Impossible Princess is Kylie Minogue's sixth studio album which was released on October 22, 1997 by BMG in Japan, and worldwide in 1998.
In 1993, Kylie Minogue signed a three-album deal with British dance label Deconstruction and released its first offering, her self-titled fifth studio album on September 19, 1994. The following year, she worked with Australian musician Nick Cave and his band the Bad Seeds as a featuring artist to their single, "Where the Wild Roses Grow."
Additionally, she began a relationship with French photographer Stéphane Sednaoui, and embarked on a series of trips throughout North America, Asia, and Australasia to gain inspiration for her upcoming record. She was encouraged by Sednaoui and Cave to take creative control over her next musical project, so she started writing lyrics.
Explaining to British magazine NME that she wanted to "experiment" with her image and sound, Minogue decided to team up with British trio Brothers in Rhythm, who previously worked on her self-titled album. She said: "If [the album] works, it'll be my graduation. I've learned a lot, but–if this works–it'll mean I'm past a certain point. I've grown up. It's the best I can do at this moment, the most I can ask of myself."
Each morning, Minogue would present a set of lyrics to Brothers in Rhythm member Dave Seaman from the night before. By October 1995, they started recording rough demos in Chippenham. From those sessions, they completed their first track "You're the One", which remains unreleased.
Four more songs were developed at Real World studios in Box, Wiltshire; "Too Far", "Did It Again", "Limbo", and "Cowboy Style". Moreover, "Limbo" and "Did It Again" were published in their original demo form because Minogue felt the "raw[ness]" of the tracks worked better than being polished.
Seaman noted that Minogue's input was more significant this time round, stating that majority of the album's subject matter was taken from "her own ideas" and that she wanted to grow as a person from this experience.
Sonically, Minogue was inspired by artists-producers including Björk, Garbage, Towa Tei, and U2, all introduced to her by Sednaoui. Furthermore, she cited British "pioneers" like The Verve, The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers and The Eels as influences to the album.
Originally crafted to be an electronic dance record, Minogue began working with Welsh band Manic Street Preachers, and the initial sound started to blend with rock elements. It was her first record to incorporate live instrumentation, a technique that was never introduced in her first five studio records.
Deconstruction's A&R department were absent during the album's process due to the illness of the label's director Pete Hadfield. Because of this, Minogue stood in to take partial creative control over the project.
In order to help produce the album, Minogue attended each music session with Steve Anderson and Seaman to learn about composing, arranging instruments, and "distorting" sections of the album's tracks. As a result of this, she was credited as a co-composer and co-producer on the songs "Too Far", "Breathe", and "Say Hey" with Brothers in Rhythm; she played the grand piano and the synthesizer.
In total, "Impossible Princess" took nearly two years to record, the longest period of time that Minogue had worked on a project since her time acting on the Australian soap opera "Neighbours" (from 1986 to 1988). Anderson later explained that its lengthy time was "due to the pure perfectionism of all creatively involved."
Packaging & Title
The cover sleeve and images for "Impossible Princess" were shot by Stéphane Sednaoui. Inspired by French and Japanese pop culture, Sednaoui took inspiration from Nobuyoshi Araki's work and tried to convey a similar aesthetic to the photo shoot.
The cover depicts Minogue sitting and surrounded by swirling multi-coloured lights, dressed in a blue Véronique Leroy mini dress. Because Deconstruction wanted to distribute a limited-edition version of the album, Sednaoui had to photograph separate artwork and dedicate it to those editions. The lenticular sleeve required multiple static cameras to shoot her in the dark.
In order to create the long-exposure effect of the lights circulating around the singer, Sednaoui fully dressed himself in a black body suit so he couldn't be seen in the final shot; however, Minogue remarked that "the shoot was so very difficult but we knew that once we got it right it would be amazing."
The title of the record is a reference to Billy Childish's 1994 novel, "Poems to Break the Harts of Impossible Princesses." A copy of the book had been dedicated to Minogue but was accidentally passed on to Nick Cave, who eventually gave it to Minogue not long after. She recalled only looking at the title of the book and saying that "It had me written all over it."
Additionally, Minogue believed that the poems in the book summarised where she was at that time in her life; furthermore, the title was used in the album's song "Dreams" during the chorus: "These are the dreams of an impossible princess."
Although copies of the album and its title were printed in mid-1997, on August 31, 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in a fatal car accident. Due to the impact of her death, Minogue and Deconstruction felt the album's aforementioned title was "insensitive" and the label delayed its release.
Also feeling the title would be inappropriate to have on the album, Minogue and her management came to a mutual agreement to re-title it "Kylie Minogue" in Europe (the same name as her 1994 record); however, the album re-instated the "Impossible Princess" title in those regions upon its re-release on 23 March 2003.
