When we last left INXS in our Anthology Part I, they had reached the pinnacle of success with 20 million album sales of Kick – which ruled the top 40 and MTV in 1987-88. For a lot of bands, reaching this point was followed by a big fall – either in album content/sales or break-ups from the pressure of the money, fame, in-band fighting, and tabloid relationships. Think about bands breaking through with similar huge albums around this time: The Cars – Heartbeat City, The B-52’s – Cosmic Thing, and Def Leppard – Hysteria all come to mind, and none of them could achieve anything near the level of success going with their next album. INXS bucked the odds, though, and found a way to keep their popularity and creativity going for a few more albums. Yes, ultimately they disappeared from the top 40 and then everything came to a screeching halt with Michael Hutchence’ death on November 22, 1997. But up until then, and even after, there are six more albums to write about, so here’s our take on the second half of the INXS Anthology.
X (1990) – Mike G.
Even though Kick was their sixth studio album, with their huge success and millions of new fans, the next album had that air of “sophomore effort” to it – which typically does not carry a positive connotation in the music industry. Nevertheless, after three years INXS came out with a killer follow-up, one that may not have sold half the quantity of Kick, but was creatively an equal, and some would argue superior album. X, by the way, stands for 10 years since their debut album came out. It starts off with one of their best album openers in “Suicide Blonde”, just all all-around perfect rock-pop song that I never get tired of (although the song was underserved by a cheesy and bland video). The next two songs, “Disappear” and “The Stairs”, both singles, are mid-tempo tracks that showcase a little more musical complexity and Hutchence’ continued exploration with his vocal range. “By My Side” and “Bitter Tears” were the other two singles, but really, there isn’t a bad song here. The production is slick and consistent, and I like how they brought in a local blues musician Charlie Musselwhite to play harmonica on “Suicide Blonde”, “Who Pays The Price” and “On My Way”. I probably overplayed this disc back in the early ’90s, but it still holds up well and I’ve enjoyed listening to it start-to-finish in the past few years.
DJ: Relistening to it, it sure is underrated. Yes it’s an extension of Kick but what’s wrong with that? “Hear That Sound” is a great closer for the album just as “Suicide Blonde” is as the opener. I wrote about this album in a previous post Out of the Box: Early 90’s CDs.
Live Baby Live (1991) – DJ
One of my favorite live albums, recorded for the X tour, it’s got energy few other live records have. Songs sound more alive, more meaningful and they give a performance of a lifetime. Now obviously they knew they were taping this tour for an album and also a concert video, something I also had on VHS. They only play a couple tunes not off of X or Kick. They dig back for a couple on Listen Like Thieves and also play “Burn for You” and “The One Thing” and that’s perfectly fine. Their live version here of “Never Tear Us Apart” is my favorite version by far. The energy of “Guns in the Sky” and “Suicide Blonde” is fully ramped up and pulsating. I know people who had seen INXS around this time (unfortunately I never got a chance) and said they weren’t that great. So I’m very surprised by this performance. Could they have been at an end of a tour and burnt out, maybe who knows? I have to guess the energy of Hutchence spills over into how well they sound, and if he is tired or messed up the show may not be good. Anyhow, this one was great. It also introduced the single “Shining Star” which is a great track.
MG: I saw them on the X tour and it wasn’t terrible, but I recall it being a rather rote performance of the studio versions. As you said – it may have just been an off night. That may be why I didn’t give this live album much thought when it came out, but listening to it now, I agree it is a great listen – not a bad song/performance among them. “Burn For You” is a standout and I love how they used “New Sensation” to start the show.
Welcome to Wherever You Are (1992) – Mike G.
Based on the greatness of X, I was pretty excited for the release of this album in 1992. Additionally, I seem to recall hearing two singles, “Heaven Sent” and “Not Enough Time”, prior to the album’s release – both stellar tracks I loved on first listen. Then I got the album in August 1992, and I tried really hard to like it, but I couldn’t find much to love outside of the two singles I’d already heard. Though I loved those two songs, the rest of the album was underwhelming and, fairly or not, I pretty much wrote off the band as creatively dry at that point. I know it’s silly, but the album cover annoyed me as well, so this disc became one I filed away and pretty much forgot about. In preparation for this post, I gave this album a few listens, once again trying really hard to like it more, but it still comes up short for me. I appreciate the attempt at less-slick production and a bit of experimentation with sounds, but I don’t feel that always led to distinctive songs. They also broke their streak of great openings with the blandly titled “Questions”, which had a somewhat cliché far-Eastern sound added. Reportedly, there was the Australian Concert Orchestra on a few songs, but it didn’t register as anything impressive or standout. I suppose “Beautiful Girl” stands out a bit musically, but the lyrics feel bland and repetitive. Supposedly critics reviewed this album well, so maybe it’s just my personal taste on this one.
DJ: No love for this album and I was pumped for its release. “Heaven Sent” and “Not Enough Time” make my list of favorite INXS songs though. The rest of the album off a cliff, maybe my least favorite of the bunch here. Just tough to get through, I absolutely hate “Taste It”.
