Kylie Minogue – “Impossible Princess”
Reviewed by Christopher Smith
Following the release of “Where Is The Feeling” in the Summer of 1995, Kylie’s career took a very different direction and one that was at odds with the vast majority of the outer core of her fanbase. It began that Autumn with her collaboration with Nick Cave on the haunting duet “Where The Wild Roses Grow”. For many it was a turn off and a step too far(!), but critics and many music fans disagreed.
This was a darker and perhaps more dangerous Kylie.
One that wasn’t afraid to take risks and put her name to exciting new ventures. “Wild Rose” played to a massive new audience that hadn’t previously considered Kylie at all and was a huge hit in many countries across the world. With this new found musical freedom and confidence, Kylie would spend the next two years exploring the deepest depths of her conscience and her very sanity.
What would emerge, would be her most frank and shocking work to date. Her relationship with French photographer Stephane Sednaoui was pivotal to its creation and the journey he shared with Kylie through mind, body and soul. Her experience would lead to Kylie write every single track on the album, every heartbeat, every feeling, every tear lost is recalled and woven intrinsically into the very fabric of its beating heart.
As with her previous release “Kylie Minogue“, a number of songs were written and recorded over a period of 18 months, twelve of which would make the final cut. Those lost included the near ten-minute odyssey “Take Me With You” and the country-twanging ballad “This Girl”.
As with its predecessor, the now resident production team of Dave Seaman and Steve Anderson collaborated on roughly half the tracks. Kylie also established new writing and production relationships with Dave Ball (Soft Cell) and even The Manic Street Preachers, just to make sure this album was like nothing anyone could possibly ever believe could happen with a Kylie album…
1. Too Far
‘IndieKylie’, as this period of her career would be referred to, begins here and if you thought you knew your Kylie music, think again. Like something large and heavy beating you round the head many times over, “Too Far” comes racing in from nowhere and penetrates your mind completely. And with lyrics like “caught up in this house, trapped my very own self in the snare of my mind, no more space than a slither, what I’d give for deep breath inside” this is no planet you’ve ever been to before.
The trip-hop dance rhythm that runs throughout is enough in itself but Kylie’s often deep vocal and dark, messed up lyrics coat this anti-epic with thick tar that proves impossible to get off or ever out of. “Help me! This time I went too far” screams Kylie. How far is down to you, but perhaps a second or third listen may convince you of this totally incredible, outstanding adventure into the subconscious.
2. Cowboy Style
“Shed my skin since you came in” Kylie tell us all at the beginning of the second track, a new skin, not previously seen or worn. “Cowboy Style” draws near to the surface but this is still deep, underground, dark Kylie against a backdrop of synth beats and naked keyboard tones.
A single violin knits each chorus and verse together until the middle-eight, when Kylie tells us “I am frightened I’m aroused, I’m enlightened to the now”. Then it goes all country and one feels like getting up and kicking those hoofs uncontrollably till the very end of its beginning. Perhaps this is where she got the idea, one day in the future, for a country-esque album. Nevertheless, this is a cracking tune that is as infectious as it is accomplished.
3. Some Kind Of Bliss
“Some Kind Of Bliss” was the first taste of IndieKylie, release upon the world in September 1997. Co-written and produced by the James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore of The Manic Street Preachers, the tone is lifted at this point with a great guitar-filled anthem, layered with strings and trumpets, that Kylie executes more than competently.
With a video recorded in Spain with actor Dexter Fletcher and Kylie sporting short, red hair, this was supposed to herald in version 4.0 but it was not to be. It became the first Kylie single not to reach the top 20 in the UK, stalling at number 22 and disappearing without trace soon after. In Australia, it peaked at number 27 before doing a similar ‘Houdini’ impression. Critics and many fans seemed unimpressed too. Perhaps a second release would convince an unconvinced following of a full, credible album…
4. Did It Again
“Clever girl”. “Little Miss Genius”. Kylie addresses herself and at the same time torments herself for her own actions and decisions taken at a full-on ‘meeting’ with “the monster in your mind”. Released in November 1997, so soon after the failure of “Some Kind Of Bliss”, this was a balancing weight to prevent the wobble created by the preceding tidal wave.
Produced by more safer hands (Brothers In Rhythm), it performed marginally better, putting Kylie back in the UK and Australian top 20. The video perhaps helped, with Kylie taking on her ‘monsters’ with various incarnations of her own self. It proved a hit at the time and is certainly the most memorable visual of this period. She “did it again”…and again and again. When will she learn?!
A return to darker, murkier waters now with “Breathe” and you can’t help feeling isolated and claustrophobic as you swim into its inner sanctum. This is the first track produced by David Ball and Ingo Vauk, and its dexterity allows you to curl up inside yourself as each new ingredient releases into the whole and Kylie skilfully guides you to “go deeper than I won’t let you know, I’m frightened but I won’t let it show”.
