If you’ve read anything on this site (hopefully you do read the posts!) you already know i’m not a huge fan of pop music in general. i’m not referring to music that is popular- that would make little sense, since my favorite artist is Michael Jackson. i also make Metallica-related posts every week. i could be wrong; it just seems to me that the genre of ‘pop’ tends to not particularly take risks. A particular artist could be quite good. However, if said artist is deemed ‘the one’, the industry attempts to oversell that particular sound.
There was a time though, when ‘pop music’ took more risks with their catchy hooks, thereby making radio more diverse than it certainly is today. Australia-based INXS was one of those bands.
Initially, their influences stylistically appeared to be ska, post punk and ‘pub punk’ bands and artists like XTC, Ian Dury and Lena Lovich (and other bands on Stiff Records); and so-called ‘new wave’. They were also coming of age artistically with (the also located in Australia) Nick Cave. Like many bands, they shifted musically into a more ‘pop’ territory. While for all intents and purposes they were still a rock band; and while you in some ways heard some of their original inspirations pop in once in a while, they began to pick up more cues from classic soul and R&B.
While songs like ‘Need You Tonight’ crossed over into the hood, the first INXS song i ever heard was two years earlier: ‘This Time’ (from 1985’s Listen Like Thieves). i remember liking the song, but it wasn’t until a few years later as an early teenager when i became totally obsessed with them.
Yup. i was a burgeoning punk kid, and i was absolutely in love with INXS.
Despite being ‘rock stars’ they didn’t seem that way to me… even with Michael Hutchence as the front man. Yeah, he totally played up the ‘sex symbol’ thing… but they all just seemed like awkward, regular dudes to me. They were huge, but they weren’t bombastic. They played anthems, but they weren’t anthemic.
And they crafted some massively good songs, but didn’t take themselves too seriously.
My favorite INXS song of all time is ‘Horizons’; it became my favorite song of theirs from the moment i heard it years ago on cassette. It’s the first time i recognized a song being written in the way that was written. You could randomly pick a song out of their catalog, and chances are you will like it: ‘Don’t Change’, ‘Communications’, ‘Shine Like it Does’, ‘In Vain’, ‘The Stairs’, ‘Johnson’s Aeroplane’… It was really difficult to choose which songs to do for this post. While their ‘hits are just as great i definitely wanted to focus on their lesser-known songs for the most part.
Like (Minneapolis’) Mint Condition, INXS were a pretty self-contained band. Consisting of Garry Gary Beers (one of the greatest bass players- ever. Both he and Graham Maby are severely underrated), Andrew Farriss (primary songwriter/composer and keys/guitar), Kirk Pengilly (guitar and saxophone), Michael Hutchence (vocals and lyrics- and fan of Anthrax!), Jon Farriss (drums) and Tim Farriss (guitar); for 20 years (until the physical departure of Hutchence), all original founding members were together, since their birth in 1977- originally called the Farriss Brothers.
To begin this musical trip through INXS world, we’ll begin with their first single, released in 1980: ‘Simple Simon’/’We Are the Vegetables’. The clear punk influences are there. Anyone familiar with their later material might find this to be surprising. Of course, the burgeoning punk kid in me was VERRRRY pleased to hear this.
‘Guns In The Sky’ (from 1987’s Kick) is to me, one of the greatest album openers of all time. A response to the Reagan Administration’s Strategic Defense Initiative, the music video (which exists despite it not being a single) flashed ‘SDI’ randomly on the screen. The song is a rightful critique of the u.s. government’s allocation of resources to everything but what it should be going to- which is, assuring the masses’ basic material needs are met.
The drum in the original song is built around a Roland 707; i used the Alessis (and not the Octapad) for this one, so (obviously) the drums are not as booming. i did keep Hutchence’s vocals (because i can’t sing like that!), and played guitar and bass, in addition to the drums. It sounded more like a garage version than the (again) booming anthem it is (smiles).
‘What Would You Do’ (from Underneath The Colours) is another one of my absolute top favorites from the band. In the pocket for the most part, it’s got one of my favorite bass lines in an INXS song. i also love the nod to ‘Stay Young’ (also on the album) as well.
We will take a detour back to the band’s first (self-titled) album, with ‘Jumping’, another one of my favorites. This song is perfect- the bouncy bass, the horn accents (why don’t pop bands have horns anymore??!!), the touch of two tone ska, the guitar being utilized in the verse as a melody with Hutchence’s vocals, the spacey keys, the half-time drums… i love this era of music, with its the post punk disco and ska influences.
Finally, we have a song which is perhaps one of their most beloved- ‘Mystify’. i woke up with this song in my head, so after i got up i started singing it- i wanted to do it just a capella, but it didn’t feel right. i started messing around on the piano, and that didn’t feel right either. Something else was going on in my head. i started messing around on the bass, and i started hearing a beat in my head. It ended up being a sludge rock-influenced half time ditty (with a tiny, tiny bit of tiny tiny discordance (smiles)), as opposed to the bounciness of the original.
i know i’m not that great of a singer- but i do it anyway. i like to sing. Not being that great at singing is a nice feeling, when you’ve survived being hit by a truck.