Soul On Fire: Kylie Minogue’s “Body Language” Turns 10

Minogue Circa 2003

Minogue, Circa 2003

When does pop’s great gift for the accessorial become too much for even its most devoted follower?

Kylie Minogue courted both creativity and controversy when she adorned certain sonics for her ninth long player; she wore them in such a way that it felt too comfortable for some.

Body Language proved to be another artistic pivot point to rival Impossible Princess (1998). Hitting its 10 year milestone, Body Language remains as addictive, enigmatic and divisive as it was when first unfurled in 2003.

The History

Minogue was at her second-largest height in 2002. With Fever (2001), her eighth album, she had solidified her presence as the definitive pop princess. Success abounded all over the globe in the wake of Fever’s mighty singles: “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” “In Your Eyes,” “Love At First Sight” and “Come Into My World.”

Even America, who hadn’t glimpsed Minogue outside of her Stock-Aitken-Waterman days, fell under her sway for a swift spell. The commercial cold war of her more artistically grounded deConstruction period seemed to be a dim memory. Yet, under the surface, many didn’t realize that Minogue wasn’t happy to rest solely on the achievements of Light Years (2000) and Fever.

While those albums weren’t color-by-number affairs, Minogue was ready after their sales-strike to dabble expressively again. For inspiration for her ninth record, Minogue looked to an unlikely epoch. A premonition to her next sound-step could be heard in a clutch of cuts from the aforementioned Light Years and Fever (“Spinning Around,” “More, More, More”). Those jams hinted at a rhythmic sauce for the main course to be provided.

The Record

In 1987 Minogue arrived as the bright-eyed cherub of Stock-Aitken-Waterman’s Hi-NRG fantasia. At the same time, there were other popular music events occurring. In America and Britain, black and white music was (again) rubbing shoulders like it hadn’t since the late 1970’s. House, pop, R&B, freestyle and hip-hop were all jumping and jiving on the scene.

Whether it was Duran Duran catching the beat on Notorious (1986) or Lisa Lisa bringing New York street style uptown, from 1985 through 1988 these genres worked together in the mainstream and underground periphery of music. Minogue’s desire to resurrect this sound was daring and dangerous.

Minogue, being no fool, still needed to keep an identifiable presence in spite of her new transformation. Several familiars and a few new faces assisted in completing the project (Minogue logged writing credits on nine of the 14 album cuts): Sunnyroads (Dan Carey and Emilíana Torrini), Baby Ash (Ash Thomas and Alexis Strum), Richard Stannard, Karen Poole, Johnny Douglas, Cathy Dennis, Rez Safinia, Mark “Spike” Stent, Julian Gallagher, Mauries de Vries, Tommy D, Wayne Wilkins, Liz Winstanley, Felix Howard, Chris Braide and Gavyn Wright.

Minogue field & flower

Minogue with field & flower

Two particular notables included Green Gartside (born Paul Strohmeyer) and Kurtis Mantronik (born Kurtis el Khaleel). The former was the leader of Scritti Politti, one of England’s leading pop avant-garde futurists. The latter fronted the hip-hop production clique Mantronix who had a large hand in sculpting the hip-hop-dance genre.

While both acts existed successfully outside of an 1980’s context, they enjoyed their biggest burst of popularity during that decade, the time-field Minogue was summoning. They both appeared as songwriters, producers and in Gartside’s case featured as a guest on three of Language’s best moments: “Promises,” “Obsession” and “Someday” (with Gartside).

The above referenced songs dictated the overall arc of Body Language: vast, urban and luxurious. Or, as Minogue put it “It’s my usual sound, but with curved edges.” Minogue was partially correct. In past situations, decent-sized portions of R&B had factored into Let’s Get To It (1991) and notably Kylie Minogue (1994). This time was different, Minogue had never sustained a progressive urban sound over an entire long player with such evocative results before. Opening with the fine synth threads of “Slow,” Minogue laid bare one of her sexiest vocal performances; it gave Body Language a “can’t put my finger on it” coruscating contemporary context.

On the snap, crackle, pop (!) of “Still Standing,” Minogue led the confident drum-pop production trickery with a coy coo of “Do you wanna hear me sing pop? ‘Cos I don’t think I wanna stop! Don’t you love it when my beats drop? Guess who’s back on top?”

