By the time of 2004's Body Language, Kylie Minogue was seemingly unassailable, with three hit albums, a number of hit singles, and a recharged career that only a few years before had seemed precarious at best. She backed up the new material with a collection (Ultimate Kylie) that boasted excellent new material as well. All things seemed to be destined for further glory. And then, unfortunately, cancer hit. While she did recover fully from her illness, there was speculation on how she would deal with this event, and how her music and choice of collaborators would be affected. Many artists have come back from a potentially life-threatening disease with work that is a flat-out declaration of victory, songs and images that are thinly shrouded metaphors for rebirth or newfound strength. Therefore, it must have surprised many that the leadoff from Kylie's new record would be "2 Hearts," a '70s-style Roxy Music-esque glam jam that clocks in at under three minutes, and is -- seemingly -- devoid of any sort of "I'm back from the brink" anthemizing. Couple this pop gem with the gaudy early-'80s artwork, and the buzz was that Kylie was not only back, but back with a Me Decade swagger and ready to take back the momentum she'd been building since 2000. But to call X an '80s record is really only getting halfway there. Sure, the cover art is vintage 1982, and the majority of the record calls on production tricks and techniques that are of the same time, but much of the record calls on different eras -- not generalized decades as such, but eras in Kylie's own career. Most of the tracks could have fit in on earlier work, answering the question: what does a pop artist do when she's come full circle? She's been influenced as of late by '70s disco and '80s electro, but with X, it feels like Kylie has decided to take inspiration from Kylie herself.
But there's more here than just that. From a musical standpoint, X is all over the map. If that's due in part or in whole to reassessing one's career, that's all well and good, but after the last three albums, it is not what her fans have really come to expect. To break it all down: after the nod to the days of Roxy and Bowie and Bolan in the aforementioned lead single (and fantastic album opener) -- which has a very warm, organic feel to it, almost conjuring up the heart musically -- the electronics kick in and an icy chill fills the room. From then on the album bounces back and forth from cold, calculated dance-pop that is more indicative of her recent work ("Like a Drug," "In My Arms," "Heart Beat Rock," "The One") and more personal, expansive work à la 1997's Impossible Princess and 1994's Kylie Minogue ("Sensitized," "Stars," "Cosmic"). While some of it is very very good (Guy Chambers' "Sensitized" is arguably the best track on the album, so much so that it's disappointing that she didn't work with him more on X), most of it lacks -- when all presented as a whole -- what the last few collections really had: consistency. X isn't a "piece" as, say, Light Years was. It feels more like an artist trying to make sure she has all her bases covered. She even touches -- for the most part -- on her recent illness with the admittedly strong "No More Rain." But while tracks like "Nu-di-ty" and "Speakerphone" would have sounded better on the last Robbie Williams record and working with Bloodshy & Avant is questionable from time to time, the majority of X is exactly what it's meant to be: a collection of songs by a pop artist who is aware of her past achievements and doubly aware of her need to stay relevant in the face of unwanted diversion.