Learning their craft in tough Sydney pubs and clubs, INXS formed on August 16, 1977, quickly graduating from rock’n’roll’s school of hard knocks. Theirs was, however, and initial slow burn that eventually lit a fuse that exploded globally with the multi-million-selling Kick album, which was unleashed almost exactly 10 years after their formation, on October 19, 1987. Until frontman Michael Hutchence’s death, in 1997, the versatile Australian sextet packed out arenas the world over, moving a phenomenal 50 million albums worldwide and bequeathing a back catalog of enduring quality from which choosing the best INXS songs is a tough but extremely rewarding task.
INXS originally sprang from fledgling outfit The Farriss Brothers, based in the band’s native Perth, Western Australia. Middle brother of three, Andrew Farriss (keyboards), and his high-school buddy, aspiring vocalist/co-songwriter Michael Hutchence, formed the band in 1977, pulling in bassist Garry Gary Beers, Andrew’s guitarist brother Tim and guitarist/saxophonist Kirk Pengilly. The youngest of the three Farriss siblings, drummer Jon completed the line-up, and when he graduated from high school the newly re-christened INXS relocated to Sydney to ply the small club circuit – a move which landed them a deal with a local label, Deluxe Records.
Full of promise
Though captured on a small budget, INXS’s self-titled 1980 debut was full of promise, pointing the way towards the best INXS songs to come and spawning the band’s first Australian Top 40 hit, “Just Keep Walking”: a jittery but enthralling slice of XTC-ish new wave pop. Though in a similar sonic vein, the band’s second album, 1981’s Underneath The Covers, reflected the growing maturity in Hutchence and Andrew Farriss’ songwriting. It also yielded INXS’s first Australian Top 30 hit, courtesy of the atmospheric “Stay Young”, and led to international record deals with WEA in Australia, Polygram in the UK, and Atco (later Atlantic) in North America.
Relishing this shot in the arm, the best INXS songs to date were composed for 1982’s Shabooh Shoobah: a consistently fine album which cracked the Australian Top 5 and included several of the band’s evergreen fan favorites, such as the brash, confident “The One Thing” and the urgent, anthemic “Don’t Change”, the popular latter number later spawning covers by numerous artists, including Goo Goo Dolls and The Killers’ Brandon Flowers.
With Hutchence drawing considerable praise for his charismatic vocals and dynamic, Jagger-esque stage presence, 1984’s The Swing helped INXS inch ever closer to international recognition. The band’s first Australian No.1 (and also a minor US hit), The Swing presented another nattily-attired set of songs, with the celebratory “Burn For You,” glossy “Dancing On The Jetty” and sleek, proto-Kick funk of the Nile Rodgers-produced “Original Sin” among its many state-of-the-art highlights.
Produced by Chris Thomas (Sex Pistols, Roxy Music), INXS’ fifth album, Listen Like Thieves (also their debut for Atlantic Records), brokered the band’s much-deserved international breakthrough, going double-platinum in the US and peaking at No.11 on the Billboard 200. Brimming with confidence and snappy pop hooks, Listen Like Thieves contained an abundance of superior dancefloor-friendly pop-rock anthems (“This Time”, the attention-grabbing “What You Need”) and also a few surprises, such as the brassy, soul-flavored “One X One”.
INXS brilliantly alchemized their long-term influences (lithe funk, raunchy, Rolling Stones-esque rock, and the sounds of the contemporary dancefloor) and emerged with something cool, stylish, and entirely original on 1987’s dynamic Kick – for many fans the album that contains the best INXS songs of all time. A superlative-defying platter which propelled the band to global stardom, the multi-platinum-selling Kick moved over four million copies in the US alone. Its mandatory hit-stuffed stand-outs included the redemptive, Delta blues-flavored “Mystify” and the classy widescreen balladry of “Never Tear Us Apart”, while the svelte, sexy funk of signature hit “Need You Tonight” provided INXS with a coveted US No.1.
Stylistically a consolidation, yet still a terrific record on its own terms, 1990’s X again yielded multi-platinum returns. Kicked up an extra gear by former Mike Bloomfield associate Charlie Musselwhite’s earthy harmonica, the album’s slinky first single, “Suicide Blonde,” takes some beating even now, though ensuing singles “Disappear” and the grandstanding “Bitter Tears” both came close, while “The Stairs” – a vividly-recounted tale of urban isolation – coaxed out a dynamic group performance and an especially impassioned Hutchence vocal.
Broadening their sound
With musical trends changing rapidly, the band’s eighth studio album, 1992’s Welcome To Wherever You Are, was issued while grunge and alt-rock were ripping up the mainstream. INXS responded to the challenge by broadening their palette of sounds, creating a satisfying record long on diversity and invention, boasting many of the best INXS songs of the 90s: the key tracks including the Eastern-tinged “Questions,” the driving, anthemic “Heaven Sent” and the lavish, swaying pop of “Baby Don’t Cry” – the latter brought to life with help from the 60-piece Australian Concert Orchestra in Sydney.
With Welcome To Wherever You Are, INXS became the first Australian band since AC/DC in 1980 to score a UK No.1 album, and the record picked up some of the best reviews of INXS’s career, with British broadsheet The Independent dubbing it “their best record by some distance”. Opting to record a quick follow-up, INXS pieced together their final album for Atlantic during sessions on the Italian Isle Of Capri. Long overdue a reappraisal, the album they emerged with, Full Moon, Dirty Hearts, was a vivid, energetic record, and its stand-out tracks, the swaggering, blues-imbued titular song and “Please (You Got That…)” featured decisive guest slots from Chrissie Hynde and the legendary Ray Charles, respectively.
Launching a comeback
With 1994’s self-explanatory The Greatest Hits winding up their deal with Atlantic Records, INXS took a well-deserved break after almost 15 years of almost constant writing, recording, and touring, but they emerged refreshed with a new deal with Mercury/Polygram and a comeback album, Elegantly Wasted, in 1997.
Overseen by Canadian producer Bruce Fairbairn (Aerosmith, The Cranberries), the album featured the band again honing inspiration from wild rawk and sinuous funk grooves, and its best tracks, ‘Searching’ and the monster groove of “Don’t Lose Your Head,” suggested that INXS were back in the hunt for the duration prior to the tragic death of Michael Hutchence in November 1997.
A lasting legacy
Devastated by losing both their close friend and one of the greatest frontmen of their generation, the remaining members of INXS inevitably then retreated from the music scene for a time in the late 90s and early 00s.
Though Michael Hutchence could never realistically be replaced, INXS did make a welcome return to the studio for 2005’s Switch, helmed by Canadian-born vocalist JD Fortune, and later revisited their earlier catalog for 2010’s Michael Hutchence tribute Original Sin, which featured contributions from guest vocalists including Brandon Flowers, Tricky and Nick Harper. Both releases have added an intriguing footnote to an already substantial rock’n’roll canon which is destined to grow in stature and delight new fans for many decades yet to come.
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