I wish it were more of a statement to say this album is a return to form, but it's more an underlining of what a strange fluke Kiss Me Once was. This isn't to speak of the quality of Golden, but the essence of a Kylie album is the costume she puts on to play dress up. The difference between Golden and Kiss Me Once is that, where the latter was entirely lacking in anything resembling a concept, the former perhaps overcompensates as a result. I'm not trying to suggest that subtelty has ever been Kylie's strong suit, but her concepts usually come with a knowing wink; an acknowledgement that the costume is on, but it fits and Kylie looks good in it. In other words, it's a Kylie album first and a futurist disco--or a lavish beach party, Grecian rave, Brigette Bardot drag performance, etc.--second. In the case of Golden, Kylie gets it backwards. It's a big gay hoedown first and Kylie sometimes gets lost in her overalls, so there are moments where the album suffers from her getting swallowed by her own concept. I think the crucial distinction between this and other albums of the same vein (Joanne, Rainbow, Younger Now, we know where this is going, this conversation has happened too many times already) is that where other artists have a better understanding of the style they're trying to emulate, and thus bring a wider range of diversity and understanding to the sound, Golden doesn't demonstrate the same mastery of Americana, so Kylie Parton becomes a one-trick-pony rather quickly. By the time A Lifetime To Repair (A lyrical highlight) reaches its chorus, the feeling that you've heard this song before becomes inescapable, as it's the third variation of the same theme, yet you're only on track 4. (To counter that, something like Impossible Princess, an album indebted to mid-90's underground electronic music, found a number of distinct ways to interpret a genre where no two tracks are at risk of sounding too samey.)
This is frustrating, because the songwriting is some of the best Kylie has had in some time. Repair has a wonderful melody in the chorus, and where a younger act would fail to deliver the urgent mortality of the track's concept, Kylie's emphasizing that she can't live through another failed romance doesn't read as exaggeration or melodrama in any sense. It reads as matter-of-fact honesty on an album that has death breathing down its neck. One Last Kiss, too, has an earworm of a chorus, and it's a bit disappointing that moments that ought to be album highlights get lost in album production that turns most tracks into more of the same.
It's commendable how apparent the effort to craft her most personal album since Impossible Princess is, but as anyone who has kept up with her (Or worse, trudged through the entirety of White Diamond) can attest, her personal life just isn't that interesting. And that's fine! Despite the social mediafication and larger-than-life-but-also-expected-to-be-perceived-as-incredibly-intimate personifications we've grown to expect from pop stars today, there's nothing wrong with pop songs that exist to be simply pop songs and not personal manifestos, as evidenced by Kylie's only spiritual successor, one Carly Rae Jepsen. So it's disheartening to reach something like Sincerely Yours, a heavy-handed number that wants you to know it's a personal track, but has little more to say than that Kylie Minogue is a pop star who has fans she appreciates, and sometimes being a pop star is hard work. But we don't learn much more outside of that, other than it will obviously close the accompanying tour.
If you think I'm coming down too hard on the album, I'm not, and you probably consider Let's Get To It to be a good album, so let's not argue here because we already know what we need to know about your opinion. Kylie's set a very high bar for herself, and there are moments on this album where she lives up to those standards, which is what makes the moments where she doesn't so frustrating, as Golden clearly isn't the case of another legacy act trying to pay rent. Shelby '68 is, irrefutably, the one here. It's a quintessential Kylie moment that has her shining through with the album concept being immediately present without overpowering. It may not be the most personal track, but the best Kylie songs usually aren't. Kylie's work, at it's peak, is most evocative of a fashion spread--a clear and deliberate concept to evoke a very particular mood and imagery, where narrative takes a more secondary role to direction. Vintage glamour never fails to payoff for Kylie, and this evocation of hot rods works for both the Kylie essence and the style of Americana she aspires to. This is where the glittered cowboy boots fit perfectly. The twang is undeniable, but at it's core, it's a song that Kylie, and only Kylie, could pull off. Her signature sex kitten coos here are also where her voice works best, and it's a shame what a rarity it is on this album. I cherish this woman, but she literally doesn't have the range for some of the bigger numbers. (Her delivery on tracks like the aforementioned Sincerely Yours is, in a word... Brave.) Shelby '68 is a song performed by a pop star who has been turning it out for three decades and knows exactly what she excels at, so it's unfortunate to see more energy directed towards hollow non-events like Stop Me From Falling (which, if we're being totally frank, simply doesn't feature anything remarkable whatsoever). As I've said before, it's a fine album, and the actual songwriting here is some of the best we've seen on a Kylie album in some time. It leaves reason to be hopeful for the next album, where Kiss Me Once left a cynical feeling that she might have been over it entirely. Hopefully the production concept suits her a bit better the next go around.