Back at the end of the Summer of 1983, I returned home for the month of August after working for a couple of months at a Southern Wisconsin Resort. Those two months working at that resort is a book unto itself, so I will skip over the salacious details and get down to business. You see, my younger brother (younger by 3.5 years, taller by 3.5 inches…the decimal only added for irony) was still mad at me for not taking him to see The Who on their “Farewell” Tour of 1982. He was (and, I think, still is) a big Who fan. I didn’t take him because I did not get paid in time to purchase the tickets, plus I had heard (correctly I might add!) that The Clash were NOT opening for The Who during their Indianapolis stop, which made me mad. So, instead of taking him to see The Who at their most burnt, uncaring, addicted and sad state, I promised to take him to see a band of his choice after I got back from Wisconsin.
Imagine my surprise when he met me at the door of our home after making my eight hour drive from Wisconsin. He said that he wanted to go see the Men at Work/INXS tour in Indy at the end of August. So, being a fantastic yet bleary-eyed older brother, he and I drove to the local record store (remember when you bought tickets at a record store or the box office? Those were the days before scalpers…er…ticket brokers.) to purchase those tickets.
Now, honestly, I enjoyed both of Men at Work’s early albums, as they perfected a pop version of The Police sound, with lyrics that were loaded with whimsy. Plus, their videos were endearing during those early days of MTV. INXS, on the other hand, had yet to break in the States. I was not a big fan of their first single, “The One Thing”, but I loved their forgotten new wave classic “Don’t Change”. That song never found its audience, which was probably good for the band’s long-term prospects as they were forced to grow as writers.
Now, the concert was good, but my brother thought it was one of the greatest concerts that he has ever seen. I am glad he has such great memories of it. Me? I remember Men at Work seeming to have zero chemistry on the stage. So, I left the concert thinking their days were numbered. Unfortunately, it turns out that I was correct, even though the band attempted a half-hearted album in 1985. To me, the band that was hot was INXS. You could tell by some of their songs they were trying to marry Eighties dance rhythms to a Stonesy-type rock sound. And, even though they had yet to hammer down their sound, their performance was sincere and earnest. So, I decided that I would follow this band by purchasing their albums to see if they would develop over time.
In 1984, INXS released The Swing, which contained another classic yet unheralded song called “The Original Sin”. The song tackled interracial romantic relationships, so the times were still a bit tender in Indiana for those views, but it was a hit in dance clubs all over. This album was produced by the genius of Nile Rodgers, but the band’s songs were not up to snuff.
INXS finally hit pay dirt in 1985 with their Listen like Thieves album, and the brilliant lead single “What You Need”. Veteran producer Chris Thomas was finally able to pull that dance/rock sound out of the band for that lead single. The rest of the album, though their best to date, still lacked a certain songwriting consistency throughout. But, another world tour did wonders for the band as they finally gelled and were ready to rejoin producer Chris Thomas in the studio for the sessions that would become the classic album Kick.
Few were ready for the strides this band made on Kick, which was released near the end of 1987. During that particular year of 1987, we were blessed with a near glut of now-classic albums. 1987 was the year of U2’s The Joshua Tree, Prince’s Sign ‘o’ the Times, John Cougar Mellencamp’s The Lonesome Jubilee, Bad by Michael Jackson, Tunnel of Love by Bruce Springsteen, among many, many others. Personally, I was so happy when I heard Kick for the first time that I immediately knew this was the band’s first classic album. I honestly expected the band to explore this sound further with each subsequent album, finally reaching a penultimate musical statement as they found the magic formula to become the Rolling Stones, or even the J. Geils Band, of the Nineties.
Just peruse the titles of the songs on Kick and you will find several US Top 10 hits. First, there was the very sultry “Need You Tonight”. The band followed that one up with “Devil Inside”and the pleading “Never Tear Us Apart”. Radio also made hits of “New Sensation” and “Kick”. I even heard the great alternative music station in Oxford, Ohio playing “Guns in the Sky”. Needless to say, this album was a big one.
But, for some reason, that I will never understand, INXS lost it’s momentum by the time they released their 1990 album called X. The album’s lead single was a blistering slice of dance/rock with a touch of blues thrown in for good measure. That song was “Suicide Blonde”. And, although “Suicide Blonde”, with it harmonica hook, peaked at number 9, the album was considered to be too much like the previous one. And, to be honest, the album is solid, but it shows no growth.
Unfortunately, the band never recovered. They tried a U2 Achtung Baby-type of makeover, but the public wasn’t buying it. Instead of following U2 into Europe, they should have explored American music, like U2 did on Rattle & Hum. INXS is Australian, so it makes more sense for them to have dug through some slimy blues and R&B and even some gospel for their transition. The band had more in common with American music than European music. I still think INXS left their greatest albums unfulfilled. And, even though they had nine Top 10 Hits over the years, I feel as though they never reached their potential, especially when lead singer Michael Hutchence took his own life. He was a brilliant frontman who could never be replaced, not even by a reality music program (anyone remember Rock Star?).
I still say INXS was a great band, perhaps even one of the 10 to 15 best artists from the Eighties. It is just a shame that they never could have realized their full potential.