valance “Freak Like Me” is a rare case where hit covers and mutations keep building on the foundations of a song, finding new things in it. At this point in pop, the opposite was more often true. “Kiss Kiss” is a good single – in the context of the charts, its dipping and rolling Turkish rhythms are delightfully fresh, a showy flourish across a grey backdrop. But hearing the singles it was based on – Tarkan’s “Simarik” and Stella Soleil’s remake of it as “Kiss Kiss” – lets you hear possibilities this version closes down.

Tarkan is still a huge star in Turkey – on his 2017 LP, the rather fine 10, he looks improbably youthful and sings as huskily and urgently as he did back in 1998. The tricks are the same, radio-ready techno-pop remakes of traditional rhythms, veiled in strings which provide colour and rhythmic shapes of their own. And so are the songwriters and producers – Sezen Aksu, the woman who wrote “Simarik” and has helped shepherd Turkey’s pop since the 70s, contributes a mournful, smoky ballad to the new record. Tarkan’s contribution, besides that earthy voice, was to up the sexual stakes – an impish, slinky performer, he presented himself as a loverman keen to break with traditional Turkish attitudes and gender roles.

This is, in fact, the entire point of “Simarik”, revealed in translation as a bowled-over but playful acknowledgement of Turkish women’s part in shifting these roles. “Maybe that’s why I’ve been ensnared by her / Because I don’t own her…. New customs have come to town / Boys, we’re lost”. Though not every line is as self-reflective: “You vamp you / You lure the snake from its place”.

“Simarik” was a huge hit in much of Western Europe – but not Britain, where it was known mainly by those who tracked it down on P2P (and much-loved, partly because one bit sounds like “arses arses”). I don’t think there was any attempt to break Tarkan here when “Simarik” was doing the rounds: Britain’s resistance to pop not in English is easy to regret and impossible to shift.

Still, it creates opportunities for remakes: “Kiss Kiss” was recast as an English-language come-on, and re-gendered – it could now be “Simarik”’s answer record, told from a snake-luring perspective “Simarik” had been a variation on a musical theme for Tarkan with sly, provocative lyrics: “Kiss Kiss” was the opposite, a thoroughly conventional teenpop song wrapped in an exotic, propulsive thrill of a beat. The song fitted into a popscape where young women’s sexual agency wasn’t a shocking novelty but the coin of the realm.

It found a home with Stella Soleil, whose story is a snapshot of how musical agency was too often out of reach for the women caught up by the pop boom. She’s an example of how rigid the industry thinking was: a woman in her late 20s, with a background singing on Ministry tracks, Soleil’s major label break still involved marketization as a “pop princess” in the post-Britney fever zone. “Kiss Kiss” was the vehicle. (It was a minor hit, no others followed, and Stella was discarded.)

But she really sells it. There’s a wicked sharpness to Soleil’s voice which fits the vampish tone of the rewritten song perfectly, and the production leans in to the Middle Eastern music, even underlaying some of Tarkan’s original on the bridge. Soleil is also a flexible enough singer to handle the slightly awkward rhythm of the new lyrics, which might seem like a given, but on Holly Valance’s version she constantly sounds in danger of stumbling.

And so, finally, we get to Valance, singer of this record and the least remarkable thing about it. Like Kylie Minogue, Holly Valance was an Australian soap star with an eye on a pop career. Also like Kylie, she had a limited voice, a little thin and lacking force. But where Stock Aitken and Waterman had spotted the potential in Kylie’s winning enthusiasm and gave her songs which took advantage of it, turning her weakness into pluck, Holly Valance gets a set of ambitious, assertive tracks. “Tuck Your Shirt In” and “Down Boy”, on her LP, follow the tone “Kiss Kiss” sets: strong songs, arrangements grounded in vogueish world music rhythms, and performances which are decent, but a little too diffident to really land the tracks. “Kiss Kiss” is both a fine pop single and a near miss, refreshing but also frustrating, more a holiday snog than the cross-cultural smooch it might have been.

Score: 6

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