Recently at a hipster bar in Adams Morgan INXS came up. Although I trust my judgment I sensed my friend expected me to be embarrassed for lauding them and we quickly moved to another more dispassionate topic. This got me thinking about how unfashionable it is to claim INXS as an extremely talented rock band with a perfect front man.
Recently picked up their “Kick” LP and listening to the record spin I thought about their lead singer/songwriter/showman/sex magnet – there I go again…I see my friends brow raised in further disapproval- Michael Hutchence who died just about seven years ago at the age of 37 which seems perceptibly younger every year.
The day the news broke I was on a weekend visit to Buenos Aires, Argentina which INXS had conquered ten years earlier while I had been living there. Back then you couldn’t walk down the happening Avenida Florida without hearing “Need You Tonight” blaring from some cheap store speakers followed by say the Gipsy Kings and Pet Shop Boys. Argentines are more broad minded in some respects and certainly more loyal than American fans. They don’t see much wrong with liking prog-rock (Yes and Rush), Ramones (the world’s most hard core following is in BA), the Cure (you wouldn’t think it but mopheads abound), INXS, Bon Jovi, GNR, Nirvana and Radiohead as the years go by without feeling it necessary to put down the previous hot band. Meanwhile Americans it seems to these humble eyes are permanently renouncing their past fandom with a swift backlash never too far behind. Argentines that liked INXS back in their heyday still do so while up here sentiment is either “Never liked them” or for the more honest, because lets be clear someone bought those millions of records, “I can’t believe I ever liked them.” You wouldn’t know it that INXS was as popular as U2 in 1987.
Anyways it was a gorgeous early summer day and I passed one of the innumerable kiosks that sells newspapers and magazines and saw one with a giant front page headline “Muere Michael Hutchence”.. and just like that the guy was gone…I think the world misses him.. I know I do… To be fair INXS had lost me with their next to last album “The Gift” which was crummy and even I stopped paying attention…I was surprised to learn that this album features a collaboration with none other than Ray Charles.. How do you like them apples? My copy is in storage somewhere but I’m eager to listen to this no doubt gem…INXS put out an album right before Hutchence passed, “Elegantly Wasted”, that I never listened to .. still have not..
I will say it clearly: I think INXS was a great rock band with one of the best frontmen in rock history.. Hutchence is often compared to Mick Jagger and with good reason.. he would preen and pout and swagger like a decadent rock demigod to perfection…Part of the allure of the rock star traditionally was he could act out all our desires and excesses (INexcess) that we could not…bag all the hottest babes… Hutchence was all this…
I like to think the difference between INXS and Radiohead exemplifies much of the contrast in what I call the poles or r’n’r..on the one hand INXS whose lyrics were largely about sex and hedonism.. a lead singer who by design or chance was always dating the hottest model around… On the other side meanwhile Radiohead, and I like them, I have no idea what the heck they are talking about… .. a less sexy singer than the lazy eyed albino Thom Yorke’s harder to envision.. his writhing in pain frenzied singing style about as attractive as a one winged butterfly.. but as much as I respect radiohead I think they are out to kill rock ‘n roll.. by taking out all the sex all the drugs all the fun and leaving us simply with whining pain and misery and darkness their android like post rock is slowly turning more and more people away from rock (much like Coltrane’s “Ascension” and Ornette’s free style improve did for jazz)…it is a neat trick cause all the while radiohead are at #1 with all the hipness and credibility of Ernest Hemingway. but what I’m saying is they are #1 in a smaller world…it is also remarkable how radiohead has managed to be heavily prog and count with an audience who loathes the real McCoy…
To me INXS was what rock was about.. about all the possibilities that come with being young and free.. but in the current post rock world of course you are frowned upon for actually saying something intelligible in your lyrics (don’t be literal!)…or even for saying to the crowd at a concert “Everybody having fun tonight?”..no…better not talk to the crowd.. be like Dylan…be the anti-hero… the anti-rock god …and if you are literal and actually put on a rocking show it better be over the top like darkness so that the fun is being in on the joke…in today’s world you are cool the less cool you seem to want to be..isn’t that more hypocritical than just being cool?…I mean have you seen the sweaters thom yorke wears? On the other hand hutchence looked like a male model.. In today’s world you’re cool if you purposefully avoid making a video..
Looking at the songs on INXS biggest seller, KICK we see their best known song “Need You Tonight” .an open ode to the one night stand… or “devil inside” about two people, yes, on a one night stand with the line “Look at them go look at them kick makes you wonder how the other half lives…”, well the other half might just be the half that listens to radiohead on Friday nights….or we have “new sensation” which again is about enjoying the heck out of whatever you got..
I think its sad that INXS’s “legacy” has been shredded to a pulp.. first the confusion about whether Hutchence’s death… did he asphyxiate trying to wank off or was it a suicide over a girl? Or what? And then we have the remaining members of INXS current ploy to find a new lead singer via a Mark Burnett (i.e., survivor) produced reality show…INXS current legacy has the weight of a paper clip and it is sad to see that taking into account how many great songs they came up with over a TEN year period from “don’t change” to “heaven sent”… it somehow seems unfair…
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