You’d be forgiven if the news that INXS are calling it quits failed to turn many heads. The Australian band, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist for many after lead singer Michael Hutchence’s lifeless body was found in a Sydney hotel room almost 15 years ago. There was no New Order-esque transition into something different, though not for lack of trying – assuming “searching for a new frontman on a reality show” and “putting together a bizarre covers/tribute album with guest vocalists” counts as “trying.”
But I’m not going to say nor hear a bad word about INXS today. Not while they’re responsible for some of the tightest pop/rock of their generation: not only the songs that live on through spins on nostalgic radio programs, but, honestly, a fair chunk of their catalogue as long as Hutchence was alive to purr and croon his way through the years.
Of course there’s Kick. Everyone knows Kick. Everyone who has a sense of slick ’80s pop and a desire to be the most seductive cat in the room loves Kick. You’ve got your hits: “Need You Tonight.” “Devil Inside.” “New Sensation.” “Never Tear Us Apart.” You’ve got tight album sides like “Guns in the Sky,” exuberant closer “Tiny Daggers” and the hard-driving title track. You’ve got an album where everything was tailored for every radio format, a disc that encapsulated the increasing integration (or re-integration) of hip-hop and R&B into pop/rock and, for a stunning moment, was the standard bearer of pop music. (Seriously, go back and listen to Steel Wheels and tell me Mick and Keith weren’t taking notes on Kick.)
But if Kick was INXS’ Nobel Prize for cold fusion, everything from 1982’s The Swing to 1985’s Listen Like Thieves had Hutchence, the Farriss brothers (keyboardist Andrew, guitarist Tim, drummer Jon), saxophonist Kirk Pengilly and excellently-named bassist Garry Gary Beers working hard to split the atoms. (That’s not to say their first two albums didn’t have hidden gems: check out this great compilation, recommended to me by our own Dr. Gonzo, and dig their cover of “The Loved One” by the Aussie band of the same name.)
INXS were as Australian as Paul Hogan chugging a Foster’s, but everyone could get behind their funk-party sound, air drumming to “What You Need,” singing along to the Daryl Hall falsetto line on “Original Sin,” discovering deeper cuts like “To Look At You” and “Dancing on the Jetty” or imagining that perfect makeout moment to the ringing strains of “Don’t Change.”
And while it’s easy to think that the group, like so many ’80s contemporaries, evaporated before the onslaught of alternative rock in the first half of the next decade, INXS were still making it work while the rest of the world was tuned into 120 Minutes. 1990’s X had some tremendous cuts (like Kick, also immaculately produced by Chris Thomas): “Disappear,” “By My Side” and “The Stairs” may have hit many of the same beats as their predecessors, but they were no less good. As the ’90s wore on, INXS did their best to avoid the brickbats of Oasis (who, let’s face it, were, as “gonna bes,” just as good at doing one thing well as the so-called “has-beens” of INXS were) and eked out a great semi-hit here and there (“Beautiful Girl,” “Not Enough Time,” “The Gift”).
In the end, nobody could replace Michael Hutchence. Not J.D. Fortune, not Rob Thomas, not even Terence Trent D’Arby (though God damn it, his attempt was DOPE). But one thing’s for sure: no matter when INXS stopped counting to you, we could never tear them apart from their place in the pop firmament.
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