Primarily conceived while INXS took some much-needed downtime during the mid-90s, Michael Hutchence’s posthumously-released self-titled solo album remains an evocative and intensely personal record.
The iconic frontman began to consider recording a solo album after INXS completed the promotional work in support of 1993’s Full Moon, Dirty Hearts, their ninth studio statement in a relentless, 15-year cycle of activity that yielded stratospheric success but offered little opportunity for recuperation.
However, while his bandmates were keen to prioritise their family lives and spend time away from the glare of the spotlight, Hutchence was equally desirous to keep the creative flame alight. The singer began by teaming up with in-demand producer/mixer Tim Simenon (Bomb The Bass), though he was especially intent on getting Gang Of Four guitarist/producer Andy Gill on board.
“He radiates just the right thing”
A long-term Gang Of Four fan, Hutchence later contributed to the sleevenotes for EMI’s 1996 CD reissue of the group’s starkly brilliant second album, Solid Gold, which he perceptively described as “art meets the devil via James Brown”. Gill, meanwhile, was equally enamoured of Hutchence as a performer.
“I’d seen him on television and always thought, what a great singer, what a natural performer,” Gill recalled in an interview for Hutchence’s official website in 2012. “He’s got a buzz about him, he radiates just the right thing.”
Hutchence’s initial approach was casual. He simply telephoned Gill and asked if the Gang Of Four lynchpin would like to play some guitar with him. Having firmed things up further, however, the duo later repaired to Hutchence’s home in the south of France to start recording formally.
“We had a laugh, but it was pretty intense”
“I took some computers down to his home and he had a mixing desk and we set up a little studio,” Gill recalled. “I’d go down for a while and come back to London. We did this for months and months. It was a great time. We had a laugh, but it was pretty intense, we just got stuck into it.”
Demonstrating just how respected the INXS frontman was, Michael Hutchence also included decisive contributions from multi-instrumentalist/producer Danny Saber (U2, The Rolling Stones, Black Grape), Primal Scream alumnus Denise Johnson and The Clash’s Joe Strummer, with the latter adding an impassioned extra vocal to the album’s dense, sultry opening cut ‘Let Me Show You’.
The finished record covered a diverse selection of moods. INXS fans had plenty to celebrate as Hutchence proved he was still in supreme form on the snappy, Kick-esque ‘Get On The Inside’ and the confident, upfront ‘A Straight Line’, while Gill’s trademark, serrated guitar further lifted tracks such as the electronica-tinged ‘She Flirts For England’.
Lyrically, it was clear Hutchence was writing from the heart. The singer’s relationship with Paula Yates became the subject of intense media scrutiny during this period, and his personal life inevitably informed songs such as ‘Fear’ and the quixotic ‘Baby It’s Alright’ – heady, claustrophobic songs built around sinewy grooves which exuded an air of menace and featured ruminative lyrics such as the latter’s “It wouldn’t be right to take it lying down/I’m sick of the dogs outside my window.”
Elsewhere, Hutchence was more philosophical on the filmic, Portishead-esque ‘Possibilities’ (“It’s so strange how my life’s changed/I know nothing about the people that I touched”), while he kept one of his most sensual performances in reserve for the closing ‘Flesh And Blood’: a troubled, melancholia-streaked ballad which is up there with his very best and ensures the compelling record ends on a high.
“An artistically ambitious recording”
Unfortunately, circumstances prevented Michael Hutchence’s solo album from ever seeing the light of day during the singer’s lifetime. With INXS reconvening to cut their final studio album, Elegantly Wasted, during 1996, and the band touring right up to the singer’s tragic death, in November 1997, the recordings were temporarily shelved.
However, after Gill and U2’s Bono posthumously completed the poignant, previously unfinished ‘Slide Away’, the album was finally issued through Virgin’s V2 imprint on 14 December 1999. One of Australia’s most anticipated releases of that year, it soon went gold domestically while Rolling Stone’s positive critique (“Hutchence was as serious about his craft as he was intoxicated by rock star living”) set the tone for reviews which recognised the singer’s self-titled solo album to be a record of quality and distinction.
Sadly, we’ll never know where the INXS frontman would have gone from here, but as Andy Gill said in 2012, “Michael was in the frame of mind to make an artistically ambitious recording.” Revisiting Michael Hutchence 20 years later, it’s abundantly clear that he achieved that aim.
The Mystify: A Musical Journey With Michael Hutchence soundtrack album is out now and can be bought here.