Reviewed on this page:
INXS - Underneath The Colours - Listen Like Thieves - Live Baby Live - Welcome To Wherever You Are - Full Moon, Dirty Hearts - Elegantly Wasted
If you're looking for news about the death of Michael Hutchence, all I can tell you is what I've read in the newspaper: his body was found on Saturday, 22 November 1997, in a Sydney hotel room. The coroner ruled that he hung himself with the intention of committing suicide, not accidentally. In response to the tragedy, the band cancelled its upcoming tour of Australia. I have no idea if they plan to continue as a group.
Was it something I said?
One of the biggest rock bands of the 80s, Australia's INXS still had a lot of trouble making consistent albums to frame their crafted hit singles. And despite Michael Hutchence's cryptic, seductive lyrics, and their appealing blend of funk bass, rock guitars, and Kirk Pengilly's steamy sax, their lack of musical and lyrical depth always made them more of a teen idol act than a critics' fave.
Much of this had to do with Hutchence, who was a blessing and a curse: his rippling baritone was a powerful emotional vehicle, but often the only emotion he chose to express was smarmy, sneering, oversexed self-worship. He literally sounded like Billy Idol; if you're looking for sincerity from an 80s Australian rock band, look to Midnight Oil instead.
INXS' band history is kind of dull. There were no changes in the lineup, which had at its core the three Farriss brothers on guitar, keyboards, and drums; from the start, most of the material was written by the team of Hutchence and Andrew Farriss; and despite frequent shuffing of producers, only the band was to blame for their ardent efforts to keep up with musical trends.
These shifts are worth noting, however. INXS started out as yet another Anglo pop-ska group, then became a mellower, less threatening New Wave act, then hit upon a hugely popular funk/rock formula, and finally sputtered out with a series of interesting, but not always listenable albums that chased the tail of the hiphop-inspired European techno movement - amazingly, they pulled their act together for their most recent (and final?) album in 1997.
Also of interest is the bizarre comparison that was frequently drawn between INXS and the Rolling Stones, apparently based on Hutchence and Mick Jagger. Although there is a similarity in the two singers' vocal phrasing, on most of their records I can't hear it at all, or even see it. Instead, Hutchence's visual, vocal, and lyrical model seems to have been Jim Morrison - leather pants, straggly hair, and a permanent pout; a crooning, angsty baritone; and cryptic verbal imagery shot through with sexuality.
Hutchence did have much more range than Morrison, but he was never even vaguely as androgynous, over-energized, and self-confidently sloppy as Jagger, and his voice wasn't nearly as distinctive. On the other hand, the band's high-volume rock anthems and emphasis on chattery rhythm guitar playing did indeed recall the late-period Stones.
INXS was pretty good in concert; I discuss one of their last shows on our concert reviews page.
There are a couple of INXS fan sites. Of these The INXS Album Collection is quite good, but it puts a whole pile of stuff on one huge, graphics-intensive intro page, so be prepared for a wait. (JA)
Garry Gary Beers (bass, backing vocals), Andrew Farriss (keyboards, some guitar, harmonica), Jon Farriss (drums, backing vocals), Tim Farriss (rhythm guitar, some keyboards), Michael Hutchence (vocals), Kirk Pengilly (sax, lead guitar, backing vocals).
Showing an early aptitude for imitation, INXS started out as a blatant ripoff of British New Wave bands like XTC (hey, that name sounds familiar).
Everything's lifted at once: geeky synth, loping bass, a jerky beat, and scratchy, neurotic guitar riffs, all of it struggling to blend punk, ska, and pop influences in a precisely arranged package.
Pengilly's squawking sax gives it some personality, but Hutchence sounds exactly like any other ska raver of the time; there's almost nothing hinting at his later, sultry R & B persona.
It is consistently entertaining, with only a few embarassments like the wimpy, synth-plastered "Newsreel Babies." But it's so consistent that most of the tunes sound exactly the same, despite their enthusiastically hollered refrains.
