Kylie Minogue is a living legend, but more importantly she’s of this moment.
The term “living legend” is an oxymoron considering that legends are never around to confirm their own existence. Depending on the level of fame or influence, one’s stories and experiences could certainly be legendary, but during one’s lifetime, you’re corporeal and therefore confirmable. As benign as it sounds to declare someone a “living legend,” it implies they’ve outlived their impact; no matter your current achievements, it is only your past ones that matter.
Organizers at Glastonbury hardly intended to imply such a thing about Kylie Minogue when they selected the Australian pop star to fill their Legend slot, one previously occupied by Dolly Parton, Shirley Bassey and ELO. Minogue certainly deserves the acclaim and recognition that comes with the slot, but let us call her what she really is: a living icon, one cemented by her fourth greatest hits compilation, Step Back in Time: The Definitive Collection.
My own exposure to Minogue started with “The Loco-Motion,” a standard for bowling alley birthday parties in my childhood. Later in life as my passion for music took stronger hold, I discovered she sang another song that I knew but could never place: the seminal “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.” In this case, I largely blame the American public for its fleeting interest in her music because both are great songs and the public does a poor job of celebrating them.
Naturally, both hits appear on Step Back…, divided into the album’s respective sections (post-2000s hits on the first half, pre-2000s hits on the latter half). It consists entirely of singles spanning over 30 years of a career and one Golden outtake, “New York City.” First and foremost, this compilation moves at a brisk pace guaranteed to light the fuse of any dance party. The few downtempo songs included here provide proof of Minogue’s versatility, another testament to her enduring appeal.
As it flies past you, Step Back… offers glimpses into Minogue’s fascinating approach towards pop music over the course of her career. Across the first half, you encounter smooth house production in the vein of MJ Cole (“In Your Eyes”) followed by symphonic moments (“Your Disco Needs You”), alt-rock boastfulness (“Ride”) and tastes of trip-hop (“Breathe”). Digging into the credits, you see names ranging from Paula Abdul to Calvin Harris, whom she collaborated with years before he became a celebrity DJ and Armani model. The twang-tinted inclusions from 2018’s Golden, “Dancing” and “Stop Me from Falling,” sound right at home against decades-old classics. More importantly, they sound authentically like Kylie Minogue.
The title track cleverly signifies the real throwback section, which takes you through Minogue’s more straightforward and largely disco-centered material. Much like the first section, the latter half of Step Back… prefers things upbeat, though its slower moments present some of her most unique performances. The doo-wop, 6/8 rhythm of “Tears on My Pillow” lets her stretch her chops with a little more relaxed inflection, while murder ballad “Where the Wild Roses Grow” ensures the album ends on a cinematic but unexpected note.
Ultimately, between the balladry is where you find Minogue at her finest. “Je ne sais pas pourquoi,” “Better the Devil You Know” and “I Should Be So Lucky” thrust you back into early Kylie, and they’ve aged well enough that you let it happen. That said, even her early tracks hint at trends and sounds to come in her own music as well as the industry as a whole. Take out the disco strings in “Got to Be Certain” and you could much more easily imagine it being played at an indie dance party a la Dance Yourself Clean.
At any given time, someone somewhere is playing Kylie Minogue, whether it’s a DJ in a nightclub or a teenager discovering the “Slow” video in their YouTube suggestions. Step Back in Time stands as a strong reminder of not just how prolific her career has been but also how much more of it we can expect. Even up to last year she continued to show her savvy on Golden, a country-leaning album recorded before “Old Town Road”’s massive success or Kacey Musgraves’ Album of the Year win.
In some sense, Kylie Minogue is a living legend, but more importantly she’s of this moment. If you want to offer your due respect, appreciate her now so she may bring even further delight to dancefloors everywhere.