Album Insight: Kylie Minogue – Golden
By Steve O'Brien | January 3, 2024
We’d had IndieKylie, SexKylie, CuteKylie and DanceKylie… Well, in 2018 it was the turn of CountryKylie, as the Princess of Pop embraced the sounds of Nashville – and soundtracked a break-up.
“Kylie goes country” was the go-to headline when Golden dropped in the spring of 2018. Kylie had been many things in her career, but hadn’t before incorporated the sounds of Nashville into her repertoire. “I always like to do something a little different, but the country suggestion came from my A&R guy,” Kylie explained to Entertainment Weekly. “We managed to find this country inspiration but bring it back into my world.”
Not that the album is wholly cowboys and line dancing. Kylie’s experimentations in that genre only account for a clutch of songs on the record with the rest standard Kylie dance-pop fare. But still, the country tracks coloured the impression that audiences had of Golden, especially when Kylie described the album as “Dolly Parton standing on a dancefloor”.
The record was the first since 1997’s Impossible Princess in which Kylie had written or co-written every song and it feels a much more personal, heartfelt album because of it. And Kylie wasn’t shy of acknowledging the impact the end of her relationship with actor Joshua Sasse had on the record, with such solemn song titles as Stop Me From Falling, A Lifetime To Repair and One Last Kiss adding to the sense that this was very much a break-up album.
“The end of 2016 was not a good time for me,” she told The Sun. “So when I started working on the album in 2017 it was, in many ways, a great escape. I was quite fragile when I started work on it but being able to express myself in the studio made quick work of regaining my sense of self – writing about various aspects of my life, the highs and lows, with a real sense of knowing and of truth. And irony. And joy. If there’s one love that will always be there for you, it’s music.”
At the time of Golden’s release, it had been four years since her last record proper (fans waiting for an album of new material having been placated with the covers-heavy Kylie Christmas set in 2015). Not that she’d been laying low, having guested on tracks by Giorgio Moroder (Right Here, Right Now, btw not a cover of her own Let’s Get To It song) and Fernando Garibay (an EP titled Kylie + Garibay).
As was usual by 2018, Kylie worked on her 14th studio album with a gaggle of writers and producers, including Ed Sheeran associate Amy Wadge, Sky Adams (HRVY) and DJ Fresh, plus old-time collaborators Richard ‘Biff’ Stannard, The Invisible Men and Karen Poole.
However it was newbie Nathan Chapman who helped refine the album’s dominant sound. As a longtime producer for Taylor Swift (having co-helmed her albums Taylor Swift, Fearless, Speak Now, Red and 1989) he was at the vanguard of what country-pop was in 2018. And it’s Chapman’s fingerprints all over the record’s lead single, Dancing, the first sign fans had of what to expect from Kylie’s 14th.
Not that the album had always been intended to have that country twist. Kylie had originally envisioned the record to have more of a dance vibe, and had planned for her Sigala collaboration, What You Waiting For, to be the album’s first single. But when Golden started to take on a Nashville twang, that song was excised from the album (it eventually ended up on Sigala’s debut LP, Brighter Days, released in September 2018).
With Kylie credited as co-writer on all 12 songs, there’s definitely a more confessional feel to Golden, more of a sense that Kylie was opening up than any previous album. Asked by Billboard whether the songs were a conscious decision to lay herself bare, she replied: “Yeah definitely. It’s probably going to take me a few more years to be able to talk succinctly about that time. You need a bit of distance to clearly say what happened. But already I can see it was an incredible turning point in my life. Yes, it was linked to a break-up, but for me it was more than that. That was more a result of choices. Anyway, to cut a long story short and not get too deep into it, I was not broken-hearted but a bit broken. And it takes that sometimes to have a good hard look at yourself and where you fit into the world and where you want to go and what changes you want to make. And that’s exactly the time I went into the studio.”
Golden was released on 6 April 2018, via the singer’s new label, BMG. Its cover, featuring a golden-hued photo of Kylie sitting on a fancy sofa, was taken by Simon Emmett (note the sequined guitar sitting next to her, a subtle indication that this album wasn’t to be the club-styled Kylie we all knew), while the creative direction and design for Golden was developed by Australian art director and graphic designer Leif Podhajsky.
Promotion for the album was immense. If you switched on your TV, opened up a newspaper or clicked on any entertainment website at the time, there was Kylie Minogue. She made appearances on such programmes as Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway (performing Dancing), The Graham Norton Show, Lorraine, The One Show, Good Morning Britain, The X Factor, The Jonathan Ross Show, BBC Breakfast and more… and that’s just the UK. She even performed at the Queen’s Official Birthday at the Royal Albert Hall, singing the track Stop Me From Falling.
