Let’s face it: when any dance/pop star decides to release mellowed, orchestral versions of her hits—even in a studio as amazing as Abbey Road—it’s not without some risk. Suffice it to say when Aussie pop songstress Kylie Minogue went in to do The Abbey Road Sessions (released last week in the U.K. and this week here in the States) as the pinnacle of her year-long celebration of a 25-year career, it could have been either a career marker or a train wreck.
Thankfully, it is the former. And credit for that belongs in part to her producers, in part to whoever handled the arrangements, and in part to Minogue’s own talent as a performer. What could easily have turned out to be a laughable, superficial gimmick has instead turned out to be one of Minogue’s classiest moments so far.
Much unlike her senior dance/pop colleague Madonna (to whom she has frequently and unfortunately been compared), Kylie Minogue uses this opportunity to actually act her age, performing these reworked songs with a grace and maturity befitting to her 44 years. While her vocal prowess has never been considered her strongest suit, on The Abbey Road Sessions her deliveries are solid, consistent and tasteful, always present but never over-singing, and never attempting to be something she’s not.
Meanwhile, remarkably, the songs themselves have been arranged in such a way that they sound surprisingly UN-like cheesy re-creations. Not every song is driven by a full orchestra, but when you hear the strings, they sound very much like they belong in the song. The end result is that fans will actually recognize these tunes, just simply with the electro/dance/pop sensibilities removed, replaced with a more acoustic (and occasionally orchestral) vibe. It works, even when you think it shouldn’t. For example, the original version of “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” is so electrified that you wouldn’t think it would play well with an orchestra, but here it is presented with a hard-attack string arrangement that changes it without costing momentum. For her cover of “Locomotion,” the producers cleverly opted for more of a traditional 60’s dance feel. One tune that sounds most notably different between the original and the Abbey Road versions is “Come Into My World.” The robotic dance beat has been replaced with a simple piano-driven ballad arrangement that completely remakes the song, not entirely unlike the impact made when Eric Clapton released his unplugged live version of “Layla.”
The album isn’t without missteps, and mainly these have to do with the arrangements themselves. Specifically, “Where the Wild Roses Grow” and “Flower” are actually so similar to their original counterparts that it makes us wonder what purpose they serve on the track list—and Nick Cave’s guest appearance on the former actually takes away from the song more than it adds. That being said, the high moments on this album more than compensates for missteps such as these.
While The Abbey Road Sessions isn’t likely to be considered Kylie Minogue’s master work, it serves as a tasteful nightcap to her “K25” celebration, and could easily be considered a collector’s item in years to come. At the very least, it plays as a way of freshening up and airing out her old hits in a way that could potentially set the stage for the next 25 years.