’m Gonna Be Warm This Winter” is a breeze, convincingly evoking cozy memories of the 1960s as well as the season it’s dedicated to. The jaunty “wall of sound” production of “White December” sounds like a slowed down, bombastic “Tragedy” by Steps, but with added sleigh bells (this is a good thing). Steering clear of the over-sized arrangements elsewhere, “2000 Miles” is a significant improvement of cover material. Allowing her velvety vocal to emote rather than enact, the soft arrangement works well. If “Oh Santa” re-wrote “Santa Baby,” then her lovely, co-penned and codependent ballad “Cried Out Christmas” rehashes her 1990 cover of “Tears On My Pillow.”
Doing its best to erase the disappointment of most of the album, “100 Degrees” (with baby sis Dannii) finally heats things up and delivers the disco blizzard most of her fan-base would have on their wish lists. Panting as though their lives depended on it, the footloose energy sounds not dissimilar to the camp and frisky musical number Meryl Streep’s Madeline Ashton sang in the film Death Becomes Her. Ticklishly divine, the commanding chorus is a Christmas 2015 essential. It’s contrived, clichéd, obvious, and all the better for it.
Overall, the lushly orchestrated Kylie Christmas won’t dampen the memory of the songs chosen as cover versions, but all but two tracks here would dampen an actual Minogue playlist, which by and large makes it a regrettable turkey. Only the subtle touch of “Everyday’s Like Christmas Day” and the steam-train touch of “100 Degrees” deliver an acceptable showcase.
Kylie Christmas is available now.
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