Take a step back into time. Sparkle right back to May 1997 and Kylie Minogue was in the midst of readying her Impossible Princess album. In its inept ability to get its head around a woman expressing multifaceted sides of her sound and career British media decided to label her the awfully reductive title “indieKylie”. Not quite realizing it was when she was with PWL she was in fact an independent musician and her mid-1990s move to Deconstruction actually marked the first time she belonged to a major record company. Splitting hairs I suppose, but my point is rarely do you see male performers reduced to such stifling categories and labels. Into the penumbra of “IndieKylie”, Minogue found herself promoting Did It Again a few months later where she & William Baker wonderfully deconstructed the previously mentioned tacky categorization of her career with a deliciously mischievous video by Pedro Romanyi.
Just before unveiling Impossible Princess live, Steve Anderson and Kylie decided to do something incredibly special. It totally bucked the current imagined label of “IndieKylie”. It was one of the first appearances of Showgirl Kylie – the Kylie we’ve seen don corsets studded with crystals, diamonds and sequins. Kylie performed a brand new version of I Should Be So Lucky at the grand opening of Crown Casino in Melbourne with an Anderson arrangement that gently kissed goodbye to its glorious Hit Factory trademarks and it re-emerged as a torch ballad with glistening beautiful strings that shimmered into the memories of the lucky ones in the audience that night. Fans would see Kylie repeat this performance during her Intimate & Live tour in 1998 and most importantly, it became Anderson and Minogue’s step towards the Abbey Road Sessions. Ever since, Steve and Kylie have constantly tucked-in a stripped down re-worked re-imaged re-corseted re-interpretation of her hits. Whether it be for a radio station, a part of a tour or bonus track, this Abbey Road album has often been whispered about, wished upon a star or two and desired by every one of her fans. So, given this huge context and genesis’s does the album work?
In many ways, proceedings begin relatively small. All The Lovers is re-woven into a warm-blanket you run under during severe frosty mornings. The crisp yet smooth vocal arrangements surround the aural passages with love, depth and immediately tell the listener its story. Because of its drastic re-working, the lyrics come to the fore and suddenly phrases and couplets of the song take on different meanings. The same applies to On A Night Like This. The drama of the track takes over, upstaging the pop-dance original from 2000 and it becomes a contender for the next James Bond anthem. The vocal arrangements here really come into their own and reconstruct the follow-up to Spinning Around into a bombastic hegemonic and tempestuous torch ballad.
Better The Devil You Know re-emerges into a summery Sunday sunshine affair led by dreamy backing vocals and a simple piano. As Kylie’s stunning vocals embrace the speakers it becomes clear Anderson & Minogue have re-constructed the 1990s poptastic anthem into a lost Burt Bacharach gem that perhaps could’ve been demo’d by Dusty Springfield on her Memphis album. The revision is both amazing and masterful. Better The Devil You Know wonderfully becomes a song you could play next to something on the now iconic Carpenters album Close To You. The easy mood is carried on into Hand On Your Heart where Kylie systematically re-illuminates every phrase and lyric giving the Kylie hit a new sense of longing, story and meaning.
The acoustic magic is innately present in the stripped back piano led I Believe In You. Kylie’s voice needs recognizing at this moment. The likes of Annie Lennox and Tori Amos would dream to have this version on their future releases such is dream-like quality of Kylie’s voice and delivery. Come Into My World teases out a melancholic sense of yearning not realized or recognized in the original production. To me, the re-working unravels a feeling that promises an uneasy sense of lack and sorrow. In other words, Come Into My World re-emerges as a hegemonic story of unrequited love. This is quite astonishing. Perhaps because Kylie and Steve have indeed stripped away the song once before only in the past it almost felt like an angelic Christmas song. It was during her Showgirl tour and Kylie appeared perched on a moon. The two versions, both re-arranged, tell a completely different story despite containing exactly the same lyrics.
The Abbey Road Sessions thus emerges as a very special project indeed. For in each song, Kylie masterfully becomes the narrator of stories conveyed through re-arrangements of pop hits we all love. Well-adored hooks, lyrics, couplets and phrases suddenly take on completely different layers & meanings. You thought that was a happy pop song? – oh no!
As Kylie re-writes & it becomes evident that you can envisage the likes of Julie London & Helen Merrill raise their eye-brows, order a second martini and turn up The Abbey Road Sessions. Indeed, Finer Feelings - a symbolic inclusion as it was this single that brought Anderson & Minogue together in 1991 - gloriously now sounds like a surprising hybrid of Massive Attack and something you’d find on Julie London’s album Around Midnight. The sweeping ambient strings marry with Kylie’s sumptuous voice that ensure it becomes the definitive version of the song – the original seemingly banished. This album is clearly not a cheap exercise in re-covering ground but a journey in reclaiming the originals and upstaging them. Confide In Me is arguably a rather great example of this. Anderson and Minogue take the 1994 epic single to stratospheric heights as they pour petrol over a forest fire, add dynamite into the mix and then some kerosene into the blaze. This Confide In Me is evil, wrought, feverish, sensual and dangerous. Fused into its new dna, are traces of John Murphy’s absolutely spine-chilling In A House In A Heartbeat track that interwove itself around Danny Boyles 28 Days Later. Confide In Me becomes a indomitable leviathan of broken love and dark tears. The ride is thrilling.
