INXS: Different Worlds and Strange Desires
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THE FLOWERS OF ROMANCE
The Flowers of Romance brought the early eighties to life mostly through a set of effeminate frontmen such as Boy George, David Sylvian, Billy McKenzie, Steve Strange, John Foxx and Iva Davies whose own band FLOWERS originated in the northern suburbs of Sydney (Australia).
Not far away another band were also in their genesis but they were far removed from the effeminate new romantics. The Farriss Brothers became The Vegetables and finally INXS as in ‘in excess.’ They took their cue from The (Rolling) Stones and The Doors. The only thing they had in common with Davies band was a liking for Roxy Music and possibly the Velvet Underground. I loved FLOWERS but loathed INXS.
Many of my faves start this way, it happened with the Cocteau Twins in ’84. A year later I was fortunate to visit Sydney. FLOWERS had long since morphed into ICEHOUSE (the name of their first album – also fortunate and a better fit for the times).
But at that time they were floundering having delivered their substandard third SIDEWALK also in ’84. That same year INXS issued The Swing produced in the main by Nick Launay (himself the producer of PiL’s Flowers of Romance).
The Swing was for me, a misstep and should have been produced by Nile Rodgers or with Mark Opitz but Nick Launay won the day and his style just didn’t gel with Rodgers chic job on Original Sin. The albums either side of The Swing were very good! Shabooh Shoobah and Listen Like Thieves. As you’ll see, it took a while to get hold of both. I’d guess the Rodgers album never happened due to schedules and logistics, but what a pity.
AUSSIE MADE AND POST LIVE AID
During LIVE AID and my visit to Australia shortly thereafter I became acutely aware that the band I once despised was growing musically more mature, muscular and confident. Original Sin had been to number one in France and in Australia.
In Sydney I could see little sign of my beloved ICEHOUSE (Davies in the midst of constructing the ballet BOXES), but INXS were everywhere – blanket coverage even between albums is always a face slap for ‘hello, this band is smoking hot!’
I still wasn’t totally sold but something told me it wouldn’t be the last I would hear of them. I left Australia with an ICEHOUSE 12” (Taking the Town) and a Mental as Anything single (Live it Up – later to be a hit in the UK off the back of the movie Crocodile Dundee). It was August, two months shy of the album that would transform my opinion of INXS forever; LISTEN LIKE THIEVES which some regard as their most consistent.
As an ICEHOUSE man (of colours – literally as I was studying design with a view to being a record cover designer) giving INXS ears seemed almost treason! Yet by 1985 one could no longer ignore the brilliance I was hearing (a far cry from Simple Simon or We Are the Vegetables).
Part of this was to do with the bands tenacity, part to do with producer Chris Thomas, part to do with their management (Chris Murphy) who signed them to different labels in different territories at a time no one else did.
And part to do with their UK label Mercury who intensified media interest until finally they were justifiably gaining ground with their magnificent ‘Thieves’ record. I mean ICEHOUSE were still my band but actually ‘liking’ INXS was a bit like an Arsenal fan saying Spurs aren’t so bad (or vice versa). I had to admit it, INXS were officially bloody good.
WHAT YOU NEED …IS PROMO
Back in the UK for the latter half of ’85 and things really were beginning to shift in terms of musical taste. The trip to Australia had aroused or opened up the ears to melodic rock. Aussie Crawl, and Midnight Oil both out of bounds during my early eighties were being received loud and louder! Unusual for me as a mostly quiet kid. Murphy’s move (to sign them to different labels in different territories) was about to pay dividends.
The UK’s Mercury records began to push INXS in the way that Chrysalis were reluctant to do with ICEHOUSE (according to Pratt, the UK arm despised them as they were signed by Chrysalis in the States). Only in their case they were stuck with a worldwide deal outside of Australasia – ditto Murphy’s brilliant foresight and strategy.
Note ICEHOUSE were not the only artist to have issues with Chrysalis in the UK: fellow Aussie’s Divinyls, Hoodoo Gurus and South Africa’s Trevor Rabin (prior to joining YES) also had trouble gaining promotion from a label only interested in Blondie, Spandau Ballet and Midge Ure’s hit making version of Ultravox.
The first signs of INXS moving upwards in the UK were on the legendary TV show The Tube and a famous interview with Paula Yates who – in what was more or less a flirt-fest – introduced Michael Hutchence (still largely unknown in the UK) as singer of ‘almost the biggest band in the world.’Interestingly Hutchence stated that the Triffids had broken big in the my native land which wasn’t quite the case.
