Stu and my third entry on INXS singles includes a few of Michael Hutchence’s solo projects. This week, I ranked the songs, Stu wrote first and I wrote second. Here we go:
Artist: Max Q
Second single from Max Q (1989), released as a single in 1989
According to Stu – For me, it takes a while to get into “Sometimes”. The rhythm guitar is repetitive, as are all the sung “Some-tiiiiiiimes…..” When the chorus comes in, everything changes – the instrumentation, the lyric pattern, the whole feel of the song. That’s when I get into this song.
According To Doyle – I agree 100% with Stu’s assessment of the song. It has a fantastic chorus and the rest is so-so, but wow is the chorus great. There’s really not much to this song at all in terms of lyrics. Obviously, it would be impossible for me to know if this was the situation, but I theorize that Hutchence and Max Q collaborator Ollie Olsen had this great chorus and didn’t quite know what to do with it so they just did what the heck ever.
49. Underneath the Colours
Third single from Underneath the Colours (1981), released as a single in 1982
According to Stu – Objectively, I like what’s going on in “Underneath The Colours”. You can distinctly hear what the bass, rhythm, and lead guitars are doing, and they work well together, and with Michael’s vocal. I see this as one of the early stepping-stones in INXS’ development as a band.
But subjectively, I’m not a big fan. I know it’s rather contradictory, but this song doesn’t do much for me.
According to Doyle – “I’m an angry young man” proclaims Michael Hutchence in the last verse of “Underneath the Colours,” the title track from their 1981 sophomore album. I have this joke I make about the word “famous,” which is “if you have to tell somebody you’re famous, you’re probably not all that famous.” I think the same thing can be applied to the phrase “angry young man.” If you have to tell somebody you’re angry, you’re maybe not all that angry. A much angrier version of Hutchence is the dude who counter-sings the line “I’m better than Oasis” underneath “I’m elegantly wasted” or perhaps the guy who wrote Max Q’s “Way of the World.” Indeed, “Underneath the Colours” sounds less like an angry song than a funky variation on “Pop Music” by M. I quite like it for that reason.
48. Pretty Vegas
First single from Switch (2005), released as a single in 2005
According to Stu – I didn’t much care for “Pretty Vegas” upon its initial release, though I now think it’s mostly because it took a while for me to accept J.D. Fortune. Now, I like it quite a bit. I still think it’s a bit over-produced, and in particular, I don’t care for the sound of the “Thumbing your way to Vegas…” portion in the second verse.
According to Doyle – As Stu and I have both pointed out, part of the problem with Switch is that it didn’t sound especially like an INXS album. I think “Pretty Vegas” has a slight edge over most of the other tracks on that record because, musically, it sounds the most like 21st century INXS. While the lyrics aren’t especially INXS-y, the rest of the song (including J.D. Fortune’s vocal) sounds right in line with the band’s style – a dirty, funky rock sound. The music was composed during the Rock Star: INXS reality show specifically so the contestants could try their hands at writing lyrics to one of the band’s songs. This was the biggish hit from Switch and – while not my favorite song from that record – is a reasonably good attempt at recreating the band’s magic.
47. Kiss the Dirt (Falling Down the Mountain)
Third single from Listen Like Thieves (1985), released as a single in 1986
According to Stu – Another bit of odd contradiction. All by itself, “Kiss the Dirt” is not a favorite of mine by any stretch. I just find it a little boring. But within the Listen Like Thieves album, it fits in. That is, if I’m playing the CD, I play it through, but if it comes up in a randomized mix, there’s a chance I might skip it.
According to Doyle – Having just complained about the lyrics to “Pretty Vegas,” allow me to point out that not all of Hutchence’s lyrics were exactly inspiring. With the acknowledgement that I’m not great composer of poetry myself (certainly not consistently), the first verse of this song just bites. I played tracks from Listen Like Thieves with great enthusiasm on WRBC when it was released – including “Kiss The Dirt (Falling Down The Mountain)” – and think the album in general is first-rate (I tend to agree with Stu’s assessment that, in context of the album, this song rocks). What I do love about this song (and what saves it from a lower ranking) is Michael Hutchence’s remarkable vocal delivery when he jumps up an octave at the end of the song. That, my friends, is what a great lead singer does.