Minogue landed her heaviest, layered beats to date on “Secret (Take You Home)” and “Sweet Music.” “Secret” sampled the already discussed Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam classic “I Wonder If I Take You Home”; “Sweet Music” was laden with references to musical jargon and an announcement of “Boys and girls, it’s a different type of sound!”  The urban settings, either electronic (“Promises”) or acoustic (“After Dark”), felt the fantasy of her newest musical makeover. “Red Blooded Woman” wore a back alley sassiness that wouldn’t have been uncomfortable on any U.S. playlist with its charged-up knocks and cadenced vocal flow.  The tropical summer-storm-madness of “I Feel For You” acted as the odd, hypnotic linchpin of Body Language.

Minogue Rides the Urban-Pop Storm

Minogue Rides the Urban-Pop Storm

The downtempos, her best since Kylie Minogue, did not lack persuasive power. Songs like the analogical “Chocolate” or the orchestral density of “Loving Days” showcased Minogue’s voice in a much higher, abstract way to match the atmospheric backdrops of the songs.

The sessions also produced a vast wealth of leftover material for Minogue unmatched, until X (2007). Much of it was distributed as additional tracks to the album (depending on territory) or as b-sides. “Slo Motion,” another welcome entry to Language’s ballads, showed up on the British and Australian pressings.

America received the hands-on-hips ‘tude of “Cruise Control” and the dusk-time sensuality of “You Make Me Feel.” “Soul On Fire” (b-side to “Slow”), “Almost a Lover” (b-side to “Red Blooded Woman”) and the former working title of the album, “City Games” (b-side to “Chocolate”) staged even tastier alternative pop grooves.

The Impact

The promotion for Body Language began with a bang when its first single “Slow” dropped on 11/3/03. The minimalist dynamo became a hit in Minogue’s two largest arenas: U.K. (# 1), AU (#1). Internationally, through the length of its run, it charted respectfully: Canada (#6), Germany (#8), Spain (#1), U.S. Hot Dance Club Play (#1) to spotlight some.

On the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 the song sadly stalled (#91); France also had a disappointing showing (#45).  Minogue pushed on by unveiling Body Language live in a spectacular one-off show entitled Money Can’t Buy. The concert, invitation-only to the British music press and contest winning fans, was put on at London’s Hammersmith Apollo on 11/15/03; the concert took place prior to the 11/17/03 album release date. The show, while cut with a small slew of established Minogue hits, was a fantastic, intimate display of the album’s sides.

"Slow" Single Cover

“Slow” Single Cover

Despite the buzz, the album’s arrival was met with resistance commercially and critically. The charts showed fair placements for Body Language: U.K. (#6), ARIA (#2), Switzerland (#8), Spain (#18), Ireland (#19), Austria (#23), France (#31), U.S.A (#42). The latter statistic for the United States, who didn’t acquire Body Language until 2/10/04, wasn’t totally surprising. America was known for their fickleness with international acts; Kylie Minogue’s commercial penetration of 2002 dimmed quickly in the year she was away. Body Language placing just outside the U.K. Top 5 did shock; Minogue had dominated there since her commercial resurgence in 2000. The mixed greeting seemed to be more about the shift Minogue made in her music versus the market tiring of her.

The critics divided between praise and what bordered on an almost softcore-musical-racist-about-face to Minogue’s R&B-pop remodel.

The veiled contempt of her commercial Top 40 crowd was expressed by music biographer Simon Sheridan in his book The Complete Kylie (2008):

Kylie’s ninth studio album deliberately veers away from the techno-glitterball Euro-excesses of her last two and into the low-lit R&B lounge of American hip-hop beats and 1980’s electro-funk.  At times it seems that Body Language is less about delivering a collection of distinctive pop tunes and more about creating long swathes of homogenous sounds. Anybody expecting the instant hit of Fever is going to come away disappointed.

Sheridan’s point was expounded upon PopMatters writer Adrian Begrand:

Listening to the more laid-back Body Language, you can’t help but think of how buoyant, warm, and upbeat Fever is, and wishing the new album would have something as undeniably catchy as “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”, as euphoric as “Love at First Sight”, as welcoming as “Come Into My World.” Minogue’s foray into early ‘80s electro works well at times, but compared to the perfection of her previous album, it’s ultimately a mild disappointment, leaving you cold.

On the other end of the spectrum, many celebrated that Minogue wasn’t ready to dish Fever redux. Chris True of All Music Guide opined:

It’s stylish without being smarmy, retro without being ironic and its energy never gets annoying. In other words: a near perfect pop record. Instead of opting for more of the light dance and disco-pop of the last two releases, Kylie has sought to expand her horizons. Simply, Body Language is what happens when a dance-pop diva takes the high road and focuses on what’s important instead of trying to shock herself into continued relevance.