The next sign was a fantastic show in Melbourne which only found its way to TV screens in Britain because Prince Charles and Princess Diana were in attendance as part of their ‘tour’ of Australia. This show in November 1985 is sometimes referred to as ‘Rocking the Royals’ but I prefer its original title ‘Living INXS.’ This concert is one of the best because of the spacious sound inside the Melbourne Arts Centre.
MUSIC, MOMENTUM AND THE MOON!
The Melbourne show would showcase many of the tracks released as part of the Thieves set produced by legend Chris Thomas (of Roxy, Pretenders and Elton John fame). Some of these songs would appear in my collection via the 12” of This Time and a promo cassette for What You Need, the single issued in the States and the song that really got me onto them.
Even without FM radio at the time, there was no mistaking that beat, sharp enough to slice bread! The video, directed by Richard Lowenstein, was also a stunner and as groundbreaking at the time as A-ha’s Take on Me clip. Both This Time and What You Need stalled short of the top 40 in the UK (79 and 51 respectively) but the momentum was growing.
In America What You Need climbed all the way into the top 5. Strange then that none of the follow up singles would enter the Billboard top 40 including the title track which buoyed by an appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test, advanced further toward the British chart settling at no.46. A fourth single from Thieves was issued, Kiss the Dirt again rocking the ranks of the mid-fifties.
I had tried and failed to purchase What You Need but it was like asking for candy from the moon! I did however manage to procure Kiss the Dirt which along with Listen Like Thieves had interesting promo items in double pack singles; the latter featuring INXS Verbiage! I had to look that one up in the dictionary (an interview with the band).
MUSIC, MEDIA AND THE MOVIES
We were now into 1986 and while the Mentals had scored big with Live it Up – a novelty in the UK, INXS had still not managed to crack the top 40. They also tried the movie route, with Different World (also on the Crocodile Dundee soundtrack), Do Wot You Do from Pretty in Pink and together with Jimmy Barnes, the unforgettable Good Times and Laying Down the Law from The Lost Boys.
Notable in that Barnes makes Hutchence sound almost tame! And that Tim Farriss had gone fishing! Hutchence himself starred in Lowenstein’s film Dogs in Space featuring his first solo single – the beautiful heartfelt ballad Rooms for the Memory.
Another live show was broadcast on Radio 1, from London’s Royal Albert Hall and more TV appearances where the never shy Tim Farriss quipped ‘we get the audiences here but we just don’t get in the charts, maybe that’s a good thing – when you look what’s in the charts.’ I kind of agreed with him. The band also engaged in the Montreux Rock Festival in Switzerland and it’s there that the famous band shots ‘on the jetty’ with Jon Farriss in blue shirt and bright red boots were taken.
In late 1987 rumour had it that another album was ready. But something weird was happening. No one seemed to know for sure what was going on, it was showing up to order but there was no release date.
‘Need’ had been good to INXS in America and they were about to surpass their previous best by climbing all the way to the top with another need, this time (no pun) suffixed with the words You Tonight, but in the anti-Australian climate of the UK music media the single scraped into the top 60 stalling at No 58.
Anything good coming out of Australia seemingly blocked by power players who swore that wasn’t the case but clearly obvious it was. It was unjust, questionable, pointless and above all embarrassing for a Brit absolutely loving the varied and exceptional music coming out of Australia.
The same thing was happening to ICEHOUSE, now back to winning ways with Man of Colours – no 46 in America, only a pitiful 92 in Britannia. Undeterred, INXS and Mercury kept banging the drum for coverage and airplay like a rugby team surging a scrum forward.
The album pushing to be birthed from its creative womb was finally announced. ‘What’s it called?’ I asked Mark (the sales guy at Pontypool’s RPM record store, later of Newport’s Diverse Music). ‘Umm, it’s called KICK.’ ‘-KICK?’ ’-Yeah, that’s what it says’ he said.’ I peered over the counter and sure enough there in black marker pen scrawled in a box on the release sheet was ‘KICK.’
It seemed so abstract but then so were all the others; what did Listen Like Thieves mean or The Swing or Underneath the Colours or for that matter Shabooh Shoobah? Persian for pot, according to manager Murphy in a moment of comedic genius. Still, I just didn’t know what to make of KICK, and that’s before I even heard the music!
Again produced by Thomas, the album in question appeared in November. Grabbing the cassette, I could play it on my walkman on the bus up to Pontypool where I was attending college. Here we go, this is it. Jon Farriss’s drums rang out loud and clear Boom, smack, ba-ba dum dum with Hutchence adding a manly ‘UH UH A HA-HA HUH …UH’ and then we were in, but into what exactly.
