Jul 072020

Considering that INXS was one of the most popular bands in the world during their reign, you will be forgiven for thinking, “What asshole thinks INXS is in need of a critical upgrade?”

Recently, on a work call, a Scottish colleague quoted an INXS lyric that was actually poignant. I’d never considered the lyrics of INXS, and maybe the rest of their lyrics are still not worth my consideration, but I did realize that one reason I never paid any attention to their lyrics was because the rhythms and animal desire expressed by Michael Hutchence were so strong. The craft of those unavoidable hit songs from the late-’80s was strong, too. I’ll go one bold step further: For a popular ’80s band, they struck a solid Look.

I never particularly loved or even liked INXS, but they had it down. I discovered Roxy Music just as they started to get super slick, over their last couple of albums. Because I was hooked by the early, wild stuff, I could “excuse” some of the too-slick-for-my-sensibilities areas into which Bryan Ferry led the band. On the other hand, INXS came out of the gates, for me at least, all slick and shiny and pumped up. Looking back, I’ll take this INXS song over any late-period Roxy Music song other than “More Than This.”

I expect that both my close personal friend E. Pluribus Gergely and the wonderful 2000 Man are squirming as they read this, but I think they’d agree that Mick Jagger, from 1983 on, would have cut off his left nut to make music this good.


  16 Responses to “Critical Upgrade: INXS”

  1. I will apologize upfront. I am incapable of offering any opinion on INXS. It’s like you are asking for people’s opinions on the quality of boiled chicken. I just can’t raise the energy level to even HAVE an opinion on them. That’s probably clear evidence of a need for a critical upgrade.

    I want to sidetrack to a point about Bryan Ferry though! I was struck while watching the Roxy clips included in the Eno documentary just how creepy I thought Ferry’s vibe was. My image of him is of the dapper tuxedo wearing romantic of his solo days and assume women find him attractive. His vibe in those few Roxy clips was of a leering weirdo. It’s usually the case in music that the young version is the handsome attractive one that slowly morphs into the out of step creepy version, but Ferry went the other way. I might be way off base, but just a strange impression those clips left me with.

  2. The boiled chicken analogy makes perfect sense. No need to apologize.

    I think your read on Ferry is accurate, and I think he had to be self-aware about his seemingly intentionally leery persona. I’ve never read or heard many interviews with him, so I’m not sure what he’s ever expressed on the issue. I do recall him saying that he’s from a working-class background, so maybe he was playing up to an upper-crust image, but I don’t know whether he was trying to take the piss out of that image or not.

    Or maybe it has nothing to do with the stereotypical British upper-class twat. Maybe he was playing up to an old-time Hollywood image. He does have that “2HB” song (HB for Humphrey Bogart) and dresses like he is appearing in Casablanca. Songs like “Mother of Pearl” suggest that he does have a bit of self-hating humor about his persona.

    My wife, by the way, thinks he’s gross at any age! I was just saying to her the other night that it’s a shame she doesn’t realize how great Roxy Music was.

  3. Happiness Stan

    I’m with Frank on this one, I’m afraid, when they appeared they seemed to represent everything I’d fought against in the great punk and new wave wars. Also, they were, I think, a bit more avoidable over here, and I did.

    Roxy Music, on the other hand blew my only just ten year old brain apart when I saw them doing Virginia Plain on Top of the Pops the week it was released. I often wondered if I’d just never been exposed to anything else like it, but watching again since I think I was right, there actually wasn’t anything else like it, not even Bowie looked and sounded that strange. It wasn’t just Ferry leering and lounging, it was Eno in a frock and not being able to work out who was playing what. I can literally point to that moment as ground zero for me, the day music came alive. I never really got into the later, slick stuff, but it doesn’t matter.

    I’ll check out the INXS later, I try to watch all the videos linked to here, but the moment’s often gone by the time I get to them.

  4. I know I’m going on there on behalf of the Hall, Stan, when it comes to this call for consideration of a Critical Upgrade for INXS. All I’m looking for among us is consideration. I’m not saying they’re great or anything, but I’m starting to think they were a bit better than I’d ever given them credit for being. Dare I say, they might be eligible for our Foyer of Fame!

