Today is a hard day for me. It marks 17 years to the day that the world lost one of its greatest frontmen, and one of my inspirations as a performer in Michael Hutchence, founding member, lyricist, and lead singer of INXS. As I’ve previously stated I grew up on INXS’ music as far back as Shabooh Shoobah when the videos for “The One Thing” and “Don’t Change” crashed into my living room via MTV in 1982. And after the kamaya-maya hit that was 1987’s Kick the band found themselves on top of the music world. So what did they do after the massively successful Calling All Nations Tour wrapped? They took a break to work on some side projects before regrouping in Sydney to set to work on the follow up that came out in 1990, X. And while not as big a hit stateside as its predecessor it still went platinum twice over, nothing to sneeze at. Which is why I choose to honor this great band, and the late Mr. Hutchence with this week’s Classic Albums…X by INXS.
Much like a lot of Kick, opener “Suicide Blonde” oozes sex appeal, from guest Charlie Musselwhite’s seductive harmonica to Michael’s sultry “Everything you wanna be, everything you are…are…” this one goes from rough to gentle as a good partner should. “Disappear” shows Michael crooning in a soul singer style on the verses making this yet another big hit for the band, featuring the “do-do, do-do, do-do-do” that stuck in your head for hours. But my greatest memory of this album, and what will always stay with me is “The Stairs”. An ambitious track that builds little by little, and brick by brick, it is an ode to singular city life as we go “story to story, building to building, street to street, we pass each other on The Stairs.” It never fails to give me goose bumps; I have them now as I type this while listening, and my heart is beating trip hammer, such is the profound effect it still has on me. It was on constant repeat, first in my ’88 Sundance, then in the famous Walkman as I roamed the streets of Philadelphia in 1993.
A decidedly mid-80’s feel encompasses “Faith in Each Other”, Kirk Pengilly’s saxophone really heard for the first time and the tune is definitely funky. A piano, strings and acoustic guitar-based ballad follows in “By My Side” which happens to be another favorite. I just love the subdued nature of the verses and big chorus. The live version from 1991’s Live Baby Live is even better! On “Lately” Hutchence is once again singing in that come-hither vocal he could turn on at will and the track never sounded better than it did in my Sundance, my girlfriend Holly at my side. Not just this one, but the whole record was also a staple of my Friday and Saturday night pizza delivery runs. There was just something about it that made working till 11pm much easier. I had six of my friends from Australia keeping me company through my speakers.
A dirty-funk, blues number is really the only way I can describe “Who Pays the Price” and when paired with the pop guitars of “Know the Difference” as it was on February 18, 1991 at Nassau Coliseum (my first time seeing them) it’s akin to finding the perfect wine to go with your entrée at dinner. “Bitter Tears” once again conveyed that animal magnetism possessed by Hutchence, and the band sounds arguably the most complete that they had up to this point, the Farriss brothers Jon, Tim, and Andrew, Pengilly, and bassist Garry Gary Beers giving the song a wee bit more attitude as well. And if it’s attitude and sass you’re looking for, “On My Way” delivers it in spades, Musselwhite’s blues harp cutting like a knife.
Closer “Hear That Sound” is another INXS song that remains a favorite, with perfect melody and a chorus you can’t help but shout along to. It also serves as a reminder that no, we won’t hear that sound…ever again. As we all know, the band’s fortunes didn’t fare well after 1991, despite a string of albums that I still blare to this day. And unfortunately, on November 22, 1997, Michael Hutchence was found dead in his Sydney hotel room. His death is something I have not gotten over, and in that I know I am not alone. This is a hard day, and as I am writing this the tears come, just like they do every year. Because it still hurts. And it’s not fair. X from INXS is an album that is all-too often overlooked. And that’s simply not right. It was, is, and will forever be a Classic Album by an iconic band. Thank you for the memories, Michael. And Rest In Peace.
For Paula. ~dc
In Loving Memory of Michael Kelland John Hutchence (22 January 1960 – 22 November 1997)