A two minute dirge, culminating in Guns in the Sky! I looked at the walkman in disbelief; what the fuck was that!? Not much of a gap between songs before New Sensation came on, phew, that’s more like it, that’s a single I thought. It was.
By the time the bus made it to Malpas (just outside of Newport), Devil Inside was on. Ok it wasn’t my fave but it was ok. Then the duel brilliance of Need You Tonight and Mediate – they hadn’t attempted anything like that before, wow, those synth textures were beautiful – like an aural sunset and that sax solo on the end.
Just then the bus driver leaned out of his cab. It looks like he’s motioning for me to turn the bloody thing down – I’m wearing headphones but noise cancelling tech is not around in ’87. He just laughs and points to someone behind me. One of the kids behind says ‘I like your music’ to which I’m a bit flummoxed – was he taking the pee or did he really like it?
The Loved One kills the serenity cast by Mediate. Other than Wildlife, the second side isn’t really grabbing me, it’s all just an ok blur. Launay reflecting on The Swing was right about one thing, it was a precursor to KICK. Part winter, part summer.
NEED YOU TONIGHT
A winter tour was announced and amazingly they would call at Bristol, well I just had to get to that! On a freezing December night, I climb the stairs to the warmth of the Colston Hall foyer (now the Bristol Beacon). The second single New Sensation is about to drop as someone laments the retirement of the squiggly logo used on Listen Like Thieves. There’s an array of t-shirts and other merch. I settle on a Need You Tonight tee with the Mediate lyrics on the back and enter the hall.
First up… Sinead O’Connor, who? Oh yeah the Mandinka woman (this is just before she also breaks big with the Prince cover). It seems to last a while, many in the crowd roar when she moves into Troy. I’d rather get to the main course.
And suddenly there they were, opening with KICK itself. They go through everything I want to hear including What You Need. It’s amazing! I am truly put in my place and deafened! To this day I’ve never seen ICEHOUSE but I have seen INXS with Hutchence at the helm in exactly the same outfit he wore in the Devil Inside video – the third single from KICK which was already doing the rounds in the States.
Meanwhile in January of ’88 New Sensation enters the UK top 40 reaching no 25. ICEHOUSE manage #38 with a reissue of Crazy – to date – the last time they would trouble the UK chart. As for INXS kicking open the door, this was good news and bad news.
They had through hard work and sheer determination cracked the UK. The bad news, they weren’t ours anymore. Now everyone knew who INXS were, growing their hair long and curly and snapping up records and in store posters I could have easily attained up until that point.
But my luck hadn’t entirely deserted me, one day in Diverse Music through the corner of my eye I can see an INXS but it’s in albertus type, and not only that it’s joined by smaller black typography. It looks like it says Original Sin. Surely I must be seeing things, Diverse doesn’t do second hand and that single was long since deleted in the UK and would surely cost a fortune …wouldn’t it?
Weirdly, it was Original Sin and stranger still at £3.30 the standard price of a chart 12” at that time. ‘Where did you get that!?’ I asked Mark. Apparently one of their contacts dealt in deleted singles, so I bought it. ICEHOUSE were not forsaken and a superb Aussie shaped picture disc for Crazy was also acquired.
It wasn’t the end for bizarre turns of fortune for INXS releases either. For months I had literally dreamt of getting my hands on What You Need only to wake up and realise it was just a dream until one strange day in Cardiff market. Drab at the best of times, and that day as grey as the sky outside. In circumstances similar to finding the first Boom Crash Opera album I fish out this thing from the racks.
Lo and behold, it’s the 12” of What You Need BUT… there’s no price. Oh shit, they’re going to charge me to the hilt. I was already being quoted £10 for Shabooh Shoobah as I was still one step ahead of the releases (the UK was still lapping up KICK and beginning to latch on to Thieves but SS was another couple of steps back).
Luckily the team at the market don’t know what it is so only charge me £2 – bargain! And regarding SS itself – I came across a superior Dutch pressing at £6.49 in Virgin Bristol – sold and yes it sounded really good!
TOGETHER AND APART
So back to KICK and Never Tear Us Apart continued the run of singles; five in total with Mystify completing the tally in April of 1989. The fad at the time with video was to have a musical intro or outro like A-ha’s Take on Me (which has the outro not on the single or album version of the song on release – it has since been issued on the expanded Hunting High and Low).
With INXS, the video version of Never Tear us Apart comes with a pretty little intro before the familiar strings fade in. I wouldn’t visit Prague until 2000 but on my own white skied day there, I couldn’t help but think of that video. Another occurrence of music and travel combining.