46. Heaven Sent
First single from Welcome to Wherever You Are (1992), released as a single in 1992
According to Stu – “Heaven Sent” is about as much of a rocker as you’ll find in the INXS library. I think this is another example of how the ensemble nature of the band comes together well. In particular, I like Garry’s bass work leading into and through the chorus, mixing with Jon’s drumming and the rhythm guitar. This may be some of Jon’s best work in their later albums. And while I often don’t like when vocals are processed (see my comment on “Pretty Vegas”), it works in this song.
Sometimes I like to imagine this song played about 15 bpm faster. I think I’ll have to play with that when I have some time…
According to Doyle – To follow-up on what Stu wrote, you have a singer like Michael Hutchence and you decide “hey, let’s make it hard to hear his voice.” It’s like having the Mona Lisa in your living room and thinking “I’ll improve this by adding some novelty Groucho glasses to her face.” Why would you do that? Presumably because they had a new production toy and wanted to use it. Oh, production toys. At least it wasn’t a vocoder, I guess. Andrew Farriss reports that the song started as a 3/4 time ballad but the band rocked it up and added the vocal effect for “some extra attitude.” He does not specific what attitude they were aiming for. I really, truly dig the verses on “Heaven Sent” more than the chorus, which is unusual for an INXS song. Even behind the distortion, Hutchence sounds seductive and sleazy in the best rock and roll way. I bought Welcome to Wherever You Are on cassette and it might have been the last cassette I purchased.
45. This Time
Second single from Listen Like Thieves (1985), released as a single in 1985
According to Stu – “This Time” is a song that I really like DESPITE a monotonous chorus. Perhaps it’s because the long note is harmonized. Or maybe it’s because it gives contrast to the dancing syncopated picked guitar. Or it’s how the opening of the song builds to that point, so it’s not actually boring.
The song opens delicately with the picked guitar, and pieces are added simply: a strummed guitar chord and a sultry vocal, then the drums. The vocal pumps up a bit, as do the instruments. So maybe it’s not such a bad thing to have a chorus where a note is held for six beats on four separate occasions.
According to Doyle – Stu took the words right out of my mouth here. The chorus on “This Time” is monotonous but forgivable. I remember at the time that this track was compared to U2’s contemporaneous work (and the Wikipedia entry linked above confirms this) and I can sort hear that on the verses, though the lyrics are like miles away from the sort of things U2 were writing about in 1985. Hutchence and Bono became very close during their periods of success in the 80’s and 90’s as we’ll explore more a little later. Anyhow, this was the second single from Listen Like Thieves after the gloriously infectious “What You Need” and I remember resenting that this song wasn’t that song in 1985 and playing it a bit less as a result. It’s grown on me over the years but I still have a bit of that youthful spite keeping me from giving into “This Time” 100%.
44. Rooms for Memory
Artist: Michael Hutchence
Single from the soundtrack to the film Dogs in Space (1987), released as a single in 1986
According to Stu – As much as I approached this project with an open mind about Switch, I tried to do the same with this song, or specifically, its very synthesized sound. Not that synthesized music is necessarily bad, but with this song, I feel like the keyboards and the drum machine are taking center stage. And in it, I hear the Knight Rider theme lurking underneath.
According to Doyle – Stu, that is brilliant. Yes, I hear that now.
Sometimes, the only thing that survives from a movie is a song. Sometimes, that song doesn’t even really survive. I remember in 1987, there were more people in my world discussing the Dogs in Space soundtrack than were discussing the movie. In fact, I don’t recall anyone talking about the movie and couldn’t tell you a thing about it – with deep apologies to everyone who worked on it. It’s difficult to gauge who Hutchence would have been as a solo artist because we’re working with such a small sample of tunes and the earlier ones are associated with films (presumably, he or the film producers selected or designed the song with the needs of the film in mind). “Rooms for the Memory” received a small amount of airplay from me on WRBC back in the day, but I’d honestly forgotten about it until I started working on this list. I like that it is a moodier piece than he would typically perform with INXS and wish there were a few more tracks by him from this period in that vein. He connects with something painful in his vocal delivery that he rarely explores in INXS’ hits.
