Album Insight: Kylie Minogue – Disco
By Andy Jones | January 17, 2024
Kylie’s ‘pandemic album’ turned out to be one of her most consistent as she returned from her sojourn to Nashville and launched into full-on outer space D.I.S.C.O mode
While 14th album Golden was Kylie’s holiday to Nashville, her next record, released in November 2020, would be a return to what Kylie does best: pop with a massive helping of disco.
At the time, you could have seen this recording as a more pragmatic project, a safer bet for her new record label BMG, than the somewhat underperforming – at least to the critics – Golden, but as ever, Kylie was never going to be ‘safe’ and Disco was capital letter DISCO, a hypersonic, space-time journey through disco music from the last 50 years, and the next 50 while we’re at it.
Enriched with some of the best songwriters from the past and future generations it would end up, even with a global pandemic – or maybe even because of it – as one of Kylie’s best and most consistent studio albums.
“It’s all cyclical, right?” Kylie told GQ in May 2020 of her disco comeback. “I loved it as an eight-year-old, so it’s been a long love affair. I’m loving the modern interpretations of the genre now. There’s a lot of early 2000s love around at the moment. Both feel like good times for me, so I’m channelling that into this record.”
And ‘good times’ were exactly what Kylie – and the rest of us – were searching for during this most pandemic of periods. “This time has been about trying to stay well, stay sane and appreciate the creative outlet I have with making this album,” Kylie decided.
For the new LP, Kylie used a very extended family of both new and old producers and songwriters, partly out of necessity as there were periods where she could not pair up with her ideal collaborators in person but would have to do so over Zoom.
She drafted in Sky Adams who had co-written and produced much of previous album Golden, plus other old friends like Richard ‘Biff’ Stannard, with whom she’d previously penned songs including Love At First Sight and Love Affair from Fever (2001) and Please Stay from Light Years (2000).
Biff himself was not enjoying the best of times, having endured a heart attack, but used his time with Kylie in the studio, during which they co-wrote and produced a number of songs including the album’s lead single Say Something, as help to get over it.
Something To Say
“It felt like such an achievement especially for her with everything going on,” he told the Music Business Worldwide podcast. “I’ve always written myself happy, to cheer myself up. Disco and my connection with Kylie and that fun we had in the studio is a reflection of how I reacted to the heart attack: enjoy life to the full. For this album we probably wrote seven or eight songs. Every now and then the stars align and you get a beauty.”
The song Say Something was exactly that, one of the first tracks written for Disco and recorded at his studio in Brighton over a pre-lockdown period in 2019. “We felt that this song has that ‘something’,” Kylie told the Polish radio station ZET the following year.
“Lots of songs are written, but not all of them [have that]. I liked it immediately and it ended up being the single announcing the new album. Now I look at this song differently – mainly because of the current [pandemic] situation – the first line of the song: ‘We’re a million miles apart in a thousand ways’.
So it’s a song about someone who can brighten up your world, and is inspired by the people I recorded this song with.” One of whom was Biff himself, the other being co-writer Jon Green, who Kylie had been working with since 2017.
Say Something would set an upbeat tone for the rest of the album, although the LP would lean more into the disco roots of the title than Say Something which Kylie admitted of its recording: “Back then, I didn’t have a specific idea for a disco album or a title like that. I just wanted to write. So Say Something wasn’t written with that vibe in mind and it’s not as disco as the rest of the album.”
On its release Kylie said of the song: “I’m glad that people can feel the song, listen to it and like it. It somehow touches their emotions. This is amazing, I’m so happy.”
Sky’s The Limit
Sky Adams oversaw much of the rest of Disco, with co-writing and production credits on six tracks. He’d been invited into the Kylie world for previous album Goldenafter producing a new arrangement for the lead single Dancing which Adams told Sound On Sound, the Kylie team loved: “They were like, ‘Oh, my God, this is amazing!’ When Kylie arrived in the studio the next day, she was very excited. So we did the two sessions, and we just kept going. She ended up staying a whole month, and we did 11 or 12 songs!”
Sky would end up working on Monday Blues, Supernova, Last Chance, Where Does the DJ Go?, Dance Floor Darling and Celebrate You for the Disco album and credits his more nurturing approach as one of the reasons he gets on with stars like Kylie in the studio.
Into The Groove
“I am a vibe guy, a people person,” Adams continued to Sound On Sound. “For me producing is not just about sitting in front of a computer making a beat, but it’s about what happens in the entire room. Sessions are about creating an atmosphere so I keep the vibe up in the studio.”