Mystify would mark the end of a long and worthy campaign of long awaited dominance from the band. A hiatus began but this by no means halted creativity – at least for Hutchence who embarked on an interesting side hustle, with an album MAX Q which blended rock and house music with acoustics and strings. Two titles (Everything and Tight) would lend themselves to future INXS songs though both would be entirely different musically and lyrically.
The MAX Q album bombed out in a similar way to the Ultravox of the seventies, this was an album for audiophiles. Q Magazine likened it to The The’s Infected! High praise indeed so why did it falter commercially? Maybe the fans were nervous, personally I found the first side rather dull and the second side enchanting (Soul Engine), hipster cool (Buckethead) and arty (Ot-Van-Rot).
It was art but Hutchence for some reason was never taken seriously as an artist. The album produced two singles and were greatly improved by Todd Terry’s remixes – Ghost of the Year especially – and Zero-2-0.
Manager (Chris) Murphy refused him to tour it, as shown in the TV serial named after their song Never Tear Us Apart. Murphy (played by actor Damon Herriman) says ‘MAX Q will get you a coffee, INXS will make you millions!’ So it was back to the day job.
NOT QUITE THE X FACTOR
August of 1990 and the INXS machine was getting back into gear with the release of Suicide Blonde from their third and final album produced by Thomas and frankly the weakest. At the time of KICK, I was an avid listener of Johnnie Walker’s the Stereo Sequence on a Saturday evening and I can remember Hutchence saying that when a band breaks big the hunger for the success that drives them can dissipate.
And that’s pretty much it with X, it’s a bit half baked. There’s some gold nuggets in there; The Stairs for one, Bitter Tears for another but overall it’s a resounding failure. In another interview – this time with Roger Scott – Kirk and Tim mention their change of sound per album is not a conscious thing and the always jokey Tim laments the media interest in their front man, saying ‘We’re just not as sexy as Michael’ but.. ‘I’m practicing’ quipped the guitarist.
Better things were to come musically but personally Hutchence was heading for disaster, you could say he really died in 1992 following the much publicised incident with the cab driver and Hutchence’s loss of smell and taste. I can appreciate his pain; one of the reasons I worked with the blind was because I couldn’t imagine life without sight, so to lose many senses would indeed be a killer. Is it then too obscene to mention the irony that one of the new songs and also a single was called Taste It?
CALLING ALL NATIONS
Musically INXS were on par with Ireland’s uber band U2 – up to 1992’s Welcome to Wherever You Are (presumably in the can by the time of the taxi driver incident) and to see them, the band many ridiculed me for liking in a country almost known for its hatred of anything Australian – except Kangaroos and XXXX – headline Wembley on the sixth anniversary of Live Aid was truly astonishing! What a turn of events.
In my opinion the wrong clutch of singles were taken from ‘Welcome’ in the UK. And on my friend’s Hustle podcast, producer Mark Opitz makes a very good point when he says they started to make mistakes and should have toured, of all their records ‘Welcome to..’, an album tailor made for a world tour.
Having said that was the decision not to most likely taken around the time of Hutchence’s accident or the band at least becoming aware something was very wrong in terms of his erratic behaviour thereafter? Quite a possible scenario and this overshadowed an album which made it to number 1 in the UK, equally incredible.
For a band that is constantly moving forward, it was a surprise that they re-enlisted Opitz (the producer of Shabooh Shoobah) at all yet it was a vital shot in the arm after the dispiriting X and it’s the songs that weren’t singles that resonate the loudest and shine the brightest. Communication like The Stairs clocks in at around the five minute mark – lengthy by INXS standards. It’s also unusual and rare for its choice of key.
The band were experimenting not just with song duration but in colouration. It’s an album that covers a lot of ground in mood from the warm yellows of Not Enough Time and Beatle-esque Back On Line to the warm reds of Baby Don’t Cry and Wishing Well and the sensual pink of Strange Desire.
FULL MOON OVER CAPRI
It’s Full Moon, Dirty Hearts where things really go awry during the making of but let’s concentrate on the music. That they got a half decent album at all considering the turmoil endured during its creation was something of an achievement but after the solid album and artwork of Welcome to, a band trying to be trendy and relevant by looking dishevelled in the back of a van was a vapid misfire. The alternative was even worse, a prostitute by a dumpster!?
This left only video and here they were at least successful with Jon and Michael’s dramatic The Gift directed once again by Lowenstein. Their funk chops were still fully charged taking the concepts outlined in Mediate (the synths and the rap elements) and accentuating on them for I’m Only Looking – this is the only time they would work with Brian Eno (a long admired artist of Jon Farriss) who mixed the track. Cut Your Roses Down is another groove in their oeuvre so to speak.
