Will Young gained respect by not doing predictable covers and by forging his own path with the career solidifying single "Leave Right Now" and his second album, Friday’s Child. He gained creative control and freedom by stepping away from Simon Cowell’s dated approach.
After years of almost-great albums and some striking singles ("Leave Right Now," "Who Am I," "All Time Love," "You & I"), Young finally put out an album that justified his talent show survivor status with 2011’s Echoes. It was a classy mix of moody electro-pop ballads and heartfelt sophisti-pop upbeats. Teaming up with genius producer Richard X was a smart move, and it accentuated Young’s talents. After switching labels, Young returned four years later with the muddled 85% Proof — an album that felt like a backwards step, despite a few highlights and some great videos.
Young is back with Richard X and some of the songwriters he worked with in the past. Lexicon shares some similarities to what made Echoes so rewarding.
Recent single, "My Love," sets yhe tone with its funky wobbling bass-line, bubbling synths and infectious chorus. As before, he takes his cues from some of the greatest pop music, old and new. The spinning synths and balearic atmosphere on "Forever" is another strong single candidate. Young’s impressive falsetto on the chorus is joined by a delicious house-piano line.
The subtle funk on "Ground Running" is a nice shift, with its gritty guitar-line and bouncing rhythm. Young sounds cool and confident as he sings,“trying to drag me down, trouble gonna come my way, we can hit the ground running." "Freedom" is a standout thanks to Young’s lovelorn voice — it recalls Erasure at their most naked. The chopped up vocals and sliding keyboards in the chorus are an inspired bit of futuristic pop. The rolling piano-led rhythm on the gospel influenced "Faithless Love" blends with Young’s confessional lyrics — “I sold my soul when I took the wrong road home”.
Lexicon isn’t quite the revelation that Echoes was, nevertheless it’s a strong release from someone who has battled depression and anxiety to find musical passion again.
Kylie Minogue’s pop prowess is unquestionable. Back in 1987, few would have imagined the fresh-faced Neighbours star would embody the mass commercial appeal necessary to sustain a long-term career in a fickle music industry. Yet, 32 years and 14 studio albums later, Minogue is releasing a "definitive collection;" from the early SAW-drenched "I Should Be So Lucky" to the mature, country-inspired sound of more recent singles such as "Dancing," this was always going to be a gloriously joyful, if not slightly incoherent, anthology.
Step Back in Time is Minogue’s 13th compilation album and by far the most comprehensive with 42 tracks. It is testament to her enduring success that there are literally no fillers and no deluge of new singles, the only one being the excellent "New York City." This truly is a compendium of pop success – a "How To Ride The Unsteady Waves of Popular Music for Dummies" if you will.
Nothing symbolises Minogue’s ability to sustain and reinvent like opening number, "Can’t Get You out of My Head," the biggest selling single of her career. Released 14 years after "I Should Be So Lucky," the song continued the commercial revival that followed the wilderness years of the late 1990s, in which Minogue pursued a different, more indie-inspired sound to limited commercial success before reverting to type, complete with impossibly tight golden hot pants (we’re looking at you, "Spinning Around"). Ironically, it is precisely on tracks from the Impossible Princess era of 1997-8 that Kylie’s most intimate, reflective and critically-acclaimed work is found. It is, though, largely absent from Step Back in Time, the only exception being the outstanding "Breathe." This feels like a missed opportunity to demonstrate the Australian’s versatility; "Did It Again" sandwiched between "2 Hearts" and "Red Blooded Woman" now, that would have been pop precision with an edge.
Step Back in Time has something for everyone. This, combined with the sheer volume of Minogue’s 32-year repertoire inevitably makes any compilation album somewhat incongruous. It’s best not to overthink or overanalyse what is essentially a joyous retrospective of some expertly crafted pop creations.