The catchiest of the lot are the ecstatic, double-time "On A Bus"; the hard-rocking "In Vain"; and a bunch of interchangeable tracks where they go full blast with the ska thing ("Doctor"; "Jumping"; "Roller Skating"; "Body Language"). Co-produced by engineer Duncan McGuire. (JA)
Underneath The Colours (1981)
It's the same deal as the last time around: a pandering imitation of better and more successful Brit New Wave acts. But this time the boys fizzle with defanged melodicism, ditching the abrupt dynamics, goofy ska sensibility, and vicious punk energy that made their first record fun. Instead, they come up with a detached, modernistic vibe that leans way too heavily on Hutchence's voice; they even slow-dance through a languorous ballad ("Just To Learn Again").
A few things do set them apart: a slight disco influence in the bass lines (the funky "Stay Young"; title track), Pengilly's occasional sax lines (the driving "Big Go Go"), and Hutchence's Morrison-ish imagery ("Fair Weather Ahead") and self-involved croonery.
The tunes are all carefully thought-out, and a lot of it points the way to their later hits; but it's tepid and monotonous by comparison.
Dave Mason sings backing vocals on "Stay Young" and "Big Go Go," but you can't heard him distinctly. Produced by Richard Clapton. (JA)
Shabooh Shoobah (1982)
Includes "The One Thing," their first US Top 40 single. Apparently a major step up from the last record; it was INXS' first to get an international release and their earliest to eventually go gold. (JA)
The Swing (1984)
"Original Sin," produced by Nile Rodgers, is probably the most important cut. Another moderately successful album. (JA)
Listen Like Thieves (1985)
Their first really important success, a platinum album that soared high on the charts. Much of this had to do with "What You Need," their first really big international hit single - afterwards they became a staple of British and American radio.
It's an irresistable blend of funk bass, blazing guitars, and exciting soul vocals, with a smoking sax solo and so many riffs they could have made two songs out of it.
The next two selections also were singles, but aren't nearly as compelling; the title track has decent dynamics, but "Kiss The Dirt" is just plain wimpy.
Actually, some of the remaining tunes like "This Time" are catchier and pull off the same acoustic guitar/droning synth/racing drums/pounding bass/soaring anthem sound that Midnight Oil had perfected by now.
There are some other high points: good riffs on the fast-paced "Biting Bullets," a swaggering R & B number ("One X One"), and a guitar-heavy rocker ("Red Red Sun"). But a lot of the time they're so generic-sounding that they can't create any excitement; just look at the overproduced, aimless instrumental "Three Sisters."
The album's almost worth it for The Big Hit, but the faceless, synth-reliant 80s sound makes it a dull listen.
Although Andrew Farriss dominates the songwriting here, Pengilly co-wrote two tunes with Hutchence.
Produced by Chris Thomas; not coincidentally, Ray Cooper plays percussion on "Same Direction." (JA)
Apparently very similar to the next record, and an even bigger hit than the last one, quickly going multiple platinum. The up-tempo "New Sensation" was the biggest-selling single, but "Devil Inside," "Never Tear Us Apart," and the ballad "Mystify" also did well. (JA)
I'm still formulating my opinion of this record. Despite not selling quite so strongly, it scored another pile of major hit singles. They're mostly good: "Suicide Blonde" has a great, funky sequenced bass line; "Disappear" is a ballad with a sweet, wordless chorus and soul-influenced verses; and "Bitter Tears" rocks pretty hard. But "By My Side" is a really dull, middle-of-the-road 80s rock ballad. Produced by Chris Thomas. (JA)
Live Baby Live (1991)
I guess they had to cut a live record sometime. This one was compiled from a series of different shows. It's pretty pedestrian, but fans will experience two two new things: first, a couple of snippets of the guys messing around off stage with improvised tunes (the cackling "He's Got No Pants On"); and second, enough Michael Hutchence stage patter to prove what a totally self-involved and manipulative performer he really was. It's enough to make you just want to turn the damn thing off.
But mostly there are no breaks between songs, and you can't do better in terms of song material: although the track listing reaches deep back into the band's catalogue, almost all the tunes are from their preceding trio of studio albums and they're almost uniformly entertaining; loud, danceable, and funky.
They're also solidly performed, with only the overamplified drums, overnoisy guitars, and cavernous echo conveying the "live" feel.
