The motto behind Kylie Minogue’s 16th studio album is simple: live for now. Rooted in the escapism of the dancefloor, at one level, it’s a straightforward record of disco highs and cinematic clinches – most prominent in ‘Padam Padam’, her TikTok-famous anthem about jumpstarting the pulse of your nightclub conquest. Alongside the headrushes come flickers of nostalgia, like ‘Things We Do For Love’ and ‘You Still Get Me High’, whose blissfully anachronistic ’80s synths seem to nod to her old dungaree-and-perm days.
Yet when this album isn’t cruising down memory lane, it unleashes a more bionic side. Just as ‘Padam Padam’ fantasises robotically about being fantasised about, ‘Tension’ features heavily distorted vocals, its icily-intoned appeals for intimacy (“touch-me-right-there”) sounding more like a computer barking commands than the communication of any flesh-and-blood romance. Kylie knows how to expertly inhabit the role of cyborg pop diva, with lyrics that sound Eurovision-ready, impersonal yet euphoric. That isn’t to suggest she fades into the background: it’s more that these anonymous-sounding slogans better serve the shared consciousness of the dancefloor. But you’ll find the odd idiosyncratic moment too, like her louche rap on ‘Hands’: “I’m that cherry on top of the cake, all up in ya face, I’m about to give you a taste.”
At 55 Kylie still seems ageless, unflagging, though Tension makes no pretence at immortality. The lyrics betray a desperation to linger in the present, pleading for late nights while admitting “we’re just a moment that’s written in the sand” (‘Vegas High’). There’s a sense of watching grains slip through an hourglass, a creeping dread of lights-up and the last gasp of the party, the realisation that pop is ephemeral even if you make it your life’s work. And there lies Tension’s message: get onto that dancefloor while you still have a pulse. With a Vegas residency looming, you’d hope this is exactly how the songs will be experienced, strobe lights maxed out, cold champagne flowing, accelerated heartbeats drowning out the tick of the clock. While the idea of surrendering all your inhibitions in the club seems almost quaint in our online world, a victory lap for Kylie could hardly take place anywhere else.
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