If Confide In Me was a re-worked opus rejoicing pleasure, lust and loss realized in the battlefield of love, Slow protrudes, pervades and penetrates. It sighs, purrs, and oozes like the objects of desire in the burlesque houses of the 1930s in Paris and Berlin. The electronic vibes of its original are discharged but because the silky sensual susurrus of the song is brought to the fore, this new bluesy re-arrangement tingles, vibrates, beats and climaxes. Slurp! The mood of the entire album jumps up with a stompy version of Kylie’s first ever single The Loco-Motion. Stylized with delicious echoes of the Little Eva original and traces of the girlband versions by The Chiffons & The Vernon Girls. In many ways, taken altogether the album is thus complete, airtight and totally contained by the time we get to the end of Loco-Motion. It is a real ‘let them eat cake’ moment when a read of tracklisting reveals that there are a further six more songs left to go. With its sassy brass, kick-ass hand-claps and yummy middle-eight, The Loco-motion is the poptastic cherry atop of a very very delicious cake. We are utterly spoilt.
The strings barge back onto the album with Can’t Get You Out Of My Head. The backing vocalists again do a marvelous job amplifying the intense message of intoxicating addiction that this re-imagined version re-emerges as. The string arrangements spiral, twist and exalt as Kylie conveys her extended sonnet of addiction and obsession. In many ways, a result of violent passion of the type exposed in the intense re-interpretation of Can’t Get You Out Of My Head is provided in the tragic Where The Wild Roses Grow. The duet with Nick Cave is the only previously released song on The Abbey Road Sessions that isn’t drastically different to its original. However in this version the danger of the story is brought closer to the bone. The scarlet red of the lovers violence is more vivid, fluid and present. Nick Cave peels away the safety heard in the original so the rawness of the lyrics realize the power and horror of the story. There are also moments when Where The Wild Roses Grow also seems like a lost Johnny Cash original.
When DSTP interviewed Steve Anderson about Flower he said was “one of the most important songs we have ever written and I was honoured to be chosen to write it with her.” So its incredibly hard to describe or review the immensely personal song. As such I am going to chicken out. Suffice to say Flower shows off Kylies amazing voice much in the same way Confide In Me, Bittersweet Goodbye, Ocean Blue and Love Is Waiting has in the past. What follows Flower is arguably the song that started it all – I Should Be So Lucky. The version she performed all those years ago when she opened a casino in Melbourne. Fans will have something like this arrangement on their Intimate & Live album but this is the first time the beautiful torch ballad treatment has ever been recorded. It becomes evident a Kylie jazz album would be pretty much perfect for Minogue. This version of I Should Be So Lucky sounds like it could’ve sparkled on a soundtrack sung by a young Judy Garland during her classic MGM years. During the Light Years campaign, fans were treated to guitar-led fusions of summery acoustic tracks that found themselves on b-sides to the likes of Please Stay and Spinning Around. Listen back to The Good Life, Paper Dolls and Ocean Blue and the re-worked Love At First Sight fits with ease with that special great tome in Kylie’s early time under the EMI umbrella.
Ultimately this paves the way to Never Too Late. The perky PWL pop trinket is radically transformed into a beautiful easy jazz blues ballad that sounds like it could’ve been on a Blossom Dearie album around 1958. A spine-tingling piano arrangement wraps around Kylie’s excellent yet shockingly heartbreaking vocal that heightens the songs story of unrequited love. The beauty of Never Too Late can not be understated and displays the sheer talent of all those involved in making this album emerge. Under three short minutes, this version of Never Too Late highlights the intrinsic high standard of skill involved in the entire project as a whole. Steve Anderson and Kylie wonderfully re-dress Never Too Late with glistening diamonds and stardust befitting a song that belongs to the Blossom Dearie songbook. Into this, Never Too Late engenders the notion that The Abbey Road Sessions is not solely a celebration of Kylie’s career but also her voice and the incredible tenderness Steve Anderson and Cliff Masterson have for her hits as they re-write them into timeless classics. Ultimately, it becomes apparent that The Abbey Road Sessions is an album of stories one of which is a key narrative being of processes – the journey of ‘hits to classics’ and it is because of this that the sixteen songs embody a magic work of art.