WASTED BUT BETTER THAN OASIS
And so to Elegantly Wasted, the final frontier as far as the years with Hutchence goes. Again it feels like a disappointment after a sabbatical, more or less INXS by numbers. The album, which has possibly their worst cover art concept, if there is a concept at all, begins with another of their longer pieces, the menacing air of Show Me (Cherry Baby).
Hutchence is on fine form vocally on this and I love the minute intro with Jon’s drums elevating it into the soaring ‘show me show me’ chorus and the closing ‘show me show me how’ which is greatly extended with the addition of a wow! Coupled with the slide guitar (could be Tim, Kirk or Andrew playing it) bringing things back down.
The title track is back to normality with Hutchence again tough and confident on the chorus and ad-libs – plenty of manly ‘uh huh’s’ amid the ‘you could be right, you could be certain,’ ‘feels right’ and ‘just like, just like(s).’
Another of the songs I play regularly off this album is Girl on Fire and again there’s some nice interplay between the music and words just out of the chorus is the line ‘out of the shadows’ which is accompanied by a ghostly synth and space that leads back into the chorus.
The brass- expertly arranged by Tom Keenlyside – is also nice on this and reminds me of something like Oceans 11 (though that remake didn’t occur ’til 2001), there is something of the bright lights of the ritzy world of casinos about it.
This in turn leads to a nice guitar break against the line ‘She lit up the city from the 26th floor’ and during the outro (or the dying embers of the song if you like) Hutchence again is heard at a lower shadow like registry reprising ‘flames are rising.’ Nice job all round.
Unfortunately not all of the album comes across so successfully. This time (again no pun intended) the turmoil with Hutchence is outside the studio, personal struggles with media and relations I don’t want to go into here as I try and focus on the music but inevitably with artists we write about what is going on to us and around us so no surprises this would manifest itself in the title track and on Don’t Lose Your Head written about the incident with the real Oasis at the Brit awards.
Now I had a new band to loathe. One I would never come to admire. There was no This Time or What You Need with them. They did have the nostalgia card but it was the wrong kind of nostalgia, a love letter to a time when England revealed in its glory, a time long since passed. However more so than the music it was the brothers attitude that was unfortunate. A misguided attempt to look cool without the concern or realisation of the fragility of the ailing frontman’s mental health.
Hutchence would have his own back in a sense on Elegantly Wasted by incorporating the words ‘I’m better than Oasis’ into the chorus of ‘I’m elegantly wasted.’ *as a footnote, some people think my first book A Lyrical Oasis is something to do with the band as it was also released in ’97 but rest assured this is not the case.
TINY DAGGERS: KICK AND THE END OF HUTCH
The news on November 22nd 1997 was surreal and no matter how many times I saw the news reports it seemed crazy and to bring things back round to ICEHOUSE when asked about Hutchence years after his passing, Iva Davies says they were never close friends but he is sorely missed. Something else came to light in the wake of Hutchence’s passing, the story of how KICK was almost never released!
Finally 10 years after the fact we could hear first hand from manager Chris Murphy himself of why the record was delayed – the American label, the legendary Atlantic were worried of its commercial viability. ‘It’s amazing to think it nearly never came out’ says Murphy and I think we can all agree with that!
ANDREW FARRISS: THE MUSICAL GENIUS
I want to speak a little about Andrew Farriss as a songwriter. If you look at the albums from Shabooh Shoobah through to KICK, you’ll see there is usually one song solely credited to A. Farriss but more importantly the differences between them demonstrate his depth and diversity: To Look At You a pumping moody new wave rock track, Johnson’s Aeroplane a strings laden stunner in Japanese jade with some neat guitar fx.
This Time, an update of sixties style rock something like The Byrds meeting The Pretenders for a knees up, and finally Mediate; as different as Mars is from the Earth. Synths and lyrics consisting purely of words ending in -ate with Hutchence (an uncredited co-writer) more or less rapping the results over those unearthly misty synths; ‘guilt debate, the animal we ate, like pretty kate as sex ornate.’
On the bands 1992 album Welcome to Wherever You Are, Farriss pens four of the tracks; almost half the album (three of which were singles) and again these differ vastly from each other. Questions is an Indian tabla imbued mood piece.
Heaven Sent by comparison is a break neck rocker marrying seventies rock or post punk attitude with distorted vocals owing to Bono’s on Achtung Baby, and in keeping with babies, Baby Don’t Cry is another orchestral led rock track.
