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INXS

Australia’s biggest selling rock-pop export of the 80s and 90s (AC/DC were hard/heavy-rock!), INXS had that extra flair and JAGGER-esque swagger courtesy of enigmatic frontman Michael Hutchence. Without dwelling too much on his controversial and untimely death in ‘97, the singer: one-quarter JIM MORRISON, one-quarter MICK JAGGER and the other half ROBERT PALMER or Bono – a heady cocktail of names to live up to – no other artist from down under has courted so much tabloid column inches. Hitting their peak with 1987’s “Kick” album (containing a strew of hits), INXS were always chasing their own shadow from then on in until Michael’s demise.
Formed Sydney in New South Wales, as family combo The Farriss Brothers, guitarist Tim, keyboardist Andrew and drummer Jon (the youngest of the siblings), would link up with
Andrew’s high school chum Hutchence, who would, in turn, rope in bassist Garry Beers, while Tim’s friend Kirk Pengilly (on guitar/sax) rounded off the line up in 1977. After briefly relocating from Perth to Sydney the following year, the sextet returned as INXS, gigging extensively around the pub circuit until they eventually landed a deal with Deluxe Records.
Their second single, `Just Keep Walking’ was a domestic hit in 1980 and, after a couple of straight-ahead rock efforts INXS (1980) {*5} and UNDERNEATH THE COLOURS (1981) {*5}, the band were eventually picked up by the American-based Atco affiliate (Mercury in the UK). As close to JAPAN, DURAN DURAN and/or the new wave/electro-dance scenesters across in the UK, the promising INXS were clearly just testing the waters.
Their major label debut, SHABOOH SHOOBAH (1982) {*6}, eventually reached the lower fringes of the US Top 40 on the strength of the single `The One Thing’, a record like `Don’t Change’ (a minor breakthrough) which MTV had latched onto. The band’s new groove-rock sound and Michael’s classic rock-god looks made them hot property in the emerging video generation.
INXS caught the eye of top producer and ex-CHIC maestro NILE RODGERS, who worked with the sextet on their `Original Sin’ single, a propulsive slice of funk-rock from main writers Andrew and Michael that became the highlight of THE SWING {*6}, the band’s 1984 album that once again almost breached the US Top 40; `I Send A Message’ and `Burn For You’ would be deemed as other group gemstones.
Their big break globally eventually arrived with the near US Top 10 LISTEN LIKE THIEVES {*7} opus (Top 50 album in Britain), with the single `What You Need’ reaching a staggering Top 5 position Stateside. Buoyed by the classy minor hit title track, `Kiss The Dirt (Falling Down The Mountain)’, `This Time’ and `One X One’, the band also gained valuable exposure by playing the Australian leg of Live Aid that year; rather ironic bearing in mind Michael’s future affinity with a certain Sir Bob.
For 1987’s aforementioned KICK {*8}, the band moved into the mega-stardom league; the album a multi-million worldwide success, spawning international hit singles. `New Sensation’, `Devil Inside’ and American chart-topper `Need You Tonight’ – UK No.2 when re-released in ’88 – typified the INXS sound; glossy, supple, danceable rock with chunky bass lines and Hutchence’s breathy vocals magnifying the raunch factor. `Never Tear Us Apart’, meanwhile, was a rare ballad, uncharacteristically poignant with atmospheric strings; fifth British hit, `Mystify’, kept the set running when the song cracked the Top 20 in April ‘89.
A poignant and positive year, ’87 also saw Hutchence’s acting debut in Richard Lowenstein’s cult movie, Dogs In Space, a timepiece that encapsulated its post-punk motifs from in and around Melbourne, Australia – regarding the various artists soundtrack at least. Truly one of a kind and hooking MH up with hired hand Ollie Olsen (from Whirlywirld), the musical director produced three songs for the INXS frontman: `Dogs In Space’, `Golf Course’ and single `Rooms For The Memory’; a fourth cue by the Australian hunk was a storytelling segment from the movie entitled The Green Dragon. In its wake, after a gruelling world tour, HUTCHENCE recorded an album with Olsen under the title of MAX Q (named after his dog!), before re-emerging later in the year with a new INXS album, X (1990) {*6}.
The Chris Thomas-produced record trod the same territory as “Kick” without achieving quite the same effect, only the classic harmonica-driven `Suicide Blonde’ and the wholesome `Disappear’ made any major impact on the singles charts; minor hits `By My Side’ and `Bitter Tears’ were more or less derivative of an INXS sound rather than taking the band a step forward. In fact, the band could do little when a 1987-recorded hit, `Good Times’ (with JIMMY BARNES) from The Lost Boys movie, staggered into the UK Top 20.