- Too Far 4:43
- Cowboy Style 4:44
- Some Kind Of Bliss 4:13
- Did It Again 4:22
- Breathe 4:38
- Say Hey 3:37
- Drunk 3:59
- I Don't Need Anyone 3:13
- Jump 4:03
- Limbo 4:05
- Through The Years 4:20
- Dreams 3:44
Japanese edition bonus track
- Tears 4:26
Commercially, "Impossible Princess" experienced success on the Australian Albums Chart. It debuted at number four on 25 January 1998, the highest debuting album by an Australian female artist of the year.
However, the album stalled at number eight during its second and third week, but fell outside the top ten in its fourth. By 26 April, the album had spent 14 weeks in the chart and was placed at number 48 before leaving the chart.
When Minogue promoted the album with live shows (alongside the announcement of a national tour), "Impossible Princess" re-entered the charts on 10 May at number 40. Whilst embarking her Intimate and Live tour in June, it entered the top ten for three non-consecutive weeks between the months June–July.
In total, the album was present for 35 weeks in the top 50, making this Minogue's longest charting album at the time until her following studio album, Light Years, spent 41 weeks in the top 50 chart. It was certified Platinum by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) for physical shipments of 70,000 units.
In the UK and Scotland regions, "Impossible Princess" made minor impact on the record charts. It debuted at number 10 on the UK Albums Chart, making it the third highest debuting album of that week. It fell to number 22 the following week, and again to number 41, its final charting position was at 70; however, it entered the chart again during the start of May 1998, at number 91. In a similar run, the album also charted at number 10 on the Scottish Albums Chart.
The album's lack of success in the UK and Europe, led British publications to recognise it as Minogue's worst-selling studio album in those regions, was noted for the lack of promotional activity such as touring and live performances, alongside constant delays and title changes. After a year of release, UK Virgin Radio mocked the album sales, stating: "We've done something to improve Kylie's records: we've banned them."
Upon its release, critical reception of "Impossible Princess" was divided by regions, particularly between the UK, and throughout Australasia and the Americas.
Ben Willmott from British magazine NME rated it four points out of 10, criticising the production of collaborator James Dean Bradfield, and labelled Minogue a "total fraud" for introducing new musical genres that were disparate from her previous work.
Likewise, magazines such as Music Week and Q lambasted the record's repetitious nature, though the former publication did acknowledge the improvement in Minogue's vocal range and abilities.
Australian and American media were generally welcoming to the album; John Mangan from Australia's The Age newspaper commended the diverse set of styles and Minogue's songwriting skills, saying: "Impossible Princess sounds right and constitutes another step in the right direction."
Similarly, an editor at Who magazine commended the sound, and pointed out that "Vocally, Kylie has never sounded better or more human. Her phrasing here is unique." In conclusion, they acknowledged that "Impossible Princess is the best, most complete work of her career."
Cameron Adams, writing for Herald Sun, listed the record as his "CD of the Week"; he favored the singles as the album's best tracks, but also said, "Impossible Princess is her best yet, the classy, personal pop album she has always threatened."
Michael Dwyer, writing for the Western Mail highlighted the "club-dance" tracks as the better cuts, while examining that "Impossible Princess' range of styles approaches and collaborators makes it as hard as ever to say just who is making progress here, but progress it most assuredly is."
Larry Flick from American magazine Billboard described the album as "stunning", concluding that "it's a golden commercial opportunity for a major record company with vision and energy to release it in the United States..."
Retrospective reviews on the album (both from European and Australasian areas) have been much more positive, with AllMusic's Chris True labelling it a "pretty damn good record", and openly criticised the critical reception around the album's early release, deeming it a "shame".
Nevertheless, he believed that "Unlike Minogue's early work, this album sounds stronger and has a more natural feel. Her songwriting abilities have come a long way, and Impossible Princess actually flows together as an album."
Slant Magazine editor Sal Cinquemani awarded it four stars, and was impressed with the album's "starkly personal and unified cord", saying it "is the work of an artist willing to take risks, not a pop queen concerned with preserving her reign."
Cinquemani added it to the staff choices of their Vital Pop: 50 Essential Pop Albums lists.
Awarding four stars, Nick Levine from British tabloid Digital Spy commended the mixture of genres and Minogue's input. Although he noticed the material's lack of commercial appeal, he concluded, "Brave, revealing and rarely less than surprising, it's a key piece in the trickier-than-you-think jigsaw puzzle that is Kylie Minogue's recording career."
While reviewing her tenth album "X," Evan Sawdey from PopMatters commented: "For those who still have a copy of her Manic Street Preachers-assisted Impossible Princess, then you have one of the most crazed, damn-near perfect dance-pop albums ever created."