With the band's LP's being so uneven, you might want to pick this up if you only need to hear their big hits.
"Shining Star" is the only new song; it and some of the other tracks got shunted off onto an EP. Early in 1991 INXS recorded the hit single "Good Times" with Jimmy Barnes. (JA)
Welcome To Wherever You Are (1992)
INXS' one big stab at cutting an experimental album. Sound effects, electronic noises, and atmospheric synth lines creep in at the edges (the New Wave-y "Strange Desire"), and for once they try hard to vary their tone.
It's their most interesting and honest effort, even when it overlaps with, say, U2 (the loose, five-minute "Communication"; the excellent piano ballad "Not Enough Time," with driving hiphop rhythms and Deni Hines' soulful backups).
The rockers sound like they mean it ("All Around"), and the R & B/soul/hiphop distillations are tasteful ("Back On Line"; "Wishing Well," not the Terence Trent D'Arby tune). But then they drag in a huge orchestra to dress up two centerpiece numbers. On the single "Baby Don't Cry," the band, a massive vocal chorus, and the orchestra battle for attention, making it so silly and overblown its unlistenable.
Meanwhile, "Men And Women" stretches for a stately, earnest Sketches Of Spain mood and couldn't be more pompous and embarassing.
The other singles were "Heaven Sent," a growling rocker with clanging guitars; "Taste It," with more hiphop drums plus blues harmonica and sax; and the sentimental, pretty, and boring "Beautiful Girl."
Look no further; the orchestration and awful choice of single releases explains why you can easily find the record cut out.
Co-produced by Mark Opitz and almost entirely written by Hutchence and Andrew Farriss. (JA)
Full Moon, Dirty Hearts (1993)
You'd figure that by now the band would have adapted to the 90s triphop/jungle/whatever dance sound. They did, and mostly on the stronger tunes: "I'm Only Looking" blends modernistic synth and an old-style chattery funk guitar riff; "Kill The Pain" has an updated drumbeat, rumbly keyboard line, and punchy R & B horns; "The Gift" replaces the horns with a spacey guitar, again putting them squarely in U2's Euro-electronica territory (the hazy, synth-washed experiment "Freedom Deep" and Hutchence's whispered vocal on the hypnotic "Viking Juice" are even more of a U2 homage).
Otherwise they're perfectly happy with their danceable crashing guitars-plus-funk bass recipe: "Makes Your Peace" does add a slight hiphop flavor to the sound; "Please (You've Got That...)" has a blistering Ray Charles guest vocal.
They even get in a sweet piano ballad ("Kill The Pain").
The only downer is Chrissie Hynde's dull vocal on the lazy, generic, faux-Chicago blues title track. A good stab at keeping things fresh but well within limits, this one should have succeeded and did have a hit single ("The Gift"), but ended up in the cutout bin anyway. Co-produced by Mark Opitz. (JA)
Elegantly Wasted (1997)
Talk about going out with a blast. This, their first new album after a long quiet stretch that was punctuated only by a greatest hits compilation, is the best single example of everything that was good about INXS.
The band's commercial sense is unerring here: thumping A-side material ("Show Me (Cherry Baby)," with a soaring slide guitar part; "Girl On Fire," with a stomping horn arrangement); danceable, updated funk (title track; the slow-burning "Building Bridges"); dramatic, elaborately produced balladry ("Everything"; the mellow soul number "Searching"); eeerily Stones-like R & B ("Don't Lose Your Head" and "Shake The Tree," both better than almost anything the real Stones have done lately); and a dollop of gorgeously hypnotic, U2-ish jangle rock ("I'm Just A Man"; the Indian-flavored "We Are Thrown Together" and "She Is Rising").
No throwaways, no lapses of taste, no fad-chasing, no distractions, just solid, entertaining, and intelligently crafted product that will satisfy not just older fans looking for reassurance, but anyone who takes 90s rock music seriously.
Co-produced by Bruce Fairbairn and Andrew Farriss (like usual, Andrew wrote most of the music); the guests are a few female backup vocalists, percussionist Luis Conti, and the horn section on "Girl On Fire." The release marked the band's switch of record companies from Atlantic to Mercury. (JA)
Talk about XS...