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Throughout the 1980s, before the arrival of pop princess icons Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears and many, many more, it was left to a British singer to be everyone's favourite girl next door. Successful in the early 80s for classic songs such as Cambodia and Kids in America, Kim Wild was all but forgotten until 1988 when she made a triumphant return to form with her sixth studio album, Close. Selling around 2 million copies, Close remains Wilde's most successful album to date and ranks for me as one of the best pop music albums of that decade - and beyond.
With just eleven tracks (one of which is only an extended version of another) Close is a modest accomplishment, devoid of any weak links or "dodgy" album tracks to pad it out. Between 1988 and 1990 the album spawned five single releases, three of which made the top ten, and yet the other five tracks are equally strong songs, all of which could have been released as singles in their own right. Indeed, at times, Close feels like a mini greatest hits compilation, strengthening its appeal and listening longevity. Like most of Wilde's earlier work, the album was largely written and produced by family members (her father Marty and brother Ricky) but there's an inherent confidence to the overall production that indicated this was just as much a Kim Wilde project as a Wilde family phenomenon.
At the time the album was released, the charts were being bombarded by the sound of Stock Aitken and Waterman productions, with the likes of Bananarama, Mel and Kim and then of course Kylie Minogue all dominating the top ten. This wasn't something that was missed by the Wilde production team, who accommodated this new pop/dance sound into a number of the tracks on the album. (Tony Swain who co-wrote and produced some of the material had previously produced much of Bananarama's output). Critically, however, this is only one of several tastes and styles on the album, meaning that Close has a much better balanced listening experience than other popular artists of the time. There are influences of rock, pop, dance and soul here, all effortlessly put together into a very strong track listing.
There's something quintessentially British about Kim Wilde's voice and Close represents this better than most of her albums. Vocally, it is, at times, hard to understand quite why Wilde was so popular. Her voice is by no means the strongest you will hear (something not uncommon during the 1980s) and is often rather nasal in output. Nonetheless, it's hard not to hold affection for a true "girl next door", singing a selection of perfect "pop" songs.
"Hey Mister Heartache" (included in short and 12" version) betrayed a tendency towards the club scene not really repeated until the 1990s when Wilde covered "If I Can't Have you". With backing vocals from Junior (another popular 80s vocalist), Heartache is funky stuff. The strongest pop / dance song is "You Came", a timeless pop tune that dates well and still sounds remarkably fresh. Written as a tribute to the birth of her nephew (as opposed to the more likely tribute to a new lover), it was single success of You Came that helped Wilde secure a place supporting the UK leg of Michael Jackson's world tour; an invitation that almost certainly contributed to the success of the album. "Never Trust a Stranger" followed into the top ten, a darker anthem about the dangers of falling in love. The tone and pace shifted again for "Four Letter Word", a slower, angst-ridden love song that also put Wilde into the top ten.
The rest of the album treads a variety of different paths. "Lucky Guy" is an epic, orchestral ballad that arguably should have been released as a single but remains moving and probably the best song on the collection. "You'll Be the One Who'll Lose" and "European Soul" are competent pop songs, particularly the former that incorporates an authentically continental sound to accompany the vocals. The weaker tracks (if such a thing exists here) are "Love's A No", which is nice in tone but struggles vocally, and "Stone" which feels slightly overblown compared to the rest of the album but both are still good enough not to detract from the overall enjoyment.
Frighteningly, it's now twenty years since Close was released, and in spite the fact that it has long been deleted from sale it remains a strong favourite in my collection. The material lacks the polish of modern "pop princesses", relying instead on good tunes, good writing and a likeable singer.
Best bets to get your hands on a copy will be at record fairs, or in second-hand shops. The album is not currently available on iTunes, but you should be able to track down a copy on the popular file-sharing web sites. And I'd recommend you do. This is the best that the 80s had to offer.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Hey Mr. Heartache
2 You Came
3 Four Letter Word
4 Love in the Natural Way
5 Love's a No
6 Never Trust a Stranger
7 You'll Be the One Who'll Lose
8 European Soul
10 Lucky Guy
11 Hey Mister Heartache