43. Don’t Lose Your Head
Third single from Elegantly Wasted (1997), released as a single in 1997
According to Stu – After X – or maybe somewhere within that album – INXS played more with their sound, their style. At the time, I felt they may have been following U2’s lead. You can really hear that in Welcome to Wherever You Are. With Elegantly Wasted‘s “Don’t Lose Your Head,” Michael’s vocal performance is sort of a sung rap, perhaps a more melodic version of something the Chili Peppers’ Anthony Kiedis might do. Though the vocal styling takes the lead, it’s still definitely an INXS song. You can hear it in the instrumental break.
According to Doyle – In 1996, Michael Hutchence presented Oasis with a Best Video trophy at the Brit Awards. In accepting the award, Oasis songwriter Noel Gallagher made a comment about Hutchence being a has-been. This clearly stung Hutchence who (as I mentioned) sang a line about being better than Oasis on the title track of Elegantly Wasted and the lyrics of “Don’t Lose Your Head” are aimed squarely at Noel’s brother Liam. Part of the reason it stung, I suspect, is Hutchence might have feared there was some truth in the insult. Full Moon and Dirty Hearts and Welcome to Wherever You Are are decent albums, but it felt like the magic of Kick was fading into the past. Furthermore, like many bands that saw great success in the late 80’s, INXS had been sort of sidelined by the grunge explosion (and by the Manchester sound, and by the rise of hip-hop, and by Britpop, etc). As Stu mentioned, INXS spent several albums trying to figure out how to stay relevant and fresh into the 90’s. Elegantly Wasted was, at the time, hailed as something of a comeback album for the band. The title track fit in nicely with the rock of the time and several of the other tracks – including this one – sounded like an update of the classic INXS sound without being too derivative of contemporary hits. I’ll write about Oasis (whose music I really dig) at a later date, but one wonders what Noel Gallagher thinks of his quip in 2019.
42. The Strangest Party (These Are the Times)
First single from Greatest Hits (1994), released as a single in 1994
According to Stu – “The Strangest Party” is one of those songs give fans incentive to buy a Greatest Hits album, even if they already own all their previous albums. Not much of a fan of this song.
According to Doyle – In my head, I get “Strangest Party” confused with “Pretty Vegas” and that’s probably telling. Andrew Farriss wrote the music for this song during the sessions for the previous album, Full Moon, Dirty Hearts. Hutchence’s lyrics were ostensibly about the bands’ experiences over the years as members of INXS. I have written many times about how I resent the inclusion of new songs on greatest hits packages (though I acknowledge it must have been an effective marketing technique since so many bands have done it). One of the main reasons for this is that the new songs rarely would rank as “greatest hits” by any reasonable metric (I’m less annoyed when a band releases a package labeled “singles” and adds a new single so I guess it’s all about the word choice). I do enjoy “Strangest Party” but don’t necessarily actively seek it out.
41. Freedom Deep
Fourth single from Full Moon, Dirty Heart (1993), released as a single in 1994
According to Stu – I find “Freedom Deep” to be both simple and complex at the same time. Simple piano line, with a simple vocal mirroring it. Nothing crazy going on with the bass guitar. The percussion part is very different from typical INXS fare, but again, nothing complicated. But taken as a whole, with Michael’s breathy vocal, I find this song to be delightfully ethereal.
According to Doyle – This is exactly the kind of moody tune that I was referring to while writing about “Rooms for the Memory.” The tune isn’t very “INXS” for the first minute or two (when the drums finally kick in, we’re back in more familiar territory) but it shows off Hutchence’s ability to connect with some deeper material. That said, when the drums and guitars do join in the song (in an almost Beatles-esque way), “Freedom Deep” turns into something of a great lost single. I fully understand why this had no hope of becoming a hit in 1994, but it’s kind of too bad because I would have been curious to hear more songs in this vein from the band.
Coming Soon: Hutchence’s earliest solo, a superior cover of a song I ranked lower, and one of Hutchence’s final solo recordings