After packing out London’s Wembley Stadium in ‘91, an admirable feat for any band, INXS attempted to cast off the arena-rock tag and an accompanying LIVE BABY LIVE {*3} bin-filler, by recording a more ambitious and experimental record, WELCOME TO WHEREVER YOU ARE (1992) {*6}. As well as a couple of moderate hits in `Heaven Sent’, `Baby Don’t Cry’ and `Taste It’, the album contained the lovely `Beautiful Girl’, a Top 30 single as good as anything the band had recorded to date.
With 1993’s FULL MOON, DIRTY HEARTS {*5}, a UK Top 3 INXS aimed for a rocking return to their earliest recordings, as of featured contributions from RAY CHARLES (on minor hit `Please (You Got That…)’ and The PRETENDERS’ Chrissie Hynde for the title track. The result was only partly successful, the record – featuring UK Top 20 hit `The Gift’ – stiffing completely in the US where it stalled at #53. Boosting sales of a majestic “Greatest Hits” set in ’94, `The Strangest Party (These Are The Times)’ ending their period with US Atlantic.
Hot on the heels of U2’s transition (in-part), to dancefloor fusions, or even the Britpop moves of OASIS via the ‘Stones, INXS’s “Emulsional Rescue” papered over the cracks of a group now ELEGANTLY WASTED (1997) {*5} – the title of their 10th album. Scraping only a Top 20 position in Old Blighty and even on home turf (#41 Stateside), only the anthemic title track and `Girl On Fire’ could compare to the band of old. Going through the motions, the Farriss brothers, having laid to rest their mother a year back, its failure to hit the spot just added to the frustrations of their frontman.
Hutchence had always played the part of the decadent rock star to the max (Q), dating supermodels and singers (from Helena Christensen to KYLIE MINOGUE) and allegedly indulging in copious drug use. Although Michael had apparently found some sort of stability through a very public romance with Paula Yates (the final nail in the coffin of her doomed marriage to BOB GELDOF), friends and colleagues were apparently worried about his increasing drug use in these testing times. However, no one could have predicted that Hutchence would commit suicide; the apparent cause of death after the singer was tragically found hanging from his hotel room door in Sydney on November 22, 1997.
With tabloids speculating that Hutchence was a casualty of a bizarre sex act gone wrong, and Paula Yates (the mother of their only child “Tiger Lily”) laying the blame firmly at her ex-husband’s door (hysterically calling him “the Devil”), it was made all the more sadder when Paula overdosed on heroin almost three years later. Whatever these events accounted for, the fact was that the music world has lost a talented and well loved star, and the future of INXS looked decidedly shaky.
V2 Records delivered HUTCHENCE’s final solo recordings as his eponymous debut album in October ‘99, although what critics might have said – had he still been alive – about this basic self-penned set (featuring guests Bono and JOE STRUMMER), we’ll never know.
Meanwhile, attempts to rekindle the embers of INXS were initially fanned with former 80s soul-rock star TERENCE TRENT D’ARBY and the less high profile Jon Stevens stepping into the limelight; neither proved the right man for the job and, in the end, it came down to a “reality” TV dogfight won by Canadian Elvis impersonator, J.D. Fortune. Judging by their comeback album, SWITCH (2005) {*5}, the singer had been a keen student of the HUTCHENCE mannerisms, fronting an 80s big-rock sound tailor-made for the American market, where it peaked in the Top 20. Okay, it’d been several years since the tragedy of Michael’s death, but the mere mention of INXS meant visions of the iconic singer and not competition winner Fortune. Still, if one could forget MH and forgive the band for carrying on without their former leader, hope was a feature of `Pretty Vegas’, `Devil’s Party’ and the Guy Chambers/Andrew Farriss-penned `Us’ and `Hot Girls’.
Trimmed to a 5-piece, with the fallen Fortune retained as one its many eclectic guest singers (on `The Stairs’), INXS returned in 2010 with the enterprising ORIGINAL SIN {*5}, a set that pored over Hutchence and the group’s most revered pieces. Taking their curtain call were TRAIN’s Pat Monahan, MATCHBOX 20’s Rob Thomas and TRICKY, while Mylene Farmer and BEN HARPER combined for a part-French take of `Never Tear Us Apart’. If one was told that INXS disbanded in November 2012 and one wasn’t surprised, then one had been fooled into thinking they could maintain this costly exercise of making records.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Jul2015

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