Eric Seeguy of Stylus Magazine remarked:

Kylie has again superceded her American counterparts with an album of fashionable thrills, dance-pop artisanship and total, utter hotness. “Still Standing” wields its gurgling keyboard hook like a leather whip, keeping the listeners less pure intentions at bay. The songs celebratory vocals “I’m still standing, still dancing, yeah! You know you want it!”–is at once an indictment of the critics who thought Kylie would have long since faded into pop obscurity, and a celebration of her irrepressible nature. With Body Language, Kylie makes like an antibiotic and invades the Mainstream—curing the myriad pop maladies we suffer aurally every day, and leaving a trail of dead in her wake.

As 2003 turned to 2004, Minogue led with two more singles from Body Language: “Red Blooded Woman” (3/4/04) and “Chocolate” (6/28/04). Drawing attention, again, to Minogue’s British and Australian musical spheres both singles charted well there: “Woman” (U.K. #5, AU #4), “Chocolate” (U.K. #6, AU #14). The final British commercial verdict for Body Language was platinum courtesy of the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) for over 300,000 copies moved. Australia, Minogue’s home, proved their affection with Body Language hitting platinum twice over, gold certifications were gained in Austria, Switzerland and other international locales.

Shot from the "Chocolate" music video

Shot from the “Chocolate” music video

The split that happened with critics and fans (diehard and casual), stemmed from the nature and use of black music in the oft-times white landscapes of pop music. For some, it was enough to keep black music in a specific box to be used as an adjunct to bolster pop when needed.

It was another thing entirely to entertain the idea to actually base an album totally within a black music mold. For those seeking refuge from elements of “American music” (i.e.-R&B, hip-hop), efforts like Body Language were frustrating and baffling. Minogue’s commercial pop fans gave into their phobias by giving a cold shoulder to Body Language.

On the other hand, the fans of black music viewed Minogue as an interloper who dressed in black music affectations when it suited her. So they too didn’t take to the album. It left the record without a home to call its own; the ears that could appreciate it understood the experimental precipice of pop and the constant of R&B weren’t mutually exclusive. Minogue, on some level, was aware of all the musical politics and tried anyway; Body Language reconnected Minogue back to the portion of her base that loved her deConstruction period and its experimental freedom.

“Chocolate”

Directed By: Dawn Shadforth

Minogue miraculously didn’t apologize for her detour, directly anyway. The musical follow-up to Body Language came in the form of “I Believe In You,” the first single from Minogue’s second official best-of collection Ultimate Kylie (2004). “I Believe In You” was a traditional European sugar-star that met with a warmer welcome than the slick Body Language. Yet, Body Language’s legacy continued to resonate throughout Kylie Minogue’s musical map. Cuts such as “B.P.M.” (ironically the flipside to “I Believe In You”), “I’m Just Here For the Music” and “Boombox” recorded and (initially) discarded from the album found life.

Dance-pop icon Paula Abdul, one of the co-writers behind Minogue’s “Spinning Around,” recorded anemic versions of “I’m Just Here For the Music” and “Boombox”; the latter was unreleased. Minogue (thankfully) took “Boombox” back into her arms and used it in a slamming mash-up with her hit “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” for her KylieX2008 and For You, For Me tours. Later, the “L.A. Riots” edit of “Boombox” featured on a remix collection of her Parlophone label singles. It even became the title of that anthology.

Body Language remains a lightning rod for conversation in Minogue’s discography, its sharp and silken contents equally beloved and loathed. If approached with open ears and mind, Body Language reveals itself to be one of Minogue’s stellar sets of material.  Ranking: Classic

[Editor’s Note: Body Language, in both U.S. and British editions, is readily in print physically and digitally. See link above in essay in reference to DVD purchase of the “Money Can’t Buy” special. For current information on Kylie Minogue, visit her official site.-QH]

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Soul On Fire: Kylie Minogue’s “Body Language” Turns 10

  1. Louis M.

    Favourite and underrated Kylie album, nice analysis.

  2. Fantastic write up. Body Language is a great album once you warm up to it. Its reception seems to improve with age.

  3. Pingback: The QH Blend’s Class of 2003 | theqhblend

  4. Best write-up & review of the album that I’ve ever read. Wow!! This has always been my favorite Kylie album, & I do think it is underrated, but no review could quite cover why. Your site is great. Looking forward to the Damita Jo qh treatment! (another great)

  5. Pingback: Kylie Minogue Sleeps With the (Mainstream Pop) Enemy on “Kiss Me Once” LP | theqhblend

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