Golden debuted at No.1 in the UK, her first studio album to top the British charts since Aphrodite in 2010 (and her sixth No.1 album). Critical reaction was largely positive, with most writers noting that Kylie had managed to pull off this late-career genre switch. “More often than not there’s real heart here,” commented the NME, “and it’s often in the quieter moments that the music really shines.”
“As an artistic statement,” said AllMusic, “it’s pretty darn bold, though, and proves that she’s still game for just about anything and able to make whatever she does sound exactly like herself.”
The Atlantic’s Spencer Kornhaber was cautiously impressed: “Golden is dusted with fingerpicked guitars and double-time hoedown refrains and liberal use of the word whoop. But its version of rural Americana is knowingly filtered and fetishised from afar, much like a spaghetti Western, that genre of Italian-made cowboy flicks of which The Good, The Bad And The Ugly is sheriff.”
However, not all publications were wholly convinced by Kylie’s wade in country waters, with The Guardian’s Laura Snapes opining: “While aesthetic shifts have been crucial to her career, Golden feels like the first time the window dressing is a distraction from a flawed yet deeply admirable album.”
The Daily Telegraph admitted that while Kylie was unlikely to “win any poetry prizes” with her songs (ouch), she did manage to “rise to the challenge of country music’s tradition of confessional lyrics.”
“These songs do feel like an authentic snapshot of a woman coping bravely with repeated heartbreak and choosing a joyful life,” they wrote, before quoting the lyrics to Dancing: “And when the final curtain falls/ We can say we did it all.” In pop terms at least, Kylie has done more than anyone would have ever thought possible.”
Golden shot straight to No.1 in the UK, while also topping the album chart in her native Australia and going Top 10 in Germany, Belgium, Austria and Spain. But if the record’s country slant was an attempt to break the American market, it didn’t work. Golden peaked at No.64 on the Billboard – better than Kylie Christmas (No.184), but well behind her Stateside best (2001’s Fever, US No.3).
Kylie embarked on two tours in 2018. Kylie Presents Golden consisted of five shows in Europe and one in North America between 13 March and 25 June, before she set off on the more elaborate Golden Tour from 18 September. The concerts were divided into seven sections: Desert Sunrise, The High & Dry, Nothing Behind Me, Everything Ahead of Me, The Lovers United, At The Picnic After The Biker Rally, New York City and an encore, The Nashville Rider.
The show earned Kylie glowing reviews. “[It] skips along at a cracking pace, interrupted only by costume changes,” cooed The Guardian. “The last but one outfit is a sparkly gold dress, perfect for the Studio 54 disco section of the show as she pumps out New York City and The Loco-Motion under a rainstorm of glitter.”
Gay Times, meanwhile, was similarly in thrall: “Perhaps what makes Golden such a success is the understated nature of Kylie. She’s still got the charm, personality and talent to thrill but instead had chosen an almost calmer, more reserved and mature version of her work and self to present. She’s not forcing a Kylie that once came before, nor is she half committing to the fact she’s aged with her fans gracefully. This is authentic Kylie for 2018.”
Despite being on the cusp of turning 50, Golden showed Kylie as an artist still eager to experiment. It doesn’t all work, but in 2018, no one was suggesting that Kylie Minogue was playing it safe.
A delicious country/electropop crossover, this was released as the first single off Golden and won Kylie rapturous reviews (Entertainment Weekly raved that it was a “welcome return to form for the singer-songwriter”), even if it didn’t scale the chart heights that it deserved to (it barely broke the Top 40 in the UK).
Stop Me From Falling
Single number two and more pop than country, though many critics at the time of its release pointed to its similarities to Dancing. It’s a less polished tune, however, and performed even worse than its predecessor, peaking at No.52 in Britain, despite significant airplay.
After the two previous country-accented singles, Golden was more traditional Kylie electro-pop fare, reassuring to more conservative fans who may not have liked her venturing into Taylor Swift/Kacey Musgraves territory. Yet while it sounds like vintage Kylie, it’s actually the track on the album that addresses her age (she would turn 50 in 2018). As she told EW: “Doing promo for my last album, I was often asked, ‘How does it feel to be a woman your age in this industry?’ and I was just over it. For my own satisfaction, I wanted to be able to say that we just are who we are at any point in time.”
