Classic Album: Dannii Minogue – Girl
Released September 8, 1997
1. All I Wanna Do
2. Heaven Can Wait
3. So In Love With Yourself
4. Am I Dreaming?
5. Everybody Changes Underwater
6. Everything I Wanted
7. If It Moves – Dub It
9. It’s Amazing
10. Movin’ Up
Sometimes it is hard to remember, with the autobiography, the extremely high-profile role on Britain’s X Factor, the fashion line, and the baby, that Dannii Minogue was once a singer. She hasn’t released a single since 2007 and hasn’t visited the UK top ten since 2004, but there was a time when every few years she would appear with a new album or single, get a few moderate hits (and occasionally a really big one), and then disappear back into other endeavours. It seems that we are in another stage of her career where music is very much on the backburner – but this time there is a question mark over whether she’ll return at all. Looking back on a perfect album like 1997’s Girl makes it clear that would be a sad state of affairs indeed.
An abridged history of Dannii Minogue: her four studio albums can be split evenly down the middle. The first two carry the American influence, and were released in the early nineties, the last two carry the European influence and were released in the late nineties and early 2000s. Starting off in Young Talent Time, a very popular Australian TV show, she was brought to international attention when her sister Kylie became a worldwide phenomenon thanks to the TV series Neighbours and a string of number one singles. Dannii joined the cast of the Neighbours rival Home And Away after Kylie had left Neighbours, and released debut album Love And Kisses – it gave her a few hits in Australia and the UK, and remains her most successful album chart-wise in both countries (in the UK it ties with Neon Nights). Get Into You followed in 1993 but was much less successful. The end? Maybe for some, but not Dannii.
Four years later the European influence kicked in with 1997’s Girl, again a muted commercial reception but rave reviews. Her lowest charting album. The end? It must have been hard to continue on after seeing such an amazing piece of work not do as well as it should have, and The Singles compilation might have felt like closing the book on Dannii’s music career. But amazingly, Dannii’s biggest success was yet to come, and with an amazing run of club and chart hits, she came back with a vengeance on 2003’s Neon Nights. More one-off singles and an international hits collection followed, and then she joined The X Factor. The end? I really hope not, and here’s why.
Girl. Girl is why. Dannii has had brilliant moments elsewhere in her discography – ‘Baby Love’, ‘Success’, ‘Jump To The Beat’, ‘This Is It’, ‘I Begin To Wonder’, ‘Put The Needle On It’, ‘You Won’t Forget About Me’ – but nowhere else did it all come together like it did here. Neon Nights, the album that followed it, feels like a bunch of really great singles held up by above-average album tracks. Girl on the other hand is an accomplished, polished series of well-written and confidently performed songs that add up to one of the most satisfying pop albums I’ve ever heard.
Something that strikes me about this album is how desperate she sounds – back off haters, I don’t mean like that. I mean that there is a passion and strength in her vocals that wasn’t there before, and it gives opening track ‘All I Wanna Do’ – at the time her biggest UK hit ever – another layer of meaning. What could have been a very average “let’s have sex” song becomes an exploration of a deeper feeling, and that comes from Dannii’s vocal. Cynical observers may scoff at anyone praising her voice but it’s honestly very good, and perfect for this material.
That amazing start is followed by ‘Heaven Can Wait’ and ‘So In Love With Yourself’, both of which sound very 1997, but not in such a way that they are unlistenable now. ‘Heaven Can Wait’ has this slightly Latin feel that evokes that time in pop so well, and although it is perhaps the lightest moment on the album, it is still strong enough that is doesn’t make us lose interest two songs in. ‘So In Love With Yourself’ plunges us straight back into dance with it’s trancey interludes, and you can even hear Kylie clearly on the backing vocals, which is the closest we’d get to a recorded Minogue duet until 2008. It may not have worked as a single but I think it would have lent itself to some mindblowing remixes.
The next two songs take us in a more ethereal direction, with ‘Am I Dreaming?’ wooshing around like a Ray Of Light album track – except it was released before Madonna’s classic. ‘Everybody Changes Underwater’ is even weirder, and is definitely the strangest Dannii Minogue track I’m aware of. A mostly spoken monologue about a dream-like state where Dannii goes from the water to a garden, to space, and then… into heaven or something? Does anyone really know what it’s about? Either way it is the most adventurous song on the album and an absolute triumph.
I connect ‘Everything I Wanted’, the second single, with the Australian film Head On (one of my favourite movies), which it featured in. It was also on the (excellent) soundtrack, but even though that connection is a good thing, I also can’t watch Head On very often because it’s not exactly light entertainment. This means ‘Everything I Wanted’ feels darker to me than it was probably intended to be, but I still recognise that it is one of the strongest pure pop moments on Girl. An obvious and excellent choice for a single, it would be another top twenty hit in the UK.
‘If It Moves – Dub It’ gets no respect, often labelled “pointless”, and the mostly instrumental six-and-a-half minute interlude does indeed look like filler, but it is an enjoyable diversion and makes sure we’re well aware that the European club sound is where it’s at for Girl. It is an important part of pushing the albums agenda.
Here comes the centrepiece, though. ‘Disremembrance’ is often pointed to by those “in the know” as one of Dannii’s finest moments (‘I Begin To Wonder’ and ‘Put The Needle On It’ just beat it to being her best single for me), and it really is a staggering track – swirling trance beats around an excellent vocal, and lyrics that tower so heavily over most dance singles that it almost doesn’t feel like a club-oriented hit at all. Underappreciated when it came out – missing the Australian top fifty and the UK top twenty – in the years since Girl ‘Disremembrance’ has emerged as an underground classic.
The only true ballad on the album, ‘It’s Amazing’, features even better singing than the rest of the album and is a welcome change from the trance-influenced tracks that came before it. However, it is immediately followed by a cover of Dreamworld’s almighty ‘Movin’ Up’, and it returns us swiftly to the centre of the dance floor. The song suits Dannii and this album perfectly.
That was the end of the official track listing, but the hidden track ‘Coconut’, a cover of the famous Harry Nilsson song, is perhaps the most fun to be had on Girl and was even released as a single in Australia. One of her most gloriously odd and “keraaazy” songs, ‘Coconut’ is a party classic, at least in my head. On the deluxe remaster, released in 2007, we get two genuinely incredible bonus tracks, ‘Keep Up With The Good Times’ and ‘Someone New’, both of which could easily have been on the album and would even be potential singles. Even the cast-offs from this record were amazing. There is also a bonus disc of remixes which are all interesting and deconstruct the main songs perfectly, especially the orchestral version of ‘Disremembrance’, which takes the song to all new levels of epic.
I often make reference to the brilliant era of 1997-1998 where massive female pop artists released albums that pushed their sound into new and exciting directions, influenced by club and underground music. Madonna’s Ray Of Light, Kylie’s Impossible Princess, Janet Jackson’s The Velvet Rope and Cher’s Believe all came out around this time. But Dannii was right there with them, and this is the female-pop-goes-weirdo album that nobody gives credit to. Upon release, Girl charted at 57 in the UK and 69 in Australia. Unfair and undeserved, yes, but I have faith that more and more pop fans will eventually discover this for what it is: a forgotten gem, an underrated album within an underrated career. Dannii Minogue – this is your official call back to the world of music, do us all a favour and deliver a Girl for 2011. You can call it Woman and make it a sequel, I don’t care (actually that’d be amazing). Just don’t forsake us for the world of judging panels and pretty dresses just yet.