Full Moon, Dirty Hearts (1993) – DJ
I felt INXS had come off of a disappointing album with Welcome to Wherever You are and I wasn’t sure I was going to buy the next INXS album, but when “The Gift” came out that changed. Not only was I going to buy the album but I went and bought the CD single. It had a great cover of Hutchence with angel wings and the rest of the boys gathered around him like the last supper. I have no clue who the girl was.
“The Gift” is a great song, it’s powerful, it’s different and I was expecting good things, but I hated the rest of the album. It wasn’t the same INXS, so I eventually sold it. I didn’t handle change well I guess. Like with a lot of things I was wrong and over time I love this album. Yes it has a different sound but that is ok, different can be good. Full Moon, Dirty Hearts is funky and has soul that the other albums did not. “Please (You Got That…)” with Ray Charles is an excellent collaboration. They also duet with Chrissie Hynde on the title track and that works, their voices work well together. “Kill the Pain” has an emotional darkness to it with the piano being the only instrument which I guess is Andrew Farris’s work. The only real dud for me is “Freedom Deep”- just hard to listen to. I know the album got panned a bit but it’s much better than that.
MG: I had fully moved on to alternative rock at this point, and never gave this album any thought when it came out. It’s too bad, because listening to this now, it was a strong rebound from the previous one. It starts strong with “Days of Rust”, “The Gift” and “Make Your Peace”. I find the guest vocals by Charles to be jarring, but Hynde harmonizes well with Hutchence on the title track.
Non-album Single: “The Strangest Party (These Are the Times) (1994) – DJ
In 1994 INXS came out with a Greatest Hits compilation with a new single “The Strangest Party (These Are the Times). It’s a decent single that fits with the music they were making at the time. Written by Hutchence and Andrew Farriss, it’s per them a song about the trip the band has been on. The video is killer as well. Little known fact it closed out the Wesley Snipes film Drop Zone.
Elegantly Wasted (1997) Mike G.
Considering this was their tenth studio album, INXS put out a fairly competent effort with this disc. I was aware of the title track when it was released as a single, and though I enjoyed the track, it didn’t make me buy the album. The song “Everything” is a classic INXS slow-jam tune, in the vein of “Never Tear Us Apart” and “By My Side”. There are more acoustic guitars on this album than their prior stuff, with at least four songs starting off with just acoustic guitars, and it gives some of the music compositions a laid-back feel. The production does less processing of Hutchence’ vocals, which is refreshing because it allows one to enjoy hearing his amazing voice. There are a few throwaway tracks on this for sure, such as “Searching” which has some nice vocals but doesn’t go anywhere lyrically. There aren’t any of the upbeat, sing-along, stadium anthems like “Suicide Blonde” or “What You Need” but this album is pleasant to listen to. Maybe it’s just the lack of vocal processing, but I feel like Hutchence is more comfortable and easy-going in his singing. It makes me think that he would have been able to successfully transition from rock god to a veteran, more-mellow singer, kind of like what Sting has accomplished, which is sad considering this was Hutchence’ last musical contribution. If you are a fan like me and wrote off the band after X you owe it to yourself to check out these last two albums.
DJ: Yeah overall not a bad production. I had no clue of any of it at the time, I totally bypassed it. I first heard the three singles off of a hits package. I love the title track and my opinion differs on “Searching” which I enjoy. “Don’t Lose Your Head” is also a standout. I think there could have been so good records made in the future if not for the tragedy.
Switch (2005) – DJ
After Hutchence’s unfortunate death, INXS decided the right way to pick a lead singer replacement was to create a reality show with Mark Burnett of Survivor fame. I admit it was my guilty pleasure to see amateur singers try to take on Hutchence’s vocals. Canadian JD Fortune was selected based on his star appeal and voice. I loved the first single off this album “Pretty Vegas” and even despite the sacrilege, I bought the album. I also admit I barely got through it once. It’s a slog to get through. There are lots of hints of old INXS in the music but at times there is a derivative nature to it. I truly believe with Hutchence alive they would have gone a different way, but this album is trying to recreate the late 80’s. Fortune is a strong singer and does his best, but he is a discount Hutchence at best. Also missing are Hutchence’s lyrics. Andrew Farriss tries and often gets some help but the song “Hot Girls” is rough, sounds like Van Halen circa 1984 – I already hear myself going #Metoo. One of the other singles “Afterglow” isn’t too bad and a tribute to their former leader. The only other song I like is the Kirk Pengilly written song “Like It or Not”, it’s fun on an otherwise unfun album. It’s no wonder they have not tried original material since.
MG: I will also cop to enjoying the reality show Rock Star: INXS, which I believe aired in the summer of 2005. It was fun to see the band play their hits with the potential singers. I hoped they would pick a female singer as I thought that might take them in a new direction and avoid someone doing a copycat of Hutchence. Alas, we got the copycat, and even though I like “Pretty Vegas”, this album proved the band’s creativity had indeed dried up and could not continue on without their charismatic singer. Still, if the band went on a hits tour again with Fortune as the lead, I would be tempted to check it out.