This became the third single from the album released in March 1998 but received a strange ‘remix’ insofar as it was sped up, a bit like driving along at 20mph and suddenly putting your foot down. Whether you prefer that version or the slower-paced original, “Breathe” is a sublime slice of a very rich and varied cake that definitely needs eating many times over.
6. Say Hey
If you were left ‘consumed’ by “Too Far” then its natural sister “Say Hey” is a more sullen affair. Simplistic in its execution but with the same energy and passion as everything before it, the song comprises of just two verses, Kylie wishing to make her feelings known “I couldn’t wait, I’m caught up with feeling this way”. It delivers its message in as few words as possible and therein lies its genius.
So good, someone named an internet forum after it(!)
Back to mind tripping, fast paced indie/dance now as “Drunk” catches fire and tears off at a hundred miles an hour. Yet more deep, personal lyrics as Kylie advises “I ache for great experience, There’s a riot in my senses”. This is the one. And for anyone else who has found that special someone, perhaps you should consider writing in your next valentine card: “I’m not happy drunk till I’m drunken, till you take all of me”.
8. I Don’t Need Anyone
The second tune co-authored and produced by The Manic Street Preachers is in very much in the same vein as “Some Kind Of Bliss”, a guitar-laden deity so typical of everything that was coming out of the British music industry in the late 1990’s. Despite the short length of the track, it somehow feels out of place with its surroundings.
Perhaps it and “SKOB” should have been left till the end in an area all to themselves…?
The haunting tones continue with this strikingly beautiful number replete with a slow, deep drum beat melody that runs throughout and a quartet of strings that elevate this understated epic to a higher place. The strength and passion in Kylie’s voice also resonates throughout in heartfelt words like “if I’m hurt let me feel it, if I’m sad let the tears run”.
It’s gorgeous production feels at times akin to Massive Attack and could also, very easily of been used in a film. Definitely one not to miss.
The wild and crazy “Limbo” blows in at a relentless pace and doesn’t give up till it’s all said and done. High, twisted notes from Kylie as she reaches, breathlessly repeating “I’m getting tired”. Guitars and high octane drum beats and a 70’s funkadelic tinge all cohabit to produce an acid trip upon which no other Kylie song has eluded to previously or indeed since.
11. Through The Years
The sad, brooding “Through The Years” is the culmination of Kylie and Stephane’s intense relationship. Kylie expresses her personal heartache at this very moment in words and music: “promises and lies ignite the fire, and I wonder why I believed in you”. You can almost hear the tears reaching for the surface as she acknowledges the end of this once hopeful yet turbulent coming together of heart and mind.
“These are the dreams of an impossible princess”. Two words that seemed to accurately sum up the path Kylie had taken over the course of this musical pilgrimage. The album perfectly closes with yet another outstanding composition that again has that feel of coming from a film soundtrack. Superb production and more strings compliment the emotion and drama of this soaring epic.
The song rises and climbs to the final moments when it really reaches into 007 territory and Kylie throws everything she possibly can at it with her profound conclusion: “it’s a way of dealing, with all the feeling, keep believing in dreams”.
Studio album number six was scheduled for release in the Autumn of 1997 and given the title of “Impossible Princess”.
However, the untimely death of Diana, Princess of Wales and the lack of support for the single “Some Kind Of Bliss” would put a stop to any of this. It wouldn’t be until January of 1998 that the album would see the light of day in Kylie’s home country and March in The UK with the revised title of “Kylie Minogue”, confusingly the second consecutive album released with this label.
It wouldn’t be until 2003 that an expanded edition with bonus tracks would emerge restoring the intended title to its full glory in that country. Critics were divided. Some called it simply her greatest work, others rubbishing her attempt at being ‘credible’. With weak performing singles and a succession of delays, the album sank without trace. Despite entering the top 10 on the UK album chart, it disappeared rapidly and sales were worryingly low. It fared slightly better in Australia peaking at number four, one place lower than its predecessor.
Ultimately worldwide sales told a similar story. It seemed in those dark early months of 1998 that Kylie could do no right. And it didn’t help that one radio station proudly boasted that it had done something to ‘improve’ Kylie records. We’ve banned them! The ‘cult’ of “Impossible Princess” didn’t, however, die. If anything, the flame burns brighter for this album more than any other, among die hard Kylie fans. It would be another twenty years before she would write another album of songs on her own. After just five years and with declining record sales, Kylie and deconstruction parted company in 1998. The future was, for the first time, uncertain.
But maybe, just maybe the light years were not completely over?(!)
Don’t forget to check out our other Kylie reviews.
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