‘Kick’: How INXS Booted The Competition Aside
A defining album of the 80s, ‘Kick’ alchemized INXS’s key influences into a highly original pop-rock hybrid.
After their breakout hit “What You Need” smashed into the US Top 5 early in 1986, INXS’s slow but steady rise to global stardom intensified. On the back of the single’s success, their fifth album, Listen Like Thieves, went double Platinum in the US and set the stage for the band’s promotion to rock’s big leagues with 1987’s Kick, released on October 19 that year.
Listen to Kick on Apple Music and Spotify.
Complacency, however, wasn’t an option for the hard-working Australian sextet as they began crafting their magnum opus. Indeed, while they embarked on the album sessions on a high following acclaimed US and UK jaunts, and the Australian Made tour, which straddled December 1986 and January ’87, the band was unanimous in the belief that their new material simply had to better than Listen Like Thieves. As guitarist and saxophonist Kirk Pengilly informed DJ and broadcaster Ian “Molly” Meldrum, INXS were striving for “an album where all the songs were possible singles.”
To achieve this aim, the band reconvened with Listen Like Thieves producer Chris Thomas. Having previously helmed acclaimed titles by The Pretenders, not to mention Sex Pistols’ infamous Never Mind The Bollocks… Here’s The Sex Pistols, Thomas’ crisp, efficient studio technique ensured he remained in demand. Yet while the producer was aware that INXS’s star was firmly in the ascendant, he later told band biographer Anthony Bozza that he felt “they didn’t have the right songs yet” when the Kick sessions began in Sydney.
Accordingly, primary songwriters Michael Hutchence and Andrew Farriss flew out to Hong Kong for an intensive two-week songwriting session. Inspired by the sojourn, the pair returned with a handful of promising demo tapes, including basic versions of several of the future album’s key tracks, among them the driving, anthemic “Kick,” “Calling All Nations” and “Need You Tonight.”
Certain they now had the goods, Chris Thomas and the band headed to France for further sessions in Paris, where they completed the newly-christened Kick. Their gut instinct was correct, for the new record took elements of all INXS’s key influences – anthemic, Rolling Stones raunch, Gang Of Four-esque angularity, and the cutting-edge sounds of the contemporary dancefloor – and seamlessly blended them into a compelling and highly original pop-rock hybrid that would thrust the band into the heart of the mainstream.
Yet, while group and producer alike were convinced they were sitting on a classic, INXS’s US label Atlantic initially failed to see Kick’s potential. In fact, it was only after the sleek, sensual “Need You Tonight” proved a hit on US campus radio, and its infectious follow-up, “Devil Inside,” crossed over onto classic rock playlists, that Atlantic relented and released Kick in October 1987.
The critical acclaim Kick attracted on release (with UK monthly Q’s four-star review memorably referencing “Hutchence’s knowing, Jagger-esque vocal swagger”) demonstrated that INXS and Chris Thomas’ confidence was entirely justified, and the band converted new fans in droves. The confident “New Sensation” and classy, strings-and-sax-enhanced ballad “Never Tear Us Apart” followed “Devil Inside” and the seductive, chart-topping “Need You Tonight” into the US Top 10, while Kick proved a global smash, topping the Australian Charts and peaking at No. 3 during a consecutive 79-week run on the Billboard 200 which eventually yielded US sales of over four million.
Keen to keep the ball rolling, INXS embarked on an extensive 16-month tour which saw them packing out arenas in North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia through October 1988. The itinerary included a brace of highly-acclaimed shows at New York City’s famous Radio City Music Hall and an emotional three-night homecoming at the band’s native Perth Entertainment Centre during the final leg in Australia. By the tour’s end, INXS was regularly performing all of Kick’s 12 songs and the group was widely recognized as one of the biggest bands on the planet.
“I think what makes the Kick album so dynamic is that we weren’t so much interested in what everybody else was doing as on what we wanted to do,” Andrew Farriss said in 2017, reflecting on the album’s longevity. “Michael and I were extremely focused as songwriters, and the band was very intent on making a series of recordings that we could be passionate about. It was really an incredible experience.”