Released: 28th June 2004
Writers: Johnny Douglas / Karen Poole
Peak position: #6
Chart run: 6-18-27-33-40-45-57
The third – and final – single from Kylie Minogue’s Body Language album is one of her less well-remembered releases, which is a real shame because it’s quite unlike any other track in her magnificent back-catalogue.
In the aftermath of Fever, the obvious next step for Kylie Minogue would have been to record a similar-sounding album that capitalised on her success and attempted to prolong her residence atop the charts. But therein lay the difference; as an artist who now had a decade-and-a-half under her belt – and having experienced both ends of the commercial spectrum – Kylie Minogue had played that game before. This wasn’t the first time she’d shrugged off what people expected her to do, but after staging such a spectacular comeback, it was a deviation that now occurred from a much more visible position. Body Language was a fascinating glimpse at how far that critical goodwill could be pushed, with Chocolate as the biggest test of them all.
As unlikely as it sounds for an avant-garde R&B slow-jam themed around confectionery, the track provides an unexpectedly revealing insight into Kylie’s personal life. Love, lust and heartbreak were common themes in her music – as per any other pop act – Chocolate, however, feels that little bit more intimate. She may not have written the song, but it seems unlikely that coincidence alone found a singer who has taken such care with what she puts into the public domain, suddenly exploring a territory that laid so much bare. Kylie was involved enough in the composition and direction of her material that there was a reason Chocolate ended up on the album, let alone released as a single.
The entire first verse is beautifully written, with lyrics that immediately strip away any sense of bombastic superstardom to reveal a resigned sadness: “Fragile seams, I opened up too quick and all my dreams, were walking out; I’d slowly lost my fire, with every single man a river cried”. For a song so often surmised as being little more than gentle innuendo, it deals with some very human emotions. Statements like: “I had no sensation, completely numb, left with no satisfaction” are in stark contrast to the image Kylie usually portrayed through her music. Even when the track takes a more positive turn, it comes from a place of wounded despair: “Oh, waited so long, for love to heal me so I’d feel it, thought it wasn’t breathing then you came, you proved me wrong again”. A love song Chocolate may be, but it’s one warily tainted by repeated heartbreak.
Despite offering such (second-hand) exposition, the focus of the track is rarely on what it has to say but more how it sounds. For the real star here is the production, which has incredible depth and variety for something that is – on the surface, at least – reasonably unassuming. The brooding electronica of the intro soon gives way to a muffled R&B beat, which paradoxically reverberates through Chocolate with gentle dominance. The two elements fuse to create an instrumental that is continually evolving, with synth flourishes and mournful horn samples frequently breaking through to serenade the beat. There aren’t any big moments in the production, but that’s the point; however, the: “If it were liqui-i-i-i-id” transition at the end of the middle-eight is a notably brief, brilliant thrill.
The other pivotal aspect of Chocolate – and the one perhaps most divisive – is the vocals. Kylie plays into the sensuality of the track with a breathy, whispery performance that utilises her upper register. The liberal processing applied to her voice works well from a stylistic perspective; it sounds strikingly ethereal. But that comes at the expense of the lyrics, which are delivered in a mechanical manner that is almost entirely devoid of the feeling they were trying to convey. Instead, the track thrives on hooks that work their way into your head through hypnotic regularity: “If love were liquid it would drown me, in a placeless place would find me, in a heart shape come around me and then melt me slowly down”. Chocolate is far from monotonous, but with little deviance in tone or tempo, it could have been perceived that way if immediate expectations for the song were based on Kylie’s recent dalliances with disco and dance.
To complete the package, the music video for Chocolate was directed by Dawn Shadforth. She’d previously worked on Spinning Around and Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, helping to give both tracks their distinctive identities. And she does the same here, even if didn’t achieve the same level of ubiquity. Using a muted colour palette and simple-but-effective filming techniques, the video showcases a minimalist, artistic aesthetic that advanced Kylie’s desire to move the visual narrative away from her gold hotpants. There was a deliberate nod to the classic cinematography of yesteryear, with dance sequences consisting of sharp, slight movements and the application of effects such as motion blur and slow-motion. The pièce de résistance, however, is what starts as an innocuous shot of ballerinas; it slowly pans out to reveal they’re dancing on top of Kylie’s hat while she delicately plucks petals from a rose. It’s a quirky and avant-garde moment, but one that is totally in keeping with the rest of the video. Indeed, so well executed is Chocolate that it feels more suited to an art gallery rather than music television channels.
One of the complaints (and there are many) that has been levelled at Body Language over the years is that it occasionally sounds overtly Americanised. And while these were not baseless claims, the album is much more than a wholesale attempt to shift her success across the Atlantic at any expense, as Chocolate proved. The track originally featured a verse by Ludacris, which abandoned any sense of the euphemism found elsewhere: “You know my tongue’s got batteries in it, the bedroom, we lose calories in it, start families in it”. It didn’t exactly spoil the song, but it did take Chocolate in a more explicit (and not particularly unique) direction. Based on commercial prospects alone, curiosity could have seen Ludacris’ addition gain some traction. But Kylie was dissatisfied with the result; she pushed back, and the rap was subsequently discarded (although the full version later leaked in full). All that remains to suggest there was ever anyone other than Kylie on Chocolate are the male backing vocals floating around the production. However, they’re officially credited to A. Guevara, not Ludacris.
Chocolate debuted and peaked at #6 in the UK, but whether that was truly enough to be deemed a success depends on your perspective. Certainly, there is reasonable evidence that it was a fanbase-driven hit, judging both by its relatively brief chart run and the minimal impact it had on Body Language, which climbed no higher than #94. On the other hand, the fact that Kylie Minogue was able to take a song like Chocolate into the top ten when it was so different from her usual fare – and quite unlike anything else in the charts – is an impressive feat. Few artists could have pulled it off, which is testament to the star power that Kylie held at that time, even when she was going against the grain of expectation.
With a career spanning four decades, Chocolate has invariably fallen off the radar somewhat. Indeed, it didn’t even make the first cut of the recent Step Back In Time: The Definitive Collection, an omission that was rightly corrected for the re-release. It might not be a dancefloor-filler; but with a sensual production and subtly alluring hooks, Chocolate remains an underrated treat.