George Michael and Kylie Minogue have albums out this week. And while they might both be distinctly second-division these days, they’re both still rather remarkable. George Michael got famous for not being Andrew Ridgeley, and has since redefined the status of adult-oriented pop. He has also written the only Christmas song in history worth playing all year round and made the Hampstead branch of Snappy Snaps a tourist destination. I like him a lot.
Minogue, meanwhile, is cheesy, knowing and resolutely budget in the international diva stakes. As Aldi is to Waitrose, so Kylie is to Beyoncé. But she’s made some terrific records – have you given up pretending you don’t like Can’t Get You Out of My Head yet? – and while she may not be a proper, meat-dress superstar, she’s extremely likeable as a popstar. She has a certain quality that’s hard to finger… what’s it called again? Oh yes: identity. Her records may be cheap and cheerful, but they’re definitely Kylie.
So it comes as a disappointment to hear her new single, Into the Blue. It could be by anybody – or at least by anybody in possession of a pair of sort-of-ironic hotpants and the services of an American Hip-Hop producer. The rest of Kiss Me Once is absolutely champion, mind. I Was Gonna Cancel is the obvious knockout: a fashionably chopped up dance beat and the church bells from Blondie’s Rapture bounce away under Kylie’s best nudge-wink vocal delivery in years.
The dull r’n’b of the single excepted, everything else here could have been made almost any time between 1979 and now. It’s disposable dance-pop at its best, which is a very good thing indeed. No delusions of seriousness, artistry or opinion pass through it. It’s pure escapism and it’s lovely. A word on the titles – Sexcercise; Sexy Love; Les Sex – seriously? Of course not. And that’s why it’s fun, as all pop music should be.
George Michael’s live CD Symphonica, on the other hand, is a genuinely bizarre proposition. Not the music itself, you understand – that’s almost exactly the same bunch of tasteful cover versions he released as Songs from the Last Century in 1999 – by far his worst release, for the record. No, the oddness comes in his failure to answer the question: why bother? If it’s a sop to his ballad-buying, Tesco checkout audience, he’s ripping them off, making them pay twice for the same mediocre album, done worse. As for other probable hypotheses, I’m stumped.
But it’s okay. I even quite like some of it; it’s never a hardship to hear Dimitri Tiomkin’s Wild is the Wind, after all. But, as Kylie apparently realised long ago, good taste is the enemy of fun. George Michael has always been better at writing punchy stuff than he has ballads, but doesn’t seem to realise it. His voice is nice enough, but he’s not an interesting interpretive singer. He re-treads a couple of his own songs, which are no less over-emoted; Praying for Time is the same turgid, Lennon-lite yawnfest, while John and Elvis are Dead is as bad as its title would suggest. It’s forgettable, which is not the same thing as disposable.