Kylie Minogue – Impossible Princess

As I said in the intro RIGHT HERE Kylie Minogue by the late 80s gave up trying to cater to the US market. She was doing fine in her home country of Australia and much of western Europe loved her. So we didn’t get the build up and subsequent “backlash” that surrounds Impossible Princess. We also didn’t get a lot of the electronic, and trip-hop that would inform the sound on Impossible Princess unless you hungout in the underground listening to Morcheeba and Portishead.

But knowing what I know now and having heard plenty of Kylie Minogue over the last twenty years. Everything before and after Impossible Princess is firmly the product of Camp Kylie. Whatever era, it is all sounds fans know and love in some way. So you could say Impossible Princess was attempting to do the impossible, be a Kylie Minogue record without being a Kylie Minogue record. And being that her title is “Princess Of Pop” maybe she was trying to see if she could be any other kind of “princess”. Meaning, shed the pop skin she had worn for almost ten years by 1997.

It was such a drastic change in sound I can see why hardcore fans turned on her. It wasn’t just one song or a light flavoring of alternative on a couple songs like she had toyed with on her previous, self-titled album. She went all in. For fans of Kylie up to this point I imagine many didn’t even know how to dance to a song like the drum and bass loaded album opener, “Too Far”.

The second track, “Cowboy Style” pulls from much of the world fusion sounds going around not quite Celtic-not quite middle eastern-rock-electronica. And some vocal yelps obviously trying to mimic the stuff coming from Deep Forest or even Transglobal Undergroud…

I must admit I’ve been on my fifth or sixth listen over a period of months (I wanted this series done back in April it is now August). I’ve been trying to just sit and write this review but I’ve found it difficult to find exactly what I want or need to say, let alone focus on the thing long enough to get it done.

And the thing is, I like the album. It is filled with the kind of quasi spy film sounds going around at the time, world music vibes, and as as I said up top, trip-hop. The albums singles are all front loaded on the record, which while not uncommon is interesting because no one single stands out to me from the rest of the record so track order here doesn’t really seem paramount to the experience.

“Did It Again” is a straight ahead rock song if not quite as raw as the stuff coming from folks like Hole or Echobelly at the time. And the video of her fighting her various personas is fun. This song and “Cowboy Style” are the two singles that most stand out to me on the album. And “Did It Again” was the biggest hit on the record.

This is definitely her some of her strongest lyrics out of her entire career, wrestling with all the various perceptions of who Kylie is.

Clever girl, think you are
But you think too much
Shut down, turn around
Don’t look that way anymore

Clever girl, think you know
But you don’t know much
Try to make a move
Go to a different door

As it plays I can’t help but think of Madonna’s Ray Of Light where the themes are different but the sounds are definitely similar. And Impossible Princess came out the year prior. So both were pulling production and sonic styles going around and research shows both caught some flack for “aping” them. This seems to happen anytime a pop artist makes the underground mainstream as if mainstream automatically means it is inauthentic.  Also this is one of the ways the public was basically saying, “Stay in your lane. You do pop. Leave the rest to the professionals.” So I am trying to think if there were any male acts that caught hell for stepping out bounds to try different sounds… Maybe there were but I can’t think of any off the top of my head.

Track six, “Say Hey” is straight ahead rave material. It is also straight up sounds like cutting room floor material from a Björk Postsession. The same is true for “Drunk” the track that follows it.

Two things at this time on the album- The energy shifts to glow sticks and silver Kiwear pants… and the vocals fall further back into the mix so you can’t quite tell what she is singing. Both tracks are fine but I think you could have cut one to make a tighter album. And I prefer drunk because it does go on more of a journey with the tempo and mood.

But also you could’ve dropped both and just went straight to number eight, “I Don’t Need Anymore”, which sounds like an 90s update on the Bacharach style of production. Again I say lyrically the album has her most interesting stuff

I don’t need anyone
Except for someone that I don’t know
I don’t need anyone
Except for some one I’ve not found
I don’t need anyone
Except for someone that I don’t know
I don’t need anyone
Except for some one I’ve not found

But that said it also shows why poetry and song lyrics are two different categories. Without the music a lot of the flavor is lost in that song. Also the lyrics are totally vague, which in poetry is not something that wins you awards.

And so the best songwriters find that balance of writing poetry that fits well with music. It is why Bob Dylan is touted as lyrical genius. It is also why somebody like Cole Porter is considered one of the great songwriters of all time because he wrote great songs with great music that lifted his words from average to awesome.

It also why for all the chances taken here, Impossible Princess just sort of exists. It was a push for Kylie creatively but I can understand why many reviews were tepid because when placed alongside other albums coming out at the time from folks like Garbage and Saint Etienne you kind sit back and go… “It’s nice but-”

It isn’t until the hurricane of track ten, “Limbo” that I feel like we get some of Kylie’s most directly personal lyrics

This notion of needing had held me ransom
And all I can do is avoid my mind
Don’t make me speak or hear or look
Because I’m hurting
Help me out

An artist at a crossroads creatively trapped by the pop label, expected to just pump more of the same. And Kylie clearly knew then a pop stars shelf life is not very long on average. But when you reach track ten you have two more tracks to go. And coincidentally like I said in my Retro Review of her album Fever “cutting a couple songs wouldn’t have hurt but I can’t tell you which ones to leave behind…” the same applies here except I know which songs to cut, “Say Hey” & “Drunk” the quality of these songs is adequate and definitely above par for what Kylie had released prior to this but they stand out as rave infused club tracks where the rest of the album is much more laid back in a trip-top late night bar mood.

And when the final track, “Dreams” produced by Brothers in Rhythm is over I can say after several listens I like the album just fine. My first listen had me focused on finding the through line and adjusting to the various sonic templates within the songs. But now I find it all kind of works sonically aside from the aforementioned rave tracks. And I do think if the album had been tightened critics may have liked it a little better.

The public- I think the majority would have thrashed her no matter how good the results. When it comes to pop stars, especially female pop stars, “Stay in your lane” is definitely a hurdle they face. But let’s not forget the album produced 4 top twenty singles so somebody liked it amid all that “backlash”.

And there is something to be said for doing one thing and doing it well. And I applaud the chances taken on Impossible Princess. I also applaud that for whatever reason Kylie Minogue immediately went back to doing unapologetic disco dance music for the clubs. She found her lane has been driving in it ever since. Sure the styles may slightly change as she gets older but for me, at least, it is all one era. An era known to me as Kylie Minogue Reigning Queen of Disco.

Tasty Tracks:
Did It Again
Cowboy Style
Through The Years
Too Far

Staying in one lane differs greatly from Madonna who, as I said in the intro, has been doing eras so long she has decades. And was doing eras before it became this cliched phrase thrown about in pop music circles. So let’s off-board the Kylie spaceship in February 22, 1998 and meet Madonna at the temple for her most critically acclaimed era and album, Ray Of Light.

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