A Lifetime To Repair
Penned by Kylie, Sky Adams, Danny Shah and Kiris Houston, the album version of this track is backed by acoustic guitar, piano and banjo. The song was rejigged for single release, however, with a tougher bass and more fiddle. She told Billboard: “[The song] is a snapshot of me throwing my hands up in the air and going, ‘Well I don’t know what now!’ And by the way, whoever does know?”
Written by Kylie, together with Amy Wadge and Jesse Frasure (who also produced), this ballad was referred to on Twitter as a “love letter” to her fans: “This isn’t goodbye,” sings Kylie, “I just need a little time to hide/ We’re forever you and I/ And you know it.” The song was issued as a single in Australia and New Zealand only.
One Last Kiss
One of the album’s least satisfying numbers. It’s a decent enough tune and has a hummable chorus, but it’s scuppered by a production that makes it seem more Shania Twain when it needs to be more Carrie Underwood.
Live A Little
This is a classic Kylie pop track with the lightest of country touches, again exploring the expectations of age, while still wanting to have fun. “Last night was a fight,” she sings. “Couldn’t get things out of my mind/ Though it felt like I was in the ring/ Slept by candlelight.”
Possibly the most Swiftian track off the album, Shelby ‘68 has many autobiographical touches that long-time fans lapped up (lyrically, it refers to Kylie’s dad’s Ford Mustang and the year of her birth, while also featuring audio of the vehicle, recorded by her brother Brendan). “With songs like Shelby ’68,” she told Entertainment Weekly, “They are vignettes of a story, but it’s believable – I could be the girl in that story. That was a really conscious decision.”
One of the album’s highlights, this track is a stripped back affair, with only Kylie’s voice, plus a fingerpicked acoustic guitar and violin on the recording. “I really need a love song that I believe,” Kylie sings, with The Guardian calling the track “a lovely ballad about the salvation a good pop song can offer.”
The simply titled Love explores the effects of falling in and out of love, referring to break-ups with the lyric, “lying in your lover’s T-shirt”. “Taking a walk on the wild side,” she goes on, “Love is a disco ball/ Shining on us all.”
This one boasts a lilting acoustic guitar, thick house beats, endearing ‘whoops’, and a gloriously overblown chorus to create one of the best tracks off the album. Listening to it, one can’t help but think that it would have made a more commercially successful single than either Dancing or Stop Me From Falling.
Music’s Too Sad Without You
A gorgeous windswept ballad that sees Kylie duetting with British singer Jack Savoretti. Released as the album’s fifth single, it was written by Kylie, Savoretti and its producer Samuel Dixon. Crazily, it didn’t even chart in the UK.
Dir: Sophie Muller
Directed by Sophie Muller (the genius behind Shakespears Sister’s Stay as well as No Doubt’s Don’t Speak), this video lays the country influences on thick. Kylie features sporting cowboy boots and a sequined jumpsuit amid a gaggle of cowboy-hat-wearing male line dancers, all of which serves to scream, “I’m country now!”
Stop Me From Falling
Dir: Colin Solal Cardo
This video premiered as an Apple Music exclusive, and was made available on 30 March 2018. It’s the kind of unimaginative performance promo the record company usually puts out for the album’s fifth or sixth single, when money’s running dry and fewer people are taking notice. A remix of the track, featuring Cuban musical duo Gente De Zona, spawned a second video, directed by Sophie Muller.
Dir: Sophie Muller
Filmed in Havana at the same time that the video for the Gente De Zona remix of Stop Me From Falling was lensed, this clip alternates between shots of Kylie in the studio, enjoying herself on the beach and cavorting on what appears to be a hotel bed.
A Lifetime To Repair
Golden’s third single didn’t get a specially shot promo, with BMG instead putting out a lyric video. That said, it’s more than your standard lyric clip, with imagery revolving around the idea of a scrapbook, with the song’s words spelled out in a range of different fonts.
Music’s Too Sad
Dir: Joe Connor
Filmed in Venice’s Teatro La Fenice opera house, this oozes class and sophistication. Like so many other Kylie duet videos, the two singers never appear together, with Kylie lensed in a variety of different locations in the opera house and Jack Savoretti filmed in what seems to be an empty recording studio.
Read more: Top 40 Kylie Minogue songs
Steve O'BrienSteve O’Brien is a writer who specialises in music, film and TV. He has written for magazines and websites such as SFX, The Guardian, Radio Times, Esquire, The New Statesman, Digital Spy, Empire, Yours Retro, The New Statesman and MusicRadar. He’s written books about Doctor Who and Buffy The Vampire Slayer and has even featured on a BBC4 documentary about Bergerac. Apart from his work on Classic Pop, he also edits CP’s sister magazine, Vintage Rock Presents.