Australian-born power pop-rockers, INXS, had six albums reach the Top 10 Charts in the UK, aas well as 18 Top 40 singles. Internationally, they’ve had record sales surpass the platinum mark a dozen times, and today they’re still remembered for two things; groovy rock ‘n roll, and frontman Michael Hutchence; who oozed sex with lascivious lyrics and seductive vocals. Onstage, he was up there with Jagger or Mercury, and along with the three Farriss brothers, Kirk Pengilly and Garry Gary Beers, they made history.
I’ve been on a bit of an INXS high recently and so, in the spirit of that – and the fact we all need a bit of joy and reading material in our lives right now – I’ll be trying to pick one song from all ten of their studio albums (disregarding Switch and 2010’s Original Sin for they didn’t feature Hutchence on vocals, and aren’t considered part of their main discography, for most) that I think sum them up best, mark a milestone in their career, or just rock. I did one of these on another of my favourite bands, Queen, too, so if that interests you, check it out. If not, well, I’ll try not to slip over my own tears on the way out.
INXS (1980) – ‘Just Keep Walking’. It’s fascinating looking back in retrospect at the debut albums of now globally renowned artists. These days it seems the first record is the magnum opus of many promising musicians; but in the 70s and 80s, that was rarely the case. Look at Queen’s eponymous debut (which, I argue, is worth a listen, but didn’t do great commercially), or Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’, or Bon Jovi’s. INXS was no different, though even I – a keen (if pretentious) lover of unsung debuts – find it tough to get much from this. I’d like to say the Aussie pop-rockers’ first record is a hidden treasure trove, but in reality, it’s more a slapdash attempt at finding their sound; flittering between funk, dance, mainstream pop and even ska for a tiresome half hour. There are certainly some standout tracks here. ‘Newsreel Babies’, for example, is perfectly listenable, and the now-oddly ska inspired, ‘Jumping’ is a playful track without doubt. But in all honesty, my pick from this one has to be the only single, ‘Just Keep Walking’. Whilst not their debut single (which was ‘Simple Simon’, released earlier the same year), ‘Just Keep Walking’ has the first roots of what would lie ahead. It’s also interesting to hear Hutchence’s vocals in their unharnessed form here, though certainly still sounding great. The lascivious onstage charisma is beginning to seep through, but it would take a few more albums for it to mature into the unbound serpent we know today.
Underneath the Colours (1981) – ‘Stay Young’. ‘Stay Young’ is a great opener for the album right off the bat, with a sublime lick from Tim Farriss that carries the whole track along. The power pop wants to shine through, but the band are still finding their feet here. The title track itself certainly boasts a simplistic funk about it, but ‘Stay Young’ takes the medal. It’s also one of INXS’ biggest early hits, and so remains a vital part of their history, sneaking into several ‘Greatest Hits’ packages since.
Shabooh Shoobah (1982) – ‘The One Thing’. The third effort by INXS’, Shabooh Shoobah is the first album to really warrant a listen all the way through. By now, the fast-paced rockers are beginning to show up more, tinged with that mainstream pop element which sent the band to fame. ‘To Look At You’ is a perfect slice of synth-cut pop rock, with ‘Soul Mistake’ providing nice guitar form Farriss once more. It’s not difficult to see why this was the band’s first piece to be sold internationally, and ultimately gave them a record deal, complete with circuit supporting fellow new wave acts Adam and the Ants and Men at Work. ‘To Look At You’ has a really catchy chorus, but for me, the album’s opener, ‘The One Thing’ reigns as victor. It was what set the band into embarking on a third album in the first place, which nets it importance points on that alone. Also, it just sounds great.
The Swing (1984) – ‘Burn For You’. The Swing really built on what came before, as the entire album began to take on the raw INXS form. The Nile-Rogers produced ‘Original Sin’ is an outstanding single, with equal parts funk, groove, and catchy hook. ‘Melting in the Sun’ and ‘I Send a Message’ are relatively underrated tracks, but that could be said for a lot of Swing instalments. ‘Johnson’s Aeroplane’ has a real sense of eeriness that I like, but ‘Burn For You’ has to win it. It sounds like anything that came after, with a great message and stomping chorus.
Listen Like Thieves (1985) – ‘What You Need’. ‘What You Need’ has to be my essential from this album; it’s one of the band’s biggest hits, hands down, and is so damn groovy. Live, it gave Hutchence the chance he needed to really shine. He could leap around, preach about sex to the masses, and bring the audience into it all. ‘Listen Like Thieves’ is another great track, and there are certainly a swathe of underrated album pieces in ‘Same Direction’, ‘One X One’ and ‘Red Red Sun’. ‘Shine Like It Does’ deserves a mention, too, as does ‘This Time’. Listen to the album, basically.
And thus, the first part of my ‘Essential’ INXS playlist comes to a close. Volume two will feature the albums you all know and love; with more pomp, more power, and more passion.