Kylie Tension BMG
In a 2021 interview with BBC Radio 2, Kylie Minogue was asked about the sound of her then in-the-works 16th album. Coyly, as if about to upset her legions of fans, she revealed it would be built around TikTokcore… No, of course not, she said electropop, the scene of her greatest achievements. Eyebrows were not raised. In fairness, as is her occasional wont, the relatively restless pop legend recently drifted away from her musical bread and butter, with 2018’s country-inspired Golden and 2020’s Studio 54-indebted Disco, adding, well, disco to the sonic mélange.
So it’s chiefly back to the electropop of Fever, X and Aphrodite on her new opus Tension, an album given an almighty boost by the undulating meme generator, Padam Padam, her best lead single since Slow 20 years ago. That the sweaty, sex-positive anthem eventually shimmied its way into the UK Top 10 – her first time there in a decade – despite Radio 1’s initial reluctance to playlist a 55-year-old woman, speaks not only to the song’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head-esque hypnotism, but also to Kylie’s enduring ability to tap into shifts in the cultural mood. While her recent singles – Golden’s Dancing and Disco’s Say Something – mused on death and enforced separation respectively, Padam Padam leans into our collective need for some post-pandemic frivolity.
It’s a feeling that courses through Tension’s 11 songs. The playful title track mixes huge 90s house riffs, the odd vocoder embellishment (including an incredible bit where her treated voice elongates the phrase “call me Kylie, don’t imitate”) and at least three different choruses. Like Padam Padam, the song is hot, heavy and primarily controlled by Kylie’s deepest desires: “Almost there, touch me right there,” she demands at one point. On Vegas High, she muses, “make my eyes roll back when I feel that Vegas high”, as synths strafe laser-like around her.
@minogueupdates whats your favorite song from @Kylie Minogue tension? #kylie #kylieminogue #padampadam #tension ♬ Green Light – Kylie Minogue
Dubbed SexKylie in the early 90s for daring to grow up into a woman who prioritises pleasure, Kylie also knows her audience enjoy her ability to find joy in situations that aren’t so heady. The excellent, synth-slathered Hold On to Now is loaded with confusion and mentions lonely heartbeats – “Baby, what are we holding on to?/ Baby, where do we want to run to?” – but the unknown is quickly romanticised into a gift rather than a curse. “We’ll figure it out somehow, keep holding on to now,” she sings as a propulsive New Order-esque bass riff drives things forward. Things We Do for Love, meanwhile, opts for seizing the day (“so just kiss me here right now, we’re running out of time”) over an explosive pop tornado that recalls vintage Xenomania, all featherlight electronics on the verses, hints of guitar throughout, and then a sudden sonic whoosh that rockets the chorus skywards.
It’s when she strays away from Tension’s core sound that things unravel slightly. Both Hands and Green Light – two of the three songs on the album not to feature Kylie on the songwriting credits – dip into funk and disco territory (the former also, questionably, has some light rapping). While neither are awful, they feel like they’ve sashayed in from another album. They also slow the album’s frenetic pace (there are no ballads), offering the option for a quick breather when all you really want to do is rejoin the sweaty throng on the dancefloor.
While the penultimate 10 Out of 10’s hi-NRG mix of 90s house and 00s Europop fits nicely in context, the closing Story opts for something darker. “I had a one-way ticket that was going nowhere,” Kylie softly sings in the first verse, later adding: “Everything is fun until the walls come closing in.” The excellent middle eight, meanwhile, continues to show flashes of a side we’re not always privy to: “I was fighting the dark light/ Raging hard on the inside.” Just when it feels as though our protagonist is spiralling into irredeemable depths, Kylie, as she does, reels us all back in with a transcendent, glitter-bomb chorus: “You said, turn another page/ Baby, take the stage/ You know the stars are coming out for you.” The closing repeated mantra of “you’re part of my story” suggests she’s talking directly to her loyal fanbase; a stable presence during times of turbulence.
In this view, Tension is quintessential Kylie. As deep or surface-level as you need it to be, it offers both a carefree escape from reality while also remaining emotionally available. It’s an album packed full of gleaming choruses, gold-plated melodies and Kylie’s uncanny ability to make love and loss shimmer with possibilities.