INXS formed forty years ago. Twenty years ago this November, their frontman tragically passed away.
When a band loses an iconic frontman, either through departure or death, it invariably invokes the law of diminishing returns. There are exceptions to this rule, as in the case of AC/DC for example, but by and large, losing the frontman is the death knell for a successful group. Such was the case for INXS.
Originally known as The Farriss Brothers, the band played every dive up, down and across Australia for three years before landing a deal with Deluxe Records and changing their name. The early 80s for INXS were characterised by a succession of moderately-successful albums, and the odd hit single.
By 1985 and the release of their fifth album Listen Like Thieves, INXS were threatening to break worldwide. The album was stuffed with strong tracks, particularly the title song, and the subsequent hit single ‘What You Need’. Upon delivering their next album to their American label Atlantic, the band were advised by the cloth-eared fucks at the label that it housed no potential hit singles. INXS were offered a million dollars by Atlantic to return to Australia and re-record it. They refused. That album was Kick.
Let’s take a moment here – can you believe that? The all-knowing burghers of Atlantic Records, founded by the great Ahmet Ertegun, couldn’t hear a hit single on Kick. Jesus Christ. Who among us, possessed of at least one functioning ear, couldn’t see the potential of ‘Never Tear Us Apart’? ‘New Sensation’? ‘Devil Inside’? The mind truly boggles.
In my school back in 1988, you couldn’t be more cool than if you wore an INXS T-shirt with the Kick logo on it. The band were everywhere, and it seemed that everybody adored them. They were everything a band should be. They had wonderful songwriters, Andrew Farriss and Michael Hutchence chief among them, cool videos, great production, but most of all, they had Hutchence out front. HE was the one you looked at. He was the one on the magazine covers, and the one everyone wanted to interview. It’s no exaggeration to say that in 1988, INXS were one of the biggest bands in the world.
Following the Kick World Tour, INXS repaired to Australia, and in 1990, released the follow-up, X. This album received middling reviews, the main bone of contention appearing to be that it wasn’t Kick Part II. X failed to maintain INXS’ position at the forefront of modern Rock music, and with the explosion of grunge at the tail end of 1991, they were considered somewhat passé
INXS soldiered on, releasing the exquisite Welcome To Wherever You Are in 1992, its centrepiece being the song ‘Baby Don’t Cry’, on which the band were backed by The Australian Concert Orchestra. The story goes that during the recording of this song, more used to recording to a backing track, the orchestra were delighted to see the band take full part in the session, playing along with each take until the song was done.
While promoting the album in Europe, Hutchence became embroiled in a scuffle with a taxi driver, which resulted in the frontman falling and fracturing his skull. As a result of his injuries, he lost his senses of taste and smell, and became prone to acting erratically and abusively. Michael’s downward spiral appears to have been triggered by this event.
1993 saw another new INXS album, Full Moon, Dirty Hearts, which, after the stylised production of their last few albums, was a return to more raw, organic style. The album produced no hits to speak of, and it would be another four years before the band released a new record, Elegantly Wasted
Those four years saw little but turmoil in the life of Michael Hutchence. Upon embarking on an affair with ‘Saint’ Bob Geldof’s wife Paula Yates, he became the tabloid press’s newest target, a fight which wore him down. He was also dealing with the decline in his band’s standing. Famously, at the Brit Awards in 1996, upon presenting Oasis with an award, Hutchence had to stand on stage while Liam Gallagher insulted him, declaring that ‘Has-beens shouldn’t be giving awards to gonna-bes’. This incident upset Hutchence deeply.
Michael Hutchence died in Paris on November 22nd 1997. The details of his death were pored over and commented upon without restraint in the months that followed, and it’s needless to go into them here.
The band, of course, were devastated. While they didn’t split up, activity over the next six years was sparse, with a number of guest frontmen stepping in for Hutchence for a small number of live appearances. In 2004, the TV series Rock Star: INXS was launched, a reality show to find the band a new lead singer. One album was recorded with the winner, JD Fortune. Switch, while containing a number of strong songs, couldn’t help but be anything other than a disappointment.
In time, Fortune was replaced, by an Irishman no less. Ciaran Gribben fronted INXS from September 2011 until November 2012, when, mid-concert in their home town of Sydney, suffering the indignity of playing as OPENING ACT TO MATCHBOX FUCKING TWENTY, INXS announced they were done.
It’s fair to opine that INXS should have split up when Michael Hutchence died. Some band members are irreplaceable. However, one can’t help but feel that ending the career of such an incredible band midway through a support slot to, again, MATCHBOX FUCKING TWENTY, is far less than the Farriss Brothers, Kirk Pengilly and Garry Beers deserve. Let’s hope for another tour, with a revolving cast of guest singers, to celebrate the career of one of the best bands Australia ever produced.
In the meantime, let’s remind ourselves of what a great band INXS were. Here’s RockYouLike‘s Best Of INXS playlist.