By time of Kylie Minogue’s eleventh album, 2010's Aphrodite, she had been releasing records for over 20 years. Most artists who’ve stuck around for that long end up rehashing their past catalogs and/or growing stale, but Kylie manages to avoid these fates by constantly working with new collaborators, keeping up on musical trends without pandering to them, and most importantly, never taking herself too seriously. Sure, she’s serious about making great dance music, but she never confuses her status as a pop icon with a desire to send out a message in her music. Aphrodite rarely strays past sweet love songs or happy dance anthems; its deepest message is “everything is beautiful.” You have to credit the songwriters (big names like Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters and Calvin Harris, as well as behind-the-scenes people like Sebastian Ingrosso, and Pascal Gabriel) for tailoring the efforts to Kylie’s strengths. Also on board is exec producer Stuart Price, who puts it all together, giving the record a focused sound that was lacking on her previous record, X, which touched convincingly on a myriad of styles and influences, but which ended up sounding a little scattered. Here the main sound is the kind of glittery disco pop that really is her strong suit. The various producers keep their eyes on the dancefloor throughout, crafting shiny and sleek tracks that sound custom-built to blast out of huge speaker columns. Fortunately for non-club goers, they never pave over the interesting details that make records good for home or headphone listening.
The squiggly synths of the massively catchy “All the Lovers,” the sighing background vocals and spiraling harpsichord-esque synths on the ominous "Closer," and the heavenly extended breakdown on “Looking for an Angel” are the kind of hooks that reward repeated listens. While Kylie is fortunate that so many excellent writers and producers are willing to work with her, they are lucky to be working with Kylie too; she can put over a shimmering and funky track like “Can’t Beat the Feeling” with ease, stomp through a dancefloor-filling jam like “Put Your Hands Up” with power, or cruise through a breezy summertime jam like “Better Than Today” with all kinds of laid-back charm. Sure, she’ll never be mistaken for an octave-stretching diva or a vocal powerhouse, but her slightly nasal, girl-next-door vocals serve her needs perfectly. She soars through the songs with just the right blend of emotion and restraint, adding some sass when needed (as on the thumping title track or “Get Outta My Way”) or some quiet melancholy when the mood arises (“Illusion”). This ability to tailor her performance to the song is a rare quality in the pop world of the early 2010s. It may lead people to underestimate Kylie's artistry but really, Aphrodite is the work of someone who knows exactly what her skills are and who to hire to help showcase them to perfection. She and her team have crafted an album that’s both full of songs that could/should hit the upper reaches of the charts, and also a collection of songs that hang together as an album. One of her best, in fact.