    I only pulled Roxy Music into the conversation, as I think you understand, because I was able to make allowances for their late-period, slick stuff, when Ferry started putting salt peter into the meals for Manzanera and the original drummer – I’m blanking on his name, is it someone Thompson? That guy was great on the first 4 or 5 albums. (Eventually, Ferry replaced him for the final album or two with that American studio cat, Rick Marotta, if memory serves. The studio cats stayed in their lane.) Had Avalon been the first album by Roxy Music and I put it up against the big album by INXS, I think I’d prefer INXS. Is this not much of a compliment, considering that I’d choose the bummer of an Elvis Costello album from that same time, Mighty Like a Rose, over INXS? Yes.

  5. Happiness Stan

    I wish my mind was as open as yours, Mr Mod, I really di, but it might as well have been Simple Minds or Ocean Colour Scene.

    Jagger might conceivably have wanted to be Michael Hutchence in the early eighties, but not as much as Hutchence in the eighties wanted to be Jagger from 1966 or Jim Morrison being arrested.

    There’s a point on the scale somewhere for me where the Jagger/Morrison posing switches of any enjoyment I can get from the accompanying sounds, it falls somewhere between the Michaels Stipe and Hutchence.

    Do all their songs stop for a beat in the middle? I seem to remember others I’ve heard doing it. There are loads of great songs where it works, Halfway to Paradise, Hey Jude, Masters of the Universe, that little hiccup there just sounded like boiled chicken by numbers. His voice seems to have been ironed, there doesn’t seem to be any depth to it, not a single tic or mannerism I could point to and say, ah yes, that’s INXS without looking at the label or waiting for the DJ to tell me at the end of the song.

    It’s definitely the look rather than the noise that’s pressing my buttons here, the music sounds like stuff I could always take or leave, like Spandau Ballet or Heaven 17, mostly innocuous with two songs just good enough to make it worth hanging on to the end of the show for. I’d probably have stuck it out at a festival as long as nothing interesting was happening anywhere else.

    I’ve been thinking about what you said about Roxy Music, because I’d lost interest by then I can’t comment on that surgically, but I think I’m getting closer to understanding what it is about UB40 that drives me to distraction, it’s the smug, self satisfied looks on their faces as they churn out another cod Jamaican appropriation of music almost everyone else can do as well or better. It’s the same reason I loathe Level 42, another regular at a little festival I work at every year on happier times. It’s been cancelled this year, but they’ve just been pleased to announce that UB40 will be playing next year since they couldn’t this. Deep joy!

  6. Happiness Stan

    Surgically? Where the heck did that come from???

  7. BigSteve

    When I saw this topic, I thought ‘Oh man I’m going to have to dig up that one INXS song that I like, but I have no idea what the name of it is.’ It turns out that it’s New Sensation, which Mr. Mod kindly posted. I really like the groove on that one. The band had three brothers, but the one playing the keyboards in this clip was their main songwriter. I’m sure he felt he never got enough credit. They’re better when I can just listen and I don’t have to watch Hutchence’s Rock Star routine.

  8. 2000 Man

    First off, Mick Jagger did plenty of good things with The Stones after 1983. His solo stuff is real spotty, to be generous and when A Bigger Bang came out for some reason he thought it was a great idea to steal an INXS song. That’s just one reason I hate that record, but it does bring me to INXS. I thought they were better when they were Duran Duran.

  9. Although I’m pretty lukewarm on INXS, the one song I did remember making a positive impression on me was, I think, the one that made their initial impact here. It’s called “It’s the One Thing,” and it had a cool little guitar chord riff used in the verse and a dub triplet feel under the chorus. I just listened to it and, although it’s a little more 80’s sounding than I remembered, I still prefer it to the other hits and understand the good first impression. “Don’t Change” popped up after that one, and it’s a U2 cop with a little more oomph than the inventors.

    A couple of months back, I checked out the Hutchence solo record that Andy Gill was involved in. It was very unremarkable.

