Thursday, June 12, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Seven Great INXS Tracks That Were As Good As the Singles

I've been an INXS fan since the Sunday morning in 1983 when I heard "The One Thing" for the first time, the week it debuted on Casey Kasem's American Top 40 radio countdown. But it wasn't until I was a senior at the University of Florida eight years later that it really hit home just how great the band was. My then-roommate Stephanie, my BFF Maureen and I had driven several hours from Gainesville to Melbourne (the one in Florida, not my future home in Australia, birthplace of INXS) for our first INXS concert, and in between the greatest hits, the guys slipped in several album cuts without once losing my undivided attention. Not even The Cult and R.E.M., two of my Top 5 favorite bands at the time, quite pulled that off when I drove for hours to see them live around the same time.

This Throwback Thursday, as I dwell on the past, I've come to another conclusion about INXS: With "Need You Tonight" as an anchor, Michael Hutchence and his bandmates probably could have released a completely different line-up of singles and still have made it just as big. Unlike Oasis (whose Noel Gallagher once had the nerve to snark "Has-beens shouldn't be presenting f**king awards to gonna-bes" when accepting Best Album from Hutchence at the 1996 Brits), that's not because so many of their songs sounded like rewrites of each other.

These seven album tracks are testaments to INXS's versatility, quality control and avoidance of musical repetition.

1.) "Love Is (What I Say)" (from The Swing, 1984) Yes, the title is hopelessly pretentious (a distinct danger whenever songwriters opt to go the parenthetical route), but at 15, I thought what I thought Michael Hutchence was singing at the end of the "chorus" -- "I don't think we love each other/Enough to lie/Enough is enough/Fade away" -- was pure poetry. So what that he was actually singing "I don't think we know each other/Enough to lie/Enough is enough/Anyway"? That's poetry, too, on an essential mid-'80s album that was overflowing with it. (Honorable mentions on The Swing: "Johnson's Aeroplane" and the title track.)

2.) "Same Direction" (from Listen Like Thieves, 1985) INXS didn't get enough credit for being so versatile. As unmistakable as Hutchence's voice always was, The Swing and Listen Like Thieves, though a mere one year apart, didn't even sound like the work of the same band. But it's hard to imagine that 1987's Kick could have happened without the new direction of Thieves. More than any other song, this track bridged the dance edge of The Swing with the rock edge of Thieves and the INXS to come, making it essential not only to its parent album but to the band's canon as well.

3.) "Wild Life" (Kick, 1987) Like two other landmark '87 album releases (Michael Jackson's Bad and Whitney Houston's Whitney), Kick was loaded with singles and B-sides, four of which went Top 10. This is the best of the four that were available only on the album. Here, as on most of Kick's middle to end, Hutchence moved and grooved like Jagger with even more charisma than Mick had the previous year on The Rolling Stones' Dirty Work.

4.) "Faith in Each Other" (from X, 1990) "Suicide Blonde," the opening track and first single from X, was such bleached awesomeness, how could anything that came after it live up to it? Nothing did, not even track four (or nine, "Bitter Tears," which came closest), but most bands would kill to produce such excellent filler. (Fun fact: INXS celebrated its 10th anniversary by naming its seventh studio album the Roman numeral for 10, and 17 years later, Hutchence's former girlfriend Kylie Minogue, would give her 10th album the same title. An X homage to her ex?)

5 & 6.) "Back on Line" and "Strange Desire" (from Welcome to Wherever You Are, 1992) Twenty-two years after the release of INXS's best album (and until this week -- see below), these were the INXS tracks that I was most likely to listen to (usually on repeat) on any given day. "Strange Desire" appeared as the B-side of "Beautiful Girl" in remixed form, but by then INXS should have known better than to mess with perfection. (Fun fact: Welcome was one of the first albums I ever reviewed for People magazine. Honorable mentions: "Communication" and "Wishing Well.")

7.) "I'm Only Looking" (from Full Moon, Dirty Hearts, 1993) Here are the three things I remember most about the Michael Hutchence-fronted INXS's penultimate album: 1) "The Gift," the first single and a stunning approximation of non-grunge alternative rock circa '93 that deserved to be a much bigger hit. (At least the Brits, once again exhibiting better taste in music than us Yanks, were smart enough to send it to No. 11.) 2) Wondering if Ray Charles was an INXS fan before he appeared on "Please (You Got That...)." 3) Meeting Hutchence at an album-release party the night after River Phoenix died and having him light his cigarette with mine and then putting mine between my lips. Who knew that he, too, would die much too young a mere four years later?

Here's what I forgot until I revisited INXS's discography to write about "Kiss the Dirt (Falling Down the Mountain)" (from Listen Like Thieves) this week for my BFF Lori's Mad World blog: 1) Chrissie Hynde doing her Chrissie Hynde thing on the title cut -- no pretender is she. 2) Track five, which has been in heavy rotation on my mp3 player and in my head ever since. Fun fact: Like "Shine Like It Does" (from Listen Like Thieves and Shine Like It Does: The Anthology [1979-1997]) and "Taste It" (from Welcome to Wherever You Are and Taste It: The Collection), it's a non-hit that was nonetheless name-dropped in the title of an INXS compilation (the video collection I'm Only Looking -- The Best of INXS).

INXS's 10 Best Singles

10.) "Mystify" (from Kick)

9.) "Not Enough Time" (from Welcome to Wherever You Are)

8.) "New Sensation"/"Guns in the Sky" (from Kick)

7.) "Don't Change" (from Shabooh Shoobah)

6.) "Original Sin" (from The Swing)

5.) "The Gift" (from Full Moon, Dirty Hearts)

4.) "Bitter Tears" (from X)

3.) "Need You Tonight"/"Mediate" (from Kick)

2.) "Suicide Blonde" (from X)

1.) "Heaven Sent" (from Welcome to Wherever You Are)

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