Not to mention Adams’ appealing speed of production. “In four to five hours I can get a track 90 percent finished, and after that it’s just a matter of small tweaks. I think for Kylie and her team it was about the entire package: the vibe and the speed at which I work, and also my approach to doing vocal recordings. Some people might spend a whole day getting down an idea for a song, and then they say, ‘Let’s finish tomorrow.’ But for me, it’s important to finish a song every day.”
There were newcomers helping out on Disco, too. Of the remaining tracks on the album, the Finnish duo of Nico Stadi and Teemu Brunila helped out with both songwriting and production on several, including second and third singles Magic and Real Groove.
Brunila has written for various artists including Sunrise Avenue (Lifesaver), David Guetta (I’ll Keep Loving You) and Deorro (Turn Back Time), and has four credits on Disco (Magic, Miss A Thing, Real Groove and bonus track Till You Love Somebody). Nico Stadi has composed and produced music for artists including Justin Bieber (Get Used To It and Children) and Jason Derulo (Talk Dirty).
By this time, though, the pandemic was in full swing and much of Kylie’s work on the album now meant she was confined to her London studio, during which she engineered her own vocals, all while new songs were written over Zoom, with Brunila in the Finnish city of Turku, Minogue in London and Stadi in Los Angeles.
Life During Lockdown
“Lockdown happened, and I had to figure out how to do everything remotely,” Kylie told Billboard. “I thought, ‘If 11-year-olds can do this in their bedroom, I can figure this out.’ It was very exciting to get the equipment, fire up my logical-rational brain and find the right place in the house to put it. I was dragging [around] duvets and blankets and clothes racks to make [my lounge] good for sound. I got really into it, and I’m annoyed with myself that it took this long for me to get a handle on it.”
Of the Zoom writing and recording sessions, Brunila and Stadi would tell Finland’s Sam magazine that they ultimately enjoyed the process. “You need self-confidence, good communication skills, openness and social skills,” they said, with Brunila noting, “in Zoom it is more difficult, but not impossible. Emotions and presence must be emphasised. And you have to remember to smile enough!”
Break From Reality
They believe that it gave the three of them an outlet at the time, “an escape from the raging situation outside”, and that it actually helped Brunila and Stadi with their future writing process, making them “pay less attention to the technology and more to the song itself”.
It wasn’t without hitch, though. Kylie said of the vocal to the song Miss A Thing in the liner notes on Apple Music: “I was trying to do this vocal and I was so exhausted and stressed, I couldn’t. I felt like I was failing him [Brunila] and me. I didn’t go to the full cry, but I came close. All this, and yet we’ve never met. I can’t wait to give him a hug when we finally can.”
Back To Her Best
Disco wasn’t without incident, then, being one of Kylie’s most dramatic and team-based recordings, but well worth the trauma, hitting the top of the album charts in the UK and Australia. It faired well with the critics, too, who cited it as one of her best albums in years and a perfect antidote to the uncertain times during which it was recorded.
Kylie said of the final results to Radio ZET: “I played the Donna Summer records that belonged to my dad over and over again. I also had the great pleasure of meeting Giorgio Moroder, who is like the godfather of disco. This music has always reminded me of the 70s the most, but the truth is, it’s present in almost every genre now. We didn’t want to make an album that would be like an album full of covers of the greatest disco hits, but we dreamed of something new and fresh. And it seems to have succeeded.”
Check out Kylie’s most pivotal songs here
KYLIE DISCO – THE SONGS
Second single Magic is a great intro to Disco, the ultimate mid-paced moodsetter to get the party started, to get the canapés and bubbly out and get everyone in the mood. It has a lovely sparse arrangement that nods back to 70s disco, although – as is so often the case on Disco – the song that sits atop of it is very 2020s as are the odd reverb-y production touches. A neat and perfect pace setter.
MISS A THING
The filtered intro is obvious – you can almost see the robot crash helmets of Daft Punk wandering in – but that doesn’t diminish from Miss A Thing’s party mood-retaining qualities. The Auto-Tune is a little overdone and not really needed with such a distinctive vocal, but we reckon this track could easily have been a single. It wasn’t – just a promo – but a video was made which Kylie described as a gift to her fans.
Third single and almost a sister track to Miss A Thing, with the shared writers of Brunila and Stadi being the link plus co-writing care of Alida Garpestad. This is one of Disco’slockdown tracks, co-written over Zoom and with Kylie recording the vocals at home, with the most takes of any vocal on the album. The vocoder effect takes you over to France again, although the funk feel and 70s vibe keeps it very much on brand. There’s also a Studio 2054 remix with Dua Lipa.