Beautiful Girl is dedicated to Andrew’s daughter Grace but the mood of this harks back to the sixties and the neon ghosts in the city, wonderful imagery from the pen of a musical genius. I don’t want to touch too much on the Switch album, however it’s there Farriss pulls no punches in songs with an emotional sucker punch, at his most sensitive on the moving Afterglow and even more so on God’s Top Ten ‘Romance is gone, he’s drifting with the stars, a lyric in his pocket, little girl in his heart, he’s on God’s Top Ten, where heaven never ends.’
MICHAEL HUTCHENCE: MYSTIFY MOVIE REVIEW
October 22, 2019 Curzon Bertha Dochouse, London UK
22 years after his passing director and close friend Richard Lowenstein presents the story of the Michael Hutchence he knew constructed from archive footage. I am watching in London, the city at the centre of many of Hutchence’s woes in his final years. It is the countries only dedicated screen devoted to documentary film.
Even before the lights dim I am surprised by the audience; a cross section of people from older men, to some who themselves look like faded or jaded rock stars; one resembles a relation of Kirk Pengilly who lasts all of five minutes before walking out, another like Edgar Winter.
The woman next to me has a tote bag full of newspapers so perhaps has media connections. The few women there were all middle aged and I wondered did any of these people know who Michael Hutchence was? Were they here for him, Kylie fanatics or just morbid curiosity?
The lights dim and after a ridiculous amount of various film company logos begins with the word spelt out H-U-T-C-H-E-N-C-E. I am not sure of its meaning here but it sounds like someone ringing from France, it also sounds like the kind of call one makes to emergency services so it could be tour manager Martha Troup, before we zoom in on Hutchence himself. It’s a brilliant intro.
There’s the music… Never Tear Us Apart written for former lover Michele Bennett, though it has since come to symbolise his relations with the band and perhaps more so the fans. Then by stark contrast there’s Simple Simon (possibly one of the songs I loathed from my early knowledge of the band).
There are weak points and more interesting facts, other than the typical ‘he had star quality,’ and ‘when he walked in a room he was the one everyone gravitated to’ etc etc we have heard a gazillion times in these kinds of films.
Hutchence himself didn’t consider himself an intellectual despite a liking for Bukowski, Ginsberg and all manner of usual suspects. It’s sad when he has to leave brother Rhett behind at the airport which having been flung around the globe myself a few times as a kid, I could identify with.
MEN AND WOMEN
What was nice though are the narrators remain as voice overs, never seen, so no shot of Bono and co recounting their moments with the main man thus Hutchence remains the central focus both in front of and behind the camera.
Shooting evocative imagery of Hong Kong harbour from a descending plane and the Orient Express with a Kylie devoid of make up (and to some extent clothes!) As her ballad Where the Wild Roses Grow with Nick Cave (who doesn’t take part) plays behind Hutchence’s imagery and thus signals the entrè of the diminutive chanteuse Minogue.
There are comedic moments. At an award show where Hutchence shows up with cropped short hair. Kirk Pengilly turns to his wife and says ‘put your credit cards away, we’re finished.’ Despite its lack of commercial sales there is a good portion dedicated to the MAX Q project.
But the real shock for me is that Andrew Farriss tried to block Disappear from being on the X album. Considering INXS were more or less a family unit this is a problem I didn’t foresee. A brother (Jon) co-writes one song and the usually modest Andrew has a strop because he didn’t write it!
The account by Minogue of their break up is really quite bizarre (he was on all fours) and it seemed that he had troubles before the incident with the taxi driver. Helena Christiansen came on the scene shortly after she appeared in the Chris Isaak video for Wicked Game. Most of their time together was spent at her Paris apartment so Copenhagen must have been a rare change of scene but an ultimately tragic one.
The Full Moon sessions in Capri were dictated by Tim Farriss who says something was amiss from the get-go – ‘What’s wrong with Michael?’ – narrates Farriss as he continues that Hutchence destroys one of Andrew’s guitars for fun.
While Pengilly recalls arguments about grunge and that his mood swings were nothing less than bi-polar. Perhaps one of the saddest things of all is Hutchence heard on tape saying he will see in the new millennium sipping Champagne with his dad Kelland which of course would never eventuate.
Overall, everything is neatly chronicled. A five part highway to hell: the Amanda (Braxton-Smith) years, the Michele years, the Kylie years, the Helena years, the Paula years with INXS music glossing over the turmoil in their increasingly isolated and trapped frontman. I like the way it’s shot, grainy, arty and blurred together with some beautiful ambient music courtesy of Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm during the more poignant moments.
