“Self-knowledge is a truly beautiful thing and Kylie knows herself inside out.”
Rufus Wainwright’s list of gay Icons in 2006 gave a sincere nod to an Aussie pop phenomenon who’s long enjoyed a solid fanbase amongst the LGBTQI community. He continued: “She is what she is and there is no attempt to make quasi-intellectual statements to substantiate it. She is the gay shorthand for joy.”
Although far from her most successful release, 1997’s Impossible Princess and the events leading up to its making were important markers in the self-discovery and evolution of Kylie Minogue. In an interview with Richard Kingsmill, she enthused about the creative sidestep she’d made on this record. “I don’t think there’s one song on my new album that you could say is like anything I’ve done before,” she said. “But if I can just push the walls out a bit further each time [that] means I have a bigger expanse to play in as opposed to the regular confines of whatever they pigeonhole you as.”
The sunny pop shuffle of lead single ‘Some Kind of Bliss’, written with James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore of the Manic Street Preachers, received good reviews but didn’t burn up to the top of the charts in the way which she was accustomed. Released the week of Princess Diana’s death, there was little Kylie could do about the overwhelming public mood. Speaking of the feeling in London at the time, Minogue told Kingsmill: “Everyone, in every walk of life, was so sombre. There was not a happy song to be heard on the radio. So, it wasn’t right to think ‘poor me, my single hasn’t gone to whatever position’ because there were much bigger things at hand.”
Regarding the Manics collaboration and its comparatively lacklustre success on the charts, she was determinedly upbeat. “I was very pleased,” she said. “But I’ve had to define success in a different way. Yes, it’s not a number 1 single, but it did get a lot of radio play … and it’s a collaboration with the Manic Street Preachers and that to me is brilliant, so in the end I’m very happy.” Elsewhere, Minogue revisited ties with Brothers in Rhythm (who’d worked on ‘Confide In Me’), Soft Cell’s Dave Ball, and also hooked up with Australian musician Rob D who had a huge hit with ‘Clubbed To Death,’ a song Kylie was a big fan of.
Probably the most significant influence on this album was someone who didn’t actually make an appearance on Impossible Princess at all. It seemed an odd creative partnership at the time, but working with Nick Cave did much more than just give birth to an unexpected hit song in ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’. Asked about what she learned in the time she worked with Cave, she told Kingsmill: “I would say integrity … he’s inspired me in lots of different ways, but most importantly, just knowing that he had a lot of belief in me for a long time and a belief in what I can do in the future gave me more confidence in myself.” Cave had also convinced her to recite ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ at The Poetry Olympics to a Royal Albert Hall audience packed with serious literary types from around the world. The experience was both exhilarating and an act of reconciliation. “In effect, what he did was make me look at my past and open up that space that I’d been embarrassed about, or tried to cover up or deny … and just appreciate it for what it was. And in doing that, it also opened up a path to the future for me. It was such a cathartic experience ... you could give me a million years and I would never have thought of doing that.”
The result of coming to terms with her past meant she was ready to assert more control over how Impossible Princess would come to life. According to the Daily Review, she insisted that demo vocals should be used on several tracks rather than polished versions, she took on greater production duties and the album features her most substantial lyrical contributions of any release.
Nick Cave also had a part to play in the album’s title, which had both intended and unintended outcomes. It was through him that Kylie received the book by author/artist Billy Childish entitled Poems to Break the Hearts of Impossible Princesses. Kylie told Kingsmill of her reaction to the gift. “As soon as I received it, the phrase ‘impossible princess’ grabbed hold of me by the throat … and I knew I had to write a song about it, which I did and ended up knowing that would be my album title.” Once again, Princess Diana’s death meant an added delay on the already postponed record’s release, as well as some serious re-consideration given the public’s sensitivities around using the title.
However, in Julie Aspinall’s Kylie biography, the singer elaborated on how fitting “Impossible Princess” was as a reflection of her true self. “I can be the girl on the show pony at the circus with sparkles and sequins and I adore the spotlight … and then there’s the flip side of me, which is completely not that – the green tracksuit pants, no make-up and being a wreck. I regard it [the title] with humour, with irony and with a certain amount of realism because I can change my mind about things all the time and be completely impossible.”
The video for ‘Did It Again’ poked a bit of fun at the many sides and incarnations of Kylie Minogue up to that point in her career. She told Molly Meldrum: “I’m constantly baffled that I have to keep finding a way to explain it [her artistic and style changes]. To me it just seems very normal and I think that’s part of the reason I’m still making records.” She hasn’t, however, made another album like Impossible Princess again, returning firmly to her anthemic pop dance sound and succeeding in enormous measure. But on this sixth release we got to see another part of Kylie, one that followed her instincts, took a gamble and made the impossible possible.