There were two tapes that I played to death during the summer of 1995. Both compilation albums, too – The Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks and INXS Greatest Hits. I remember my friend wasn’t too enamoured with the Stones, conspiring with my brother to turn off the tape and exchange it whilst I was out the room (perhaps he’d over subscribed to it during the many visits over that summer). I don’t remember any such shenanigans when it came to INXS. Nowadays, though, I get the odd look when I mention that I was rather fond of INXS. I don’t know whether much of that is due to the quality of the last couple of Hutchence-era albums or if it is simply the result of what came after (the TV show and the lone J.D. Fortune fronted release, Switch, for example). Whichever reason, INXS aren’t a band many seem to associate with musical credibility these days. But trust me, before grunge and Paula Yates, INXS were actually really pretty brilliant. At the very least, they were a truly great singles band. That last statement is probably one that many would agree with, right?
Anyhoo, the only INXS record I own on vinyl is Kick. It just so happens that it’s possibly their best. When I say possibly, I mean most definitely. By the time they reached their 6th album, Hutchence and Andrew Farriss had honed their songwriting skills and the proof, as they say is in the pudding. Even now it sounds pretty fresh and I don’t think many have done that rock-pop crossover with as much aplomb as these guys did. The guitars are both polished and gritty and the band lay down some of the most memorable riffs and rhythms of the 80s. And then there’s Michael Hutchence. His words and performances all dark, sexual, sensual, mysterious and engaging. Most importantly, though, it’s just an incredibly consistent album that finds them at their peak and channelling the Stones, Queen, Roxy Music and Prince (some may say this is ludicrous, but I say not so much).
Of the five singles from the album, three appear on Side A. Starting with New Sensation. Not that opener Guns In the Sky is for ignoring, as it’s actually really pretty good with it’s simple two chord back-and-forth while Hutchence growls like Jagger about starting a revolution (possibly). But New Sensation remains the most recognisable of INXS’ tracks – that guitar and anthemic mantra. The two tracks that follow in this run are also brilliant; Devil Inside is pure Roxy Music with that sinister groove as Hutchence ponders what would, if you believe some reports, eventually get him in bother. Need You Tonight has a great back-beat accompanying another of those recognisable riffs. Lyrically there’s not a great deal to it, but it’s the delivery … Hutchence quite clearly making what is now referred to as a bootie call (“I need you tonight, ’cause I’m not sleeping. There’s something about you, girl, that makes me sweat”). Like the single, this runs into Mediate before the side is rounded off by the modern blue-eyed soul of The Loved One.
Now, side B isn’t quite as accessible. Not due to a dip in quality, but more the result of side A having three of the big hitters and songs aimed at getting your groove on. Here it’s a bit more thoughtful (ha!), but there’s also some o’ that Rolling Stones stuff I was talking about. Hutchence again channels Jagger with the delivery of lines like “I gotta learn some respect, that’s what I have, what I have for you” (Wild life) and “you don’t have to be rich, you don’t have to be famous, you just have to have a little bit of patience” (Calling All Nations). And then there’s the songs here that I keep returning to – Never Tear Us Apart and Mystify. While Mystify was a favourite of mine for so long, the former is, quite possibly, the best song in INXS catalogue. It’s the track that proves they had more to offer than the hit singles. Of course, Never Tear Us Apart was a single, but it was more than that, too. It’s a brilliantly crafted and exceptional love song. A true great (in my opinion). Additionally, it boasts one of Hutchence’s finest vocal performances. The song itself breathes through an affecting ‘string’ arrangement and some subtle guitar … but around 1:45 it hits you …
…. Hutchence declares that “they’ll never … ever tear us apart” ….
… then guitar …
… that Kirk Pengilly sax solo.
Mystify brings you back into focus before side B is brought to a close with the title track (solid, but not notable) and Tiny Daggers (which could easily have been one of the stronger songs from any of the Stones’ 80s records).
So yeah, a really great album and one I’m pleased to have in the collection.