Once upon a time, two brothers started a band in Sydney, Australia. Through many twists and turns, chance opportunities, the band hit the very heights of the rock stratosphere. By century’s end, the band experienced the tragedy of suicide and outside forces diminishing a once exceptional band. That band is INXS. In many ways a band that never got the recognition they deserved. Starting in 1979 by the Farriss brothers, Andrew, Tim and Jon were joined by friends Michael Hutchence, Kirk Pengilly, Garry Garry Beers, creating a band that would eventually be the most successful face of Australian New Wave.
The band recently released “All the Voices”, a boxed collection of the 10 most important LPs in the band’s history and for the first time are releasing the album “Elegantly Wasted” in vinyl format. The collection spans the original debut, the self-named disc through the last release with Hutchence “Elegantly Wasted”. Each disc in the set is packaged with the original album artwork and liner notes.
I became a huge fan of INXS after the release of “Shaboo Shabaah” and their hit “The One Thing”, a hooky eye-opener that stuck a pin in the music world map and hinted at the potential the band held. My personal favourite album in the collection is “The Swing”; the track “Johnson’s Airplane” holds cherished memories. “The Swing” propelled INXS a step further on the success ladder. Songs like “Original Sin” and “I Send a Message” drew attention to that little group down under with the catchy name. The disc that is credited with really catapulting them into public awareness was” Listen Like Thieves”. Up until that point, INXS was a quirky Australian New Wave band who was combining Hutchence beckoning vocals with Ska, new wave sensibilities and Pengilly’s saxophone.
Almost forgotten now, this was the disc where Michael blossomed into the lead singer who was described and I quote as “Sex on Wheels”. “Listen Like Thieves” showcased a band that suddenly became much more assured and flat out rocked. Their live performances at this time cemented Hutchence’s Jagger like lead singer reputation. There next release “Kick” brought them to the centre of the world stage. “Kick” did exactly that what the title said, it kicks down any doubts that these guys were ready for their close up.
So many hits, so many hooky choruses, you could not get through 1987 without hearing the songs everywhere. Not to be forgotten, this was the age of MTV and the band had either exceptional luck or taste because the videos just took the album over the top. But with such success, many problems followed and would bedevil the band and their lead singer.
The ’80s came to a close and all of sudden the fame the band had acquired became an obstacle. The stresses of fame were showing, substance abuse and infighting had reared their ugly heads. Record executives were looking for” Kick II” as some band members wanted to put “Kick” in their rear mirror and move on, other members wanted to continue to produce the industry desired hits. “X” was released with much fanfare and did adequately on the charts. Hutchence always insecure about his vocal abilities started to have significant problems with the band’s direction, suffering from depression which he was self-medicating.
Jon Farriss also was reputed to be having substance problems at this time; “X” was carried by the hits” Suicide Blonde” and” Disappear”. Then overnight, Grunge hit the music world and with it wiped away many New Wave groups. INXS was not the only band hit hard by the event of Grunge but they probably were one of the most easily identifiable casualties. The band would put out a live album and two more discs “Welcome to Wherever You Are” and “Full Moons and Dirty Hearts”. Both solid albums, but both were received with less enthusiasm than the prior successful discs” Kick” and “X”. The band decided to take a lengthy break. Hutchence had a very highly publicized relationship with model Helena Christensen and then Paula Yates.
During the hiatus Hutchence did some modelling, acting, and started work on a solo album. Hutchence was again suffering from depression and the effects of becoming tabloid fodder with every move he made. Substance abuse, depression and public scrutiny would eventually prove to be a lethal combination. In 1997 the band released “Elegantly Wasted”, and attempted a comeback. The album had a new maturity and looked to breathe new life into the band’s fortunes. The title song was a catchy tune that would, unfortunately, prove to be all too prophetic and in hindsight be seen as a song about Hutchence’s dissipated mental well being.
In late November 1997, Hutchence was found in his hotel room, having committed suicide. Decades of rock n roll excess having caught up with Hutchence who always privately doubted his vocal gifts and musical abilities, depression and lack of self-confidence took him away too soon. The boxed set ends with the last release, “Elegantly Wasted “. For those too young to experience INXS through their struggle to stardom and then attaining worldwide fame this is an excellent collection to demonstrate what all the fuss was about. This is also a welcome compilation boxed set for those fans that through time and relocation have lost their copies of these amazing discs. The lingering question for fans of INXS is what the band could have still accomplished had Hutchence lived. “Elegantly Wasted” certainly indicated that the band was back on their game and ready for another stab at greatness.
The band after an almost decade break would continue on with various front men, but no one could compare with the unmatched front man abilities and writing talents of Michael Hutchence. Future generations of music lovers would not go amiss checking out this collection to hear what popular rock music in the ’80s was all about and hear one of the bands that lead the way.