Australia’s INXS is still making a go of it – they just headlined the monsoon-plagued Live & Loud festival in Singapore with Jon Stevens singing lead in place of the late Michael Hutchence, who committed suicide in 1997. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost six years – I remember hearing the news on the car radio. How can people with so much going for them get so twisted around that they can only see the bad? Terrible.
So anyway, INXS carrries on without singer/lyricist/focal point Hutchence, but it’s like the Stones without Jagger, the Doors without Morrison (oh wait, that one IS happening) – kind of an empty shell. It’s easy to forget that 10-15 years ago INXS was one of the biggest groups in the world – they had a ton of great songs and three classic albums.
Their first great album, Shabooh Shoobah, came out in ’82, went gold in America and made them stars. Shabooh is the most new wavy of the band’s albums, and is many a long-term fan’s favorite. Michael Hutchence’s vocals are more malleable and less strident than they were to become, and though the songwriting isn’t as consistent as on some later albums, Shabooh contains three of the group’s very best songs: the swooping hookfest “The One Thing,” the halting Aussie-ska of “Black and White,” and the majestic keyboard and treated-guitar wave classic “Don’t Change.”
The Swing, THE classic INXS album, made the band ubiquitous with alt-rock fans in 1984. Chock-full of modern rock radio hits (primarily written by keyboardist/guitarist Andrew Farriss and late singer Michael Hutchence), The Swing is the bridge between the band’s experimental beginnings and their subsequent arena-filling success. “I Send a Message” is ’80s alterna-funk at its finest; the title track rides in on a monster beat, joined by surprisingly jagged guitar and tough vocals from Hutchence; “Burn For You” is a chipper sing-along bolstered by a full background chorus; and “Original Sin” took on miscegenation in a post-“Brother Louie” world.”
Established as superstars, the band released Welcome to Wherever You Are in ’92, a varied and subtle masterpiece with surprising touches: Near Eastern tonalities on “Questions”; industrial-style distorted vocals on “Heaven Sent”; a nod to U2-style electropop on “Communication,” the funky “Taste It” and the insinuating single “Not Enough Time.” “Baby Don’t Cry” is a rousing ’60s-style pop-rock singalong, and “Beautiful Girl” (pleasantly reminiscent of the Stones’ “Waiting On a Friend”) is the among the group’s simplest, loveliest songs. Mark Opitz’ deft production (he handled Shabooh Shoobah as well) expertly fits the mood of each song with the appropriate technology and arrangement.
Both of the collections listed below are excellent as well, with the Anthology being geared toward completists.