“Big trap on the bass line/ Tick tock on the waistline/ Don’t rush, baby, take time,” intones Kylie on her triumphant 16th studio album Tension. It’s a record that glitters with good lip-licking hooks, mixing elements of Nineties R&B and Eighties europop into giddy dancefloor delight.
Advance slam-dunker of a single “Padam Padam” means the disco queen has now scored a top 10 hit in every one of the five decades that have passed since she launched her pop career back in the 1980s. Interviewed by the BBC’s Scott Mills this month, the Aussie artist said she found her chart longevity “crazy, amazing, beautiful… daunting” and recalled how the viral “Padam-ic” left her “laughing, screaming” as she scrolled through the endless TikTok videos of fans dancing to its flirty fizz of a pulse. My 11-year-old daughter adores it – as does my octogenarian neighbour. Kylie’s candy floss vocals are guaranteed to set the whole family spinning around.
Despite the pick’n’mix of producers employed on this record, Tension continues in the same sugar-rush style. Carbonated synths leave the mood bubbling and soft-pad percussion keeps mostly to 4/4 beats. Choruses drop into the cocktail with the easy zest of lemon halves. Lyrically, the songs celebrate the dancer’s oxymoronic prerogative to simultaneously seize the moment while letting it all go. There’s an airbrushed Eighties action-adventure-movie urgency to Kylie’s breathy request to “kiss me now!” on “Things We Do For Love” and a vintage postcard vocal pout to the “Oh my God, touch me there!” of the title track.
Bouncing from chunky house chords, “Tension” even makes room for backdrop swatches of post-punk guitar. “I know your star sign,” winks the singer against the handclaps of “One More Time” before skipping into the oh-oh-ohs chorus of “You Still Get Me High”. She swaggers into bell-bottomed R&B mode for the beach bar melody of “Hands”, hits some swizzler high notes on “Story” and camps it up for the gay clubs on “10 Out Of 10”: “Wanna kiss me where the sun don’t shine?”
There’s a nod to her 2024 Vegas residency come “Vegas High” on which she twinkles that she’ll be “Chasing Madonna on the horizon”. Kylie is the perfect Vegas showgirl – big heart and cheeky wit adorably packaged beneath her glossy sequins and feather boas. This album does play things quite safe, though. I love Kylie’s weirder moments: the nails-down-the-blackboard falsetto notes of 1994’s twanger “Confide in Me” and the Blue Monday remix of 2002’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”. There’s nothing comparably quirky on Tension. As a vintage boogie fan, I also preferred the deeper, funkier, bass lines of 2020’s “Disco” to the frothier fun she delivers here.
Yet there’s no denying the twirling pleasures of Tension. When I close my eyes, it reminds me of a recent encounter at a party when a friend’s toddler woke up and stumbled – wide-eyed but half asleep – from his pushchair and into my arms. I lifted him at his woozy command to “fly me into the flying dance!”. He tipped his head right back and kept his eyes on the glitter ball, spreading his pudgy arms like wings over my head as we laughed at his exultant weightlessness. That’s what listening to Tension feels like: 100 per cent “Whheeeeeee!”