FOR FUN: Showgirl: Homecoming Live is blessedly light on its feet.
Every insinuating, catchy recording Kylie Minogue has made since her fabulous 2000 disco dance party of an album Light Years (EMI International) has made me wonder why anybody still bothers to pay attention to Madonna. There’s no one-upmanship intended or conveyed when, on her latest release, Showgirl: Homecoming Live (EMI International), Kylie tosses a medley of “Burning Up” and “Vogue” into her set. But her lightness, her sense of fun, are the hallmarks of a dance-pop diva who still puts pleasure first. Madonna’s humorless conviction of her own immense self-importance turns pop into white-elephant performance art. Kylie still resides happily in what Nick Cave, a big fan, calls “that space between innocence and sensuality that is the playground of all great pop music.”
For a double CD (I wish she’d called it Double Live Kylie!) of a reportedly elaborate stage show, Showgirl: Homecoming Live, which was recorded last November in Sydney, is blessedly light on its feet. That’s especially important for an album with the context of this one. The homecoming show was delayed for 18 months by her treatment for breast cancer. Apart from one very brief address to the audience that’s funny and charming instead of weepy (“Generally, I’m 10 minutes late . . . this is officially, fashionably late, a year and a half”), the emotion of the performance, for both performer and audience, is all implicit.
Which means she’s out to give her fans the party she promised them, and they’re out to prove themselves the most appreciative of guests. Most CDs can barely sustain their 50-plus minute length: Showgirl glides along for nearly two hours. Her set list is close to perfect: it never gets too bogged down in ballads (the curse of all arena shows), and she switches up the old hits enough that they don’t sound as if she were running through them for the millionth time. (The sugary version of “The Loco-Motion” — her first hit and the thing that kept me from liking her for years — is slowed down into a vamp’s sashay that has more life than that damn, reverent “here’s one ya might know” version of “The Needle and the Damage Done” Neil Young did in last year’s performance film Heart of Gold.) Even special-guest savior Bono doesn’t suck the oxygen out of the room. His duet with her on the ’70s-hard-rock-styled “Kids” suggests that, somewhere, Rod Argent is jealous.
The performance is conceived as seven “acts,” with songs grouped to complement one another as in a DJ set, and two encores. Surprises crop up here and there: “Somewhere over the Rainbow” (unwisely — it’s almost always an invitation to sappiness); a snatch of “Where the Wild Roses Grow,” her duet with Nick Cave. This whopping dose of greatest hits provides more variety than you might expect. The slithery whisper of “Slow” and the caffeinated neurotic rhythms of “Too Far” (from the underrated Impossible Princess album) sound as distinctive as ever. What work best are the big, friendly dance tunes — and they’re here in abundance. As always, she comes at you with a huge smile that never feels falsely cheery.
You can’t say it’s a pity that America has never embraced Kylie as Australia and Europe have for 20 years now. What is a pity for Americans is that the egocentric confessional bloat of the dance music emanating from so many of our divas has made pop less the playground Nick Cave celebrated and more a therapy/empowerment session where we the fans are the equivalent of an Oprah audience cheering some tale of self-actualization. Showgirl: Homecoming Live proves, to paraphrase one of Kylie’s hits, that she’s better than the devils we know.