Yet there is little that is actually very revealing and that wasn’t already known; save the shots of many faxed love letters between Hutchence and Minogue and the mystery girl at the end, who is Erin? Like James Bond, Hutchence gets in one last shag before returning to Sydney and his fate.
‘Do you think I’m going to try and kill myself’ says Hutchence to the mystery girl. Her answer is hardly reassuring. The coroner says it was suicide but truth is we don’t really know and like Nick Drake will never know, thus his legacy is assured hence the title Mystify.
Lowenstein says that his friend was a different man off stage but there’s nothing to suggest that from the footage presented. Nonetheless the hour forty-eight minutes seems to go by in a breeze which pretty much sums up Hutchence; a free spirit driven by worldly pleasures and greatly diminished by one random act of violence on a Copenhagen alley and subsequently through his involvement with Yates condemned to death by media.
NO STRAIGHTER LINE
In addition to the movie and to wrap things up, it has also been 20 years since Hutchence’s one and only posthumous album was released so let’s have a brief listen. Ironically it’s Guy Pratt who plays bass on some of this album. The album also features Gail Ann Dorsey, Joe Strummer, and Bono. And as you may imagine an album which wears its creators wounded pride very much on its sleeve.
Let Me Show You (how you make me feel) sounds like a rock star at play and of the time when you consider other artists of his generation were treading similar terrain: Simple Minds Neapolis, Duran’s Medazzaland for example. Lots of vocal effects, groovy wah guitars and a drummer going hard on his snare! It’s MAX Q’s Sometimes 10 years after the fact.
Possibilities (the last song he ever worked on) again reminds of MAX Q with Tony Morse’s French noir strings and Danny Saber’s deftly strummed wah guitars. The difference with Hutch though he is mixing soul and funk with trip hop and rock, so it’s a technically left facing INXS yet the chemistry is definitely missing. Even so this is one of the strongest on the whole album.
Get on the Inside needs nothing more than one line to give you its focal point – ‘gonna take a ride, from here to heaven.’ The mellow All I’m Saying utilises a familiar writers trick of the trade to reverse lyrics ‘You put your heart, With trust into my hands,’ which becomes ‘I put my heart, With trust into your hands’ and ‘We search endlessly, For answers to war and pain, All I’m saying is come around, Tell me ’bout the life you found.’
The single A Straight Line is Motown with a lyrically dark twist. The dogs, it’s fairly safe to assume relating to the media. ‘I watch the black and white bleeding, Don’t you know the pain I’m in.’ It’s the song least likely to be a single in my book so why it was chosen who knows, did Hutch himself request it?
The dogs are there again on the next ditty, Baby It’s Alright ‘Sick of the dogs outside my window, that’s right, take a look, You’ve been with a hook stuck into me.’ And ‘look at the mess I’m making’ shines a light on Hutchence’s inner vision with acute precision.
The slow and immersive Flesh and Blood is another highlight as is the funked up Put the Pieces Back Together with some excellent drum touches by Ged Lynch and Denise Johnson’s soulful backing vocals. The lyrics are again confessional; ‘Saw a million pieces, of the shape I’m in, hanging from a chandelier, have a taste of everything’ and ‘All is fair in love and war, with a cold heart and a smoking gun.’
So we finish up with the Bono duet Slide Away. Again it pretty much says it all. ‘I just wanna Slide Away and come alive again’ but it’s not a gloomy track and interestingly during the chorus, the music is not dissimilar to INXS’s Stay Young. Bono’s contribution is certainly heartfelt ‘I’d catch you if I heard your call, but you tore a hole in space, like a dark star falls from grace, you burn across the sky, and I would find you wings to fly, and I would catch you, I would catch your fall.’
It’s a cohesive work skilfully overseen by Andy Gill but it never seems to rise above cult album status set by MAX Q ten years earlier. Really it’s his finger to the media album. As I said earlier, we writers often write about what is happening to us and that’s ringin’ loud and clear on this only solo record.
Don’t Save Me From Myself for example suggests a liking for auto-erotic more so than suicide. Don’t tie me up again, separate love from possession, Does all that glitters shine? Love that new attraction. Animal inside, leads me to the conclusion.’ And unfortunately it’s a conclusion no one wanted, a room with memories no one wanted.
There is only one positive with these ugly truths, at least we won’t hear a 60 year old Hutchence keeping on keeping on. That said I would have loved to have met him, in that respect I’d rather a parallel universe with him in it. I wonder if we would have admired each other’s words and whether he would have forgiven me for liking Iva Davies and ICEHOUSE first.