    In short, while I don’t hate ’em, I also don’t think they are roundly horrible, tasteless or offensive, like later period Aerosmith. They are merely inessential. So I vote no critical upgrade.

  10. cherguevara

    I saw INXS several times and listened to their albums quite a lot during their prime. Geo is right to recall those two songs, “Don’t Change” and “the One Thing,” which are just fun pop songs. The rest of that album never spoke to me, but the next album was more of a breakthrough – “the Swing.” That one is my favorite. Apparently the story was they did one song with Nile Rogers as producer, giving them more of a dance-funk sound. Then Nick Launay produced the rest of the album in a similar vein, though apparently they claimed they hadn’t wanted to do that. It’s just a fun, danceable, new wave album, don’t overthink it. The next album, “Listen Like Thieves,” was their reaction to that, it had the song “Wot you need.” This was their “rock album” and when they struck a balance between the rock and the dance-funk, they hit the jackpot with the “Kick” album which turned them into a mainstream band with a lot more frat bros in the audience.

    Now that I’m older, I have a different perspective. Those albums are sentimental to me, but they don’t hold up well. As a teenager who rejected anything I perceived as “classic rock,” I was looking for other bands to fill that function. Michael Hutchence was a great front man – a fantastic voice, dynamic presence and yes, he was nicking Jagger and Morrison, but to teenaged me, that seemed more like evolution and influence, rather than overt imitation. He claimed to have put more care into the lyrics for “Kick,” but while his lyrics occasionally touched on social issues, mostly they were about love and/or sex. If you’re romancing someone, the sentiment of, “I – I was standing – You were there,” doesn’t exactly radiate passion or caring. I was so caught up in avoiding the sources that inspired INXS, because I viewed them as passé, that I bought into their carob rock, when there was real chocolate on the radio. Michael Hutchence’s passing was wasteful and tragic.Their misguided attempts to carry on with different singers were just sad, the reality show was like trying prop up something that was already wilted and decaying. Enjoy their music for what it is, it’s not for the ages, just for the aged who were there.

  11. OK, so the Critical Upgrade is not looking good. Not a problem. The band thanks you for your consideration, as do I. I think cher has added a new term to our lexicon with Carob Rock!

  12. Hi all! Hope all is well! How is the Brian Eno documentary? Is it worth watching?

  13. Hey E Plurb, I found it very enjoyable. I own and enjoy the 4 “pop” Eno albums and 2 of the Roxy albums, but knew very little about Eno the man. This certainly filled in a lot for me. I came away with an even deeper appreciation of him. It does suffer from the same shortcoming of so many of the rock docs on Amazon Prime, there aren’t enough interviews with the artist themselves! It does have a lot of cool footage, but almost all the interviews are with critics rather than people who were there. It’s over 2 and 1/2 hours if that matters.

    (worst offender on Amazon Prime is the Replacements doc! There were no Replacements in it, and no Replacements music. It took about 1/2 hour before I realized how lame it was and turned it off)

  14. Greatly appreciated, Chickenfrank! And now I have some good news (hopefully good news) for you, and the rest of the rth gang. The Band documentary, Once We Were Brothers, is on Hulu. Haven’t watched it, but me and the wife will be in watching it in about 10 minutes or so.

  15. ladymisskirroyale

    I was a big fan of early INXS, especially their 1984 album, The Swing. It was co-produced by Nile Rogers, and Daryl Hall provided back-up vocals. I think the album offers a bit more variability than you would guess: some of the lyrics are pithy and political. The rhythm section is pretty forward in the mix so they clearly took some lessons from their Post-Punk friends. And Michael Hutchence was HOT. Listening to some of the tracks now, some of the synth effects are pretty dated. But I stand by this album as a good gateway album to a lot of the early 80’s sounds.

    The very a la Tom Jones video to The One Thing, off of 1982’s Shabooh Shoobah, was pretty riveting to my teenage self. The single, Don’t Change, also off of the same album, reflects their (most likely) early intent: an Australian U2 or Dexy’s Midnight Runners.

  16. ladymisskirroyale

    and cher, I’m in total agreement with what you wrote.

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