Of all the ways we’d prefer to shuffle off this ‘ere mortal coil – selflessly diving in front of a bus hijacked by a crackhead and perilously speeding towards a dozing octagenarian or just heroically scaling a towering inferno to save a fluffy little puppy called ‘Cuddles’ – few of us would choose to skip into that great light like poor Michael ‘The Hutch’ Hutchence did. One of the last great Rock n’ Roll stars run out of Dodge by an incensed torch-carrying mob, lonely n’ lost before collapsing beaten up ‘n’ broken down under a deluge of depression and self-destruction. Oh, and grim whisperings of erm, ‘horse’ riding and umm, ‘extreme relief’. People of Pop, this was no happy ending, the legacy of Michael Hutchence and the five blood brothers called ‘INXS’ deserved a much, much better send off…
They came from a magical land far away called “Down Under”. Six party pirates raised on punk n’ new wave, they cut their teeth (literally) in rowdy, brawling “Did you look at MY Beer?” Aussie boozers. Their trademarks - funky dance rock, wooing Sheilas and fast getaways. The Gods of Rock had blessed them, not only with arguably the best rhythm section of their generation but a cashcow core songwriting superduo of Andrew Farriss (one of three brothers) and ‘Lizard King’-reborn Hutchence. Together, their blend of soul brother grooves and chiselled stadium rock took them so far up the toppermost of the poppermost that as the ‘80s tipped into the ‘90s even Bono was trading his Stetson for wraparounds and shiny, tight trousers.
This non-sequential compilation pretty much focuses on the enormo hits, virtually cold shouldering the first four albums, stripping only the twitchy, Devo-esque “Just Keep Walking” and the still Funky McFunky club banger “Original Sin”. With its rib-rattlin’ drum intro, slick Kung-fu synth riff, jagged axe chops and a sleek production courtesy of the soon-to-be “go-to-guy” Nile Rodgers, “Original Sin” was the sound of a band whose time had come. MTV rolled out the red carpet and sandwiches. The latter half of the ‘80s was there for the taking. The monster jams from Listen Like Thieves and Kick are all present and still deserve their front row seats in Rock ‘n’ Roll Legend. What’s most pleasing is how fresh and, damn Ma’am, how frisky they sound nearly three decades later. “What You Need” and “Devil Inside” still sound exquisitely filthy, and during “Need You Tonight”, when Hutch drawls, “There’s something about you girl / That makes me / [important pause] / sweat” suddenly Rihanna sounds about as randy as Cliff Richard. INXS could also dish-up daytime pop with ease. “New Sensation” is surely the most life-affirming song about surviving suicide whilst the ‘lighters in the air (but yo don’t burn my hair)’ blubfest “Never Tear Us Apart” still has the power to make a field of grown geezers sob like they were attending the 10th Annual Big Girl’s Blouse International Crybaby Convention.
After being buried under a landslide of loot ‘n’ booty, things understandably went a tad wobbly, if only for a few minutes (i.e. X wasn’t much cop but gave us some top rave-era remixes). Hurrah then that INXS sensibly decided to unveil their masterpiece, Welcome to Wherever You Are. Unfortunately in 1992 many folk had recently decided to like ‘other bands not called INXS’, which is a darn shame as clearly evidenced by the Quality-Street-Quartet contained herein. “Heaven Sent” was the raggedly raw, punky and furiously fiery lead single, swiftly followed by the sweaty, leather-panted perviness of “Taste It” and the gorgeous Lou Reed-ish, closing-time piano lullaby “Beautiful Girl”. The highlight, though, is “Baby Don’t Cry”, which involves one bloody big orchestra and six jolly Aussies a-hollering “BAY-Bee DON’T Cryy!” frantically for four minutes-forty seven. It is hot, golden, liquid sunshine for your brainbox and utterly, giddily euphoric.
As with their juvenilia, INXS’ final two albums deserve more than the begrudging one-track-apiece nod they receive here. “Elegantly Wasted” might be a Keef-indebted title in search of a better tailor, but the brooding, apocalyptic “The Gift” remains their darkest single, foreshadowing their own bad moon rising. When The Hutchmeister became embroiled in a somewhat ill-advised love triangle with Sir Bob of Geldof and Saucy Paula of Yates, a drop of blood fell into the sharkpit and the enormodome straddlin’, Moon-men tickling, good-times-tonight hourglass passed its last grain of sand. In 1997, following a horrendous hounding by the press, another rock legend went to the great gig in the sky aged just 37. A five-piece INXS sporadically limped on with various Hutch-lites from Terence Trent D’Arby to talent show scamp J.D. Fortune but none turned out to be the fortunate son they needed.
Besides the immortal tunes, all great rock bands should possess a wealth of mythological preposterousness. INXS had their share. The iconic, Mad Max glamtastic Richard Lowenstein videos, Hutch hollering “Trumpet!” to trigger a saxophone solo and Byronic musings like “There was / a time / when the facts did stare”. Throughout, Hutch was a first-class rock star. From re-enacting “Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon” through the medium of err, ‘charming’ Kylie and dating “somewhat-attractive” supermodel Helena Christensen to chinstrokin’ art projects (the lost, great Max Q), squabbling with Liam Gallagher and chillaxin’ with Nick Cave and Ray Charles. Fulfilling his proper pop star obligations he even dutifully appeared in both ‘cult’ (the genius Dogs In Space) and ‘crap’ films (the snoozy Frankenstein Unbound). Children of 2012, this wonderful world called ‘Pop’ lost a true shining star when Sir Hutchence bowed out.
As such The Very Best isn’t quite how INXS should be remembered. It’s too unimaginative, a “Will this do?” corporate stocking-filler, and the sleeve is an abomination. I can momentarily kid myself that the ‘Deluxe’ version doesn’t contain a horrorfest Gwen Stefani ‘mash-up’ (yup, still does) but HELL’S BELLS! the ‘Standard’ version doesn’t even include the holy “Don’t Change”, which I’m pretty sure is treason. I’ll have my lawyers check. An eternity spent languishing on the bottom rung of thriftstores gathering a sticker-on-sticker flip-book of shameful price-slashing seems only fair. BUT WAIT! That’s not to say the music contained within isn’t stellar – almost all of these 20 treasures are A-Grade pop rocky blessed with the kind of genuine, snake-hipped, scorpion-piercin’, crocodile-rollin’ swagger Adam-bloody-Levine can only dream about. If you ‘heart’ poptasmagoria and wonder why a gazillion people briefly went batshit, sexyback-crazy over five funky Antipodeans and a shaggy-haired libertine called Michael…for God’s sake buy the handsome and indispensable INXS: The Years 1979-1997 compilation instead. It’s frankly what you, and INXS, deserve.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.