Kylie Minogue: Kiss Me Once review – 'Glossy and depthless'

Her voice isn't the strongest, the lyrics are woeful and filler abounds – but Kylie hasn't lost her knack for producing a superior brand of pop

Twenty-seven years into a career that was supposed to last about 27 minutes, the release of Kylie Minogue's 12th studio album seems a good moment to pose a couple of pertinent questions, namely: how? And why? These are asked without any meanness or snark intended: whatever you make of her music, there's something pretty cheering about the fact that one of Britain's biggest pop stars is a 45-year-old woman. Pop, particularly the kind of glossy, depthless pop in which Minogue deals, is a young person's game: these days, she's competing not with artists who weren't born when she released her first single, but with artists who weren't born when she made her ill-fated post-Britpop bid for indie credibility. If your career lasts 27 years, then in pop terms, you're like one of those tortoises they find on tropical islands, still apparently thriving despite the existence of photos that clearly show them with Lord Baden-Powell or General Gordon. And yet, here she is, in 2014, if not quite at the top of her game – that would be 2001's Fever, which sold 6m copies worldwide – then so close to it as to make little difference: her albums reliably go platinum, her tours rake in tens of millions of pounds.

With the best will in the world, it's not down to some unearthly nonpareil talent: her voice doesn't make you want to stick cheese in your ears, but nor does the world momentarily stop turning when she sings. She isn't exactly the queen of the perfectly executed reinvention, either. She evinces the odd hint of longing to make music with a bit more maturity and gravitas – you might, too, if you found yourself at 45 singing "you're sexy, what you need's a sexy love … give me that sexy love, you look so sexy" as Minogue does on Sexy Love – but when the public respond with varying degrees of relative coolness to her dabbling with orchestras, alt-rock or indeed a more sophisticated take on chart pop, she seems to return uncomplainingly to what people want her to do. Nor have her audience bought into a gripping character-led narrative arc: she's well-practised at saying almost nothing worth hearing in interviews, and her interior life rarely makes it into her music.

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In fact, listening to Kiss Me Once, you start to wonder if the lack of personality might perversely explain Minogue's longevity: unlike, say, recent releases by Madonna, her music never feels like an artist struggling to impose their character on the latest developments in pop, because she doesn't really have a character to impose. Certainly, Kiss Me Once has recent pop nicely covered, from brostep to the 90s house revival to the on-going ubiquity of Pharrell Williams, who contributes a song called I Was Gonna Cancel. It's the first, but presumably not the last major pop album to display the influence of Daft Punk's Random Access Memories. You can hear its echoes on Beautiful, a ballad that features a mass of vocoders, and a chugging vintage synth that's very Giorgio By Moroder: it also features a male vocalist who turns out to be Enrique By Iglesias. Sexy Love, meanwhile, is a pretty blatant attempt to recapture the disco magic of Get Lucky. Shameless or not, it's a really good song: good enough, in fact, to stop you wondering which of its five co-authors – Wayne Hector, Autumn Rowe, Peter Wallevik Mich, Hedin Hansen and Daniel Heløy Davidsen – came up with the lyrics, before concluding it was probably one of them that doesn't have English as a first language. That said, Sexy Love is like Marvell wooing his Coy Mistress compared to Sexercise, which gets itself in to such a muddle trying to find sport-related metaphors for sex that it starts coming up with phrases that convey something other than what you suspect they're supposed to mean. "I want to see you beat all your best times," purrs Minogue: well, if you're absolutely sure that's what you want, I can probably be at the "finishing line", so to speak, in about 90 seconds flat.

Unexpected and presumably unwitting thumbs up for premature ejaculation notwithstanding, Kiss Me Once demonstrates what may be the most prosaic reason for the longevity of Kylie Minogue's career. She can get good material out of the people who write pop songs for everybody, a tradition that began with her singles for Stock, Aitken and Waterman – no So Macho or I'd Rather Jack for Miss Minogue – and has continued into the age of Sia Furler and Cutfather. Of course, they sometimes palm her off with filler – Million Miles, Feels So Good – or stuff like Into the Blue, which isn't so much a song as a compendium of musical clichés, among which Auto-Tuned vocals and Coldplay-inspired "ey-oh"ing figure heavily: were it any more obviously battery farmed, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall would be making an investigative documentary about it. But with equal frequency, they give her something genuinely great. Pharrell may be ubiquitous, but I Was Gonna Cancel is a really effervescent example of what he does, complete with an improbable sample of an opera singer. Kiss Me Once is a superior brand of bubblegum, offering a fantastic collision of sci-fi electronics and glossy AOR melody, while the blaring 80s synth and warped vocal samples of Les Sex – trust me, the less time we linger on the lyrics, the better it'll be for all of us – border quite thrillingly on cacophony.

A handful of great moments, a bunch of filler, some excruciating lyrics about sex: you could use that to describe countless other Kylie Minogue albums. They went platinum: this probably will, too. You wouldn't bet against her still having glossy, depthless pop hits when the artists who weren't born when she made ill-fated post-Britpop bid for indie credibility are long retired.

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Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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