Michael Hutchence knew exactly what Jim Morrison was doing, and he knew how to do it better.
I was 13 years old when INXS’ most popular album was released. KICK was designed to take over the world, which is exactly what it did. Kids like me didn’t have a chance. The idea was that INXS founding member and composer, Andrew Farris, and his writing partner, lead singer Michael Hutchence would write an entire album of songs that were worthy of being singles. In the end, five singles were released from KICK, and it became the fourth best selling album of 1988. Need You Tonight outsold Sweet Child O’Mine.
It’s a rock music archetype: Charismatic Frontman. Robert Plant, Mick Jagger, Freddie Mercury, Jim Morrison, Michael Hutchence. The comparison to Morrison is an obvious one. Wavy hair, tight pants, slithery moves. But while Morrison veered off into the 1960’s angry, self-indulgent poet destined for oblivion arena, Hutch just wanted to have a good time. INXS came along at a strange time to be a sex symbol – heading into the AIDS crisis, where the “Free Love” Baby Boomers were teaching their children that sex killed – because at the time – it did. It couldn’t just all be sex appeal anymore, could it? There had to be more to it, right? INXS sounded different, and they bridged a very transitional time in music. Combining rock and funk with elements of dance-pop, post-punk and new wave – INXS had something for everybody.
The Early Days
These weren’t guys who wasted time. In 1977, in their hometown of Sydney, Australia, the three Farriss brothers – Andrew, Tim, and Jon teamed as school kids with friends Kirk Pengilly, Gary Beers to jam in the Ferriss. The day that Andrew saved the new kid at school – Michael Hutchence – from getting into a fight was the beginning. Michael joined the rest of the boys in the garage, they handed him a mic and told him to sing. The band that would become INXS spent the next 20 years playing their music, their way.
INXS spent the first few years of the ’80s playing across Western Australia. Those first few years, they played any pub in Australia that would pay them. They worked hard. The term “overnight sensation” did not apply to these guys. They had a few things working for them, not the least of which was they had been making videos of their songs for Australian television BEFORE MTV premiered. So, when MTV came along, and desperately needed videos, here was a group of Aussies who had a few ready to go! American audiences liked what they saw. The charismatic frontman didn’t hurt.
By the mid-’80s, a formula was becoming very apparent. INXS had moderate hits – their previous album – Listen Like Thieves – had even hit #11 in the States. Every INXS song that had any success had been written by Andrew Farriss and Michael Hutchence. So, for INXS’s 6th album, Andrew and Michael would be tasked with writing a whole album of hits. No pressure there, right? According to Andrew, “Anyone can write a song that sounds contemporary. We wanted our songs to sound like the future“. In the end, KICK was everything they had hoped it would be. An album full of hits, an effort that would give them major, worldwide fame.
For their 10th anniversary in 1990, INXS releases X. X includes two hit songs; Suicide Blonde, and Disappear. What the band couldn’t have known was that X would be their last really big commercial triumph. There was a major change coming to the music scene in 1991 – Nirvana’s Nevermind would change the game.
By the time 1997 rolled around, the alternative music scene had become solidly mainstream. INXS’ 1997 album – Elegantly Wasted felt like it was positively dripping with EFFORT. Trust me, in 1997, nothing was worse than seeming like you were trying. It was only a marginal hit. But listen to it now, time and cultural distance help, Hutchence’s vocals are rich and funky as ever, the band sounds tight. It’s a cool track, and they look cool. This song got much better with age.
More happened. You can do the research if you want. Michael came to a tragic end in 1997. The band continued with varying, but ultimately lesser success.
The music is what matters.
The music is really good.
INXS’ music has a timeless quality because the band remained absolutely true to themselves. The music is from a time, but it isn’t OF that time.
Was this whole blog just an excuse for me to watch Michael Hutchence videos at work? Maaaaaaaaaaybe. 😉