We recall the fourth tracks on LPs being among the weaker ones back at the height of vinyl and Monday Blues could be that filler track for Disco. It has enough to lift it (just) beyond being dire, but some clichéd lyrics about the weekend hold it back – as do the ‘days of the week’ ditties – and it’s one of the few tracks on Disco where you welcome the song’s brevity.
…is better though. One of the four (plus a couple of bonus) tracks where US songwriter Maegan Cottone gets a credit, there’s plenty of ‘futuristic’ vocoding here to match the ‘Jupiter and Mars lyrics’ and catchy chorus as the song romps through the solar system. We’re enjoying this Disco revisit much more than we thought we would, and we haven’t even hit its peak yet. Oh, here it is…
Capturing something of the emotion of All The Lovers and even a slice of Dancing, Say Something is easily a highlight of Disco – even Kylie’s career – maybe because it’s stepping away from the disco path for its three and a half glorious minutes. There’s possibly a touch of Dua Lipa’s Be The One or Lorde’s Green Light chorus in there somewhere, or maybe we should stop making so many comparisons and just enjoy it for what it is: the best song on Disco. Period.
We’re back in the Disco groove straight away with Last Chance, yet another banger that manages to combine the swirl of classic disco with modern pop writing. By this time we’re recalling what we always thought: that Disco is one of Kylie’s most solid and uncompromising albums. Would it have been better or worse without a worldwide pandemic getting in the way? Discuss…
I LOVE IT
Another Biff Stannard co-write with Duck Blackwell also credited, I Love It was also released as a promotion track – and part of five-track EP. It is another highlight of Disco, with strong elements throughout – and so many hooks you’re not quite certain where the chorus is. You do wonder how good the Biff cuts were that didn’t make the album.
WHERE DOES THE DJ GO?
With the almost-Nile-Rodgers guitar throughout, this has drawn more Daft Punk comparisons although we’d say that’s a little unfair – Where Does The DJ Go? is another floor-filler but a lot more than an album filler. On a weaker Kylie album, this could easily have made it out the door as a single release. Not here, though, but it still more than holds its own.
DANCE FLOOR DARLING
Many albums have an under-appreciated gem hidden near the end and here’s Disco’s – at least to start with. It’s another track that has 8 or 9 out of 10 written all over it and one that maintains the overall Disco quality of the LP, but slips up with a spoken word section and a tempo change. Still, we reckon Olly Murs could easily make a hit out of it.
Even though we’re barely more than half an hour in, we’re already on track 11 and finally both the pace and, if we’re honest, the quality drops. Unstoppable is one of the poorer tracks which is probably above average but feels rather less so because of what has proceeded it. We like the bass interlude though…
The 12th and final cut on the original album release (four further tracks appear on the Guest List Edition), Celebrate You is a nod to early Minogue with the most ‘Kylie’ chorus on the album with an almost classic vocal harmony. A fine send off for one of Kylie’s classic albums. Until the deluxe release, of course…
Take a deep dive into Kylie’s deep cuts
KYLIE DISCO – THE VIDEOS
Dir: Sophie Muller
The recent Padam Padam video was also directed by long-term Kylie collaborator Sophie Muller, on hand here to help elevate what is already the finest song on Disco to new heights. Many would have left the song to do the talking and held back on the video, but obviously not Muller – not exactly known for her restraint – so we get a large, golden horse and several Kylies cavorting through the universe. It’s the ultimate Kylie acid trip and Classic Pop has been watching it for about three days solid now.
Dir: Sophie Muller
It’s another Sophie Muller-directed video, and we’re straight on point with the Disco brand at an actual disco – aka Fabric nightclub in London. We’re thinking that maybe the budget was less here but Muller and Minogue do their very best with costume changes, hologram effects, and explosions to give it a much more expensive look. There’s also enough gold, glitter and neon lights to give it that whole ‘parallel universe version of the 1970s’ vibe that the album does so well. In other words, it’s perfect.
MISS A THING
Dir: Sophie Muller
The third official single from the album, Real Groove, had a video of sorts – a recording from the Infinite Disco live stream – but Miss A Thing gets a video proper, even though it doesn’t even attain ‘promo single’, let alone ‘full release’ status. Kylie described the video as a gift to fans for the second anniversary of Disco in 2022. It’s once again directed by Sophie Muller and while it might simply be Kylie singing the song and looking glam, it does serve as a reminder of how great this track actually is – and that maybe it deserved full release status as it had the video, anyway. Whatever, never look a free video gift horse in the mouth.
For all of Kylie’s videos head here
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