PLAYLIST AND CREDITS
Do you like this? Need a writer? Check out my MEDIA page. Need a cultural teacher? Check out my UNIVERSITY page. Meanwhile, please check out The Atlas for more cultural shenanigans! Further still, if you like what I’m doing please consider hitting the social channels: Kulture Kiosk on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Playlist and Photo Credits to follow…
Original Sin (from The Swing) – INXS
Taking the Town (Extended Mix)(Single) – ICEHOUSE
Live it Up (from Fundamental) – Mental as Anything
This Time (from Listen Like Thieves) – INXS
What You Need (from Listen Like Thieves) – INXS
Listen Like Thieves (from Listen Like Thieves) – INXS
Kiss The Dirt (from Listen Like Thieves) – INXS
Different World (from Crocodile Dundee OST) – INXS
Do Wot You Do (from Pretty in Pink OST) – INXS
Goodtimes (from The Lost Boys OST) – INXS and Jimmy Barnes
Laying Down the Law (from The Lost Boys OST) – INXS and Jimmy Barnes
Need You Tonight (Single version) – INXS
Guns in the Sky (from KICK) – INXS
New Sensation (from KICK) – INXS
Devil Inside (from KICK) – INXS
Need You Tonight/Mediate (from KICK) – INXS
Wildlife (from KICK) – INXS
Mandinka (Single) – Sinead O’Connor
Crazy (from Man of Colours) – ICEHOUSE
Take On Me (Video Version) – A-ha
Never Tear Us Apart (Video Version) – INXS
Mystify (from KICK) – INXS
Rooms for the Memory (from Dogs in Space OST) – Michael Hutchence
Soul Engine (from MAX Q) – MAX Q
Buckethead (from MAX Q) – MAX Q
Ot-Van-Rot (from MAX Q) – MAX Q
Ghost of the Year (Todd Terry Mix)(from Way of the World) – MAX Q
Zero-2-0 (Todd Terry Mix)(from Way of the World) – MAX Q
Suicide Blonde (from X) – INXS
The Stairs (from X) – INXS
Bitter Tears (from X) – INXS
Communication (from Welcome to Wherever You Are) – INXS
Taste It (from Welcome to Wherever You Are) – INXS
Not Enough Time (from Welcome to Wherever You Are) – INXS
Wishing Well (from Welcome to Wherever You Are) – INXS
Strange Desire (from Welcome to Wherever You Are) – INXS
The Gift (from Full Moon, Dirty Hearts) – INXS
I’m Only Looking (from Full Moon, Dirty Hearts) – INXS
Cut Your Roses Down (from Full Moon, Dirty Hearts) – INXS
Cherry Baby (Show Me) (from Elegantly Wasted) – INXS
Elegantly Wasted (from Elegantly Wasted) – INXS
Girl on Fire (from Elegantly Wasted) – INXS
Don’t Lose Your Head (from Elegantly Wasted) – INXS
To Look At You (from Shabooh Shoobah) – INXS
Johnson’s Aeroplane (from The Swing) – INXS
This Time (from Live Baby Live) – INXS
Mediate (from Live Baby Live) – INXS
Questions (from Welcome to Wherever You Are) – INXS
Heaven Sent (from Welcome to Wherever You Are) – INXS
Baby Don’t Cry (from Welcome to Wherever You Are) – INXS
Beautiful Girl (from Welcome to Wherever You Are) – INXS
Afterglow (from Switch) – INXS
God’s Top Ten (from Switch) – INXS
and from the film…
Never Tear Us Apart (from Live Baby Live) – INXS
Simple Simon (from Stay Young: The Deluxe Years) – INXS
Spill the Wine (from Mystify: A Musical Journey with..) – Michael Hutchence
Where the Wild Roses Grow (from Murder Ballads) – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds feat Kylie Minogue
Disappear (from X) – INXS
Wicked Game (from Heart Shaped World) – Chris Isaak
Monday Night By Satellite (from MAX Q) – MAX Q
Searching (from Elegantly Wasted) – INXS
from the solo record…
Possibilities – Michael Hutchence
All I’m Saying – Michael Hutchence
Flesh and Blood – Michael Hutchence
Put the Pieces Back Together – Michael Hutchence
Slide Away – Michael Hutchence feat Bono
Most as usual from discogs.com, some retouched by KH
Need You Tonight t-shirt images from etsy
Andrew Farriss image from This is Canberra.com
Mystify movie image from inxs.com
Mystify movie postcard shot by KH
MH red sofa photo by Martyn Goodacre / Getty Images
Kelvin Hayes is also a member of APRA (just in case you really wanted to know).