Better the devil you know

Pub date December 10, 2008
SectionArts & CultureSectionLiterature

Kylie Minogue (born 1968) isn’t the world’s greatest star, but she is for me and for Simon Sheridan, the Bristol-based pop culture journalist best known for his biographical work on Britain’s sauciest birds of the 1970s — including its porn actresses. Oh my, that’s a far cry from Kylie’s innocent sexiness! But what Sheridan’s The Complete Kylie (Reynolds & Hearn, 272 pages, $29.95) suggests is that Kylie would not have attained her present fame had she maintained the innocent, Dakota Fanning-like presence of a child star. She was still a teen when her role as the tomboy mechanic Charlene in the long-running Aussie soap Neighbours made her immensely popular in Oz and in England, and powerful record producers Stock Aitken Waterman made her the queen of their hit factory.

It was bubblegum pure and simple, but every fourth or fifth track was great, and she coasted along like this until she met Michael Hutchence, of INXS, who told the press his hobby was "corrupting Kylie." Everything Madonna did first, Kylie did second, or fifth or ninth, but what she had that Madonna didn’t was an enormous comeback. In the late ’90s, after the Tori Amos pretensions of her Hutchence-inspired "indie rock" phase wore off, Kylie found herself on the junkheap, without a record label, and nearly a laughingstock. Was it just a bad patch? Her gay and lesbian fans stayed true, helping their idol to survive the tough times, yet she’d be singing on cruise ships today had she not run back to her pop roots with a vengeance on Light Years (EMI, 2000) and Fever (Capitol, 2001), recordings that even saw her — briefly — break through in America thanks to a brace of crazy catchy singles like "Can’t Get You Out of My Head."

Since then, Kylie’s been riding high, oh, except for when she had cancer, but she’s even back from that now, touring Latin America in support of her 2008 Capitol release and tenth studio album, X — get it? Sheridan writes appreciatively and even wittily of every aspect of her career, even her godawful movies (1995’s Streetfighter with Jean-Claude van Damme; 1996’s Biodome with Pauly Shore). The Complete Kylie is a sumptuous book, not too huge, but then again Kylie herself stands only five feet one and a feather tall, small for a goddess.