This week saw the release of new albums by two giants of contemporary popular music. First came Kylie’s ‘Aphrodite’, her eleventh studio album, released on a wave of internet publicity that crashed her website the day it was announced, eleven weeks ahead. Five days later came Prince’s ‘20Ten’, something like his 36th album according to Wikipedia, sneaking out of left-field as a giveaway with The Daily Mirror.
Kylie is not one of those artists, like Bowie or Madonna, who reinvent themselves at each stage of their career. She’s a magnet for creative artists who surround and envelope her with their visual and musical creations and make her their conduit, and though she claims and appears to have a certain amount of creative input, underneath it all she really is just Kylie. Similarly, Prince has never relied on the gimmick of reinvention. He has always been just Prince. He, however, is his own creative force. Yes, just him. He can attract a talented entourage too, but at the centre of he is in total artistic control.
Prince’s work is his life and his life is his work. Kylie’s work is her life but you sense there’s another life that she’s still waiting to start. It could be a child or success in America or any of the other titbits the papers feed us. Prince seems to have avoided these tabloid caricatures because his life is seen as inseparable from his music, and because he has kept his private life private.
‘Aphrodite’ was touted as Kylie getting back to her dance music roots. Those with longer memories than hers will recall her ‘dance roots’ going back to a dreadful cover of Little Eva’s ‘Locomotion’. Thankfully, no such lapse in taste here. ‘Aphrodite’ is Kylie’s most homogeneous album to date, wall-to-wall dance music, polished by a host of collaborators such as Stuart Price, Cutfather, Swedish House Mafia and Scissor Sisters. The beats and tempos vary, there are some catchy hooks, and a chocolate fountain of expensive keyboard sounds splashes over it all. It’s a departure from the eclectic musical choices of previous albums, but I still don’t understand the ‘roots’ thing. The album is a grower and you want to hear it from start to finish, so the inevitable ‘hits’ singled out for radio may wilt a little in isolation from the whole. I’ll probably listen to it every day for about a month then return to something else.
‘20Ten’ has no such specious roots to claim. Prince’s music has developed with such assurance and consistency of quality that it negates the concept of development, grazing back and forth over its own extensive back catalogue and feeding off and constantly re-conceiving itself. The styles on ‘20Ten’ range from sweet soul to funk to cheesy rock parody, a mix of genres and scenarios, and apart from a horn section and a couple of backing singers, every sound on it was made by Prince. It’s not a departure from anything because Prince has never been anything but Prince. You keep thinking, ‘Oh, this one sounds like...’ but then the new song takes on an individuality and charm of its own. I don’t like all Prince’s songs equally, and it’ll be one of those albums where the same three tracks get picked out every time I put it on.
In time, I’ll go back to both of them. Whether Kylie’s will stand the test of time, I don’t know. Plenty of dance music from the nineties still sounds fresh when pumped out at the right wattage. Will Prince’s stand the time test? Well, you know what? I don’t think he gives a damn what critics think.
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