A Retrospect Imagined: Kylie Minogue’s Abbey Road Sessions

Abbey Road Sessions

I’ve never been a huge Kylie fan, but I do like her new album. The Abbey Road Sessions is a musical reworking of her back catalogue. Accompanied by full orchestra, Kylie revisits her earlier works, presenting them in an entirely new light. The Abbey Road Sessions is a vocal album with an easy listening feel that harks back to the music of the 1930s and 40s.

One of the things I am enjoying about the album, and something that I am interested in more generally, is the reuse and re-appropriation of musical material. Although I have not followed Kylie’s career closely, I know most of her hit singles (with her earliest hits taking me back to the age of 7 and the school disco). Knowing the original songs when listening to these newer versions has a particularly interesting effect, as it provides the album with an almost humorous quality. Each re-imagined track functions, in a sense, like a mash-up. For Ragnhild Brøvig-Hanssen and Paul Harkins the defining feature of a mash-up is the combination of a textual incongruity and a musical congruity; or in other words there needs to be a conflict or disjuncture between the meaning of the two songs while at the same time the music of the two tracks needs to fit together seamlessly.[1] In the Abbey Road Sessions, although two tracks are not mixed together, a similar effect is achieved through the mixing of two contrasting genres that in the context of this album seem to fit together naturally.  The album superimposes (or mixes) a series of Kylie pop classics with quasi-Burt Bacharach, easy listening backing tracks. Nowhere is this perhaps more evident than in the reworking of I Should be so Lucky, the original kids-party classic now transformed into a slow, nostalgic (and perhaps even melancholic?) ballad.

Although the tracks do bring about a wry smile, humour is not the sole aim of the album or the intended aesthetic. The songs seem to go beyond humour, the album focusing almost exclusively on Kylie’s vocals. The Abbey Road Sessions is an interesting album as it presents a retrospect of Kylie’s recording career, but one that is imagined. Kylie songs are both remembered and presented afresh, intentionally exploring a tension between the so-called “singing budgie” pop years of the late 80s and Kylie’s more matured voice, which is the focus of this album.

The selection of tracks and the way in which they are set I think further accentuates the tension between past and present. Indeed, this is not a chronologically ordered compilation of Kylie’s biggest hits, but a series of nostalgic love songs from different points in her career. (A notable exception of the revisiting of her hit single The Locomotion, which injects a little light humour into what is otherwise a serious sounding album). By re-working and re-contextualising some of her biggest hits, this album provides a false, an imagined retrospective of Kylie’s career. The overarching, dated style that unifies the tracks places Kylie in a musical context with which she is not normally associated and one that actually pre-dates her earliest recordings, the songs sounding as if from the 30s and 40s.

Billie Holiday, Downbeat, New York [William P. Gottlieb Collection]
The Abbey Road Sessions presents Kylie in sepia, or in black and white as the album cover has it. Indeed, the album cover adds to the album’s overall effect or aesthetic, the microphone and Kylie’s pose reminiscent of the photographs and album covers of old-time Jazz singers such as Billie Holiday, where the focus lay solely with singer and voice.

For Lee Barron Kylie’s career epitomises the postmodern condition.[2] She is a popstar who embraces multiple identities, adapting to changing times and changing contexts. This album continues this trend. The Abbey Road Sessions presents an imagined retrospect; this is not any of the many Kylies we have seen before, but a new Kylie. Interestingly here, though, the revised versions of her hit singles are not ground breaking in terms of style, but deliberately dated, sounding as if from an earlier a time, a time that actually pre-dates the original versions. Whether a Kylie fan or not, the album is interesting in the way it presents an imagined retrospect of Kylie’s career that places her (although perhaps deliberately tongue-in-cheek) in a long line of eminent female vocalists.

[1]Ragnhild Brøvig­Hanssen and Paul Harkins, ‘Contextual incongruity and musical congruity: the aesthetics and humour of mash­ups’, Popular Music, Vol. 31 (2012), p. 87­104.

[2] Lee Barron, ‘The seven ages of Kylie Minogue: postmodernism, identity, and performative mimicry’, Nebula, Vol. 5, No. 4 (2008), p. 46-63, and Lee Barron, ‘Droogs, electro-voodoo and kyborgs: pastiche, postmodernism and Kylie Minogue live’, Nebula, Vol. 6, No. 1 (2009), p. 78-92.


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