When INXS began 40 years ago, one listen to the music that would comprise their self-titled 1980 debut will speak loudly of the impact the British New Wave movement had on their inherent style. Though halfway around the globe in Sydney, Australia, the bleeding edge sounds of Elvis Costello & The Attractions, The Specials and Joe Jackson made their way to the ears of this young sextet, comprised of the Farriss Brothers, Tim, Andrew and Jon on guitar, keys and drums accordingly, along with Garry Gary Beers on bass, Kurt Pengilly on saxophone and lead vocalist Michael Hutchence. However, what separated the band from the rest of the punk rock community was the fact their tastes for pop music were equally as voracious as their affinity for the underground.
“A great Abba song is just as worthy as a great Joy Division song,” said Hutchence to journalist Rob Tennenbaum in the January 14, 1988 issue of Rolling Stone.
As INXS began to flesh out its catalog with 1981’s Underneath the Colours, 1982’s Shabooh Shabbah 1984’s The Swing and 1985’s Listen Like Thieves, it was evident that INXS were more interested in making people dance than defy authority. And by 1987, it was clear the taste of success they enjoyed with such smash hits as “The One Thing” and “What You Need” was pushing the group further and further into the global public ear. Especially here in America, where MTV and Top 40 radio were helping them achieve a level of notoriety not experienced by an Aussie act since Olivia Newton John. So when it came time to hunker down and follow up Thieves, the group chose to allow the influences of Nile Rodgers and Otis Redding seep into the sound more permeably than ever before.
“That Run-D.M.C.–Aerosmith song [“Walk This Way”] is, in a sense, just an extreme version of what we’ve been doing for years, mixing rock and funk,” Hutchence explained to Tannenbaum in that aforementioned Rolling Stone interview.
When Kick was released on October 19, 1987, it arrived during one of the most innovative and exciting times in R&B, as albums like Sign ‘O’ The Times by Prince, Michael Jackson’s Bad and Terence Trent d’Arby’s Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent d’Arby were making the genre more appealing to rock fans. Meanwhile, classic acts like Miles Davis, Phil Collins and Steve Winwood were also looking to the new guard for fresh ideas. It was also a time when bands like U2, R.E.M. and Guns ‘N Roses were redefining the rules of AOR as well. Kick existed between those worlds. And perhaps no other song on the album exhibits this duality quite like “Need You Tonight”, a straight up funk jam that was the only song by them to hit the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts. Meanwhile, its innovative video, directed by Richard Lowenstein (who is currently working on a documentary about Hutchence set for 2018) was all over MTV, earning five VMAs in 1988, and paired up the song with its companion track “Mediate”, which gives a loving nod to Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”.
“I loved INXS from the first time I heard ‘What You Need’,” explains legendary guitarist Bonnie Raitt, who covered “Need You Tonight” on her 2016 LP Dig In Deep. “Then, when Kick came out, with “New Sensation” and then “Need You Tonight,” I was gone. The combination of such great, muscular production with that irrepressible funk rhythm guitar, indelible hooks and grooves—wrapped around Michael’s sexy, sinuous vocals just knocked me out. Have to say, so did the videos. I have wanted to cut ‘Need You Tonight’ since I first heard it, make it my own. One of the sexiest songs I know.”
Although on the other side of the planet from the South Bronx, Australia was certainly not blind or deaf to the evolving sounds of hip-hop, especially for a band who loves the concepts of rhythm and groove as INXS. And the group’s appreciation for beats can be clearly felt on Kick’s opening cut “Guns in the Sky”, armed with a propulsive rhythm that one could justify being the influence of Schooly D or early Def Jam.
“Opening with ‘Guns In The Sky’, is sort of asking to cause trouble, anyway,” Farriss told journalist Bud Scoppa in the February 1988 issue of CREEM. “I guess in a way it’s a cheeky thing that we approached the album in the way we did. But we’ve always had this policy that we wanna please ourselves first – that’s all we wanna do.”
“While hip-hop culture and rap music were breaking through in the UK and Australia in 1987, I think the guys from INXS more than likely were inspired by the original source material, the stuff the rap producers were sampling,” explains veteran music journalist Michael Gonzales. “They were borrowing from James Brown, Motown and disco, namely Chic, who were Gods to these guys. In the ’80s, to a certain degree many white artists (including American acts like the Talking Heads and Hall & Oates) were very open about the influence of soul and world Music, and had no problem incorporating those sounds into their music. Back then, I don’t remember people talking about cultural appropriation. As far as the people I knew, if it sounded good it was cool.”
To the point of Mr. Gonzales, listening to Kick thirty years later and with perhaps a better understanding of soul music, one can easily surmise the horn-drenched influence of the J.B.’s and the Bar-Kays on propulsive cuts like “New Sensation” and the album’s underrated title cut. They also salute to their homeland’s own roots in electric R&B with a cover of The Loved Ones’ eponymous hit single from 1966. Meanwhile, the album’s second most famous single “Never Tear Us Apart”, despite the European overtones in its Prague-filmed video, is a soul ballad in the spirit of Otis Redding at his most yearning augmented by Pengilly’s stratospheric sax solo.
INXS would go on to further the formula they crafted with Kick on 1990’s nearly-as-great X before moving into darker, more guitar-driven territory on albums like 1992’s Welcome to Wherever You Are and 1993’s Full Moon, Dirty Hearts before reverting back to the formula of their 1987 LP with their final recording with Hutchence, 1997’s underrated Elegantly Wasted. The highly charismatic singer, unfortunately, died tragically and unexpectedly in November of that year in what was billed as a suicide. His one and only solo album, Michael Hutchence, was released posthumously on December 14, 1999 and featured contributions from Bono, Joe Strummer and Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill. The surviving members of INXS, meanwhile, sold their souls to Survivor creator Mark Burnett and became the subject of a reality TV show searching for a new lead singer. They wound up with a one-time Elvis Presley impersonator named J.D. Fortune, and the band released Switch in 2005 to very mixed reviews. Their last studio effort was 2010’s Original Sin, a misinformed “tribute album” featuring re-recordings of INXS songs with people like John Mayer, Pat Monahan, and Rob Thomas singing lead vocals; even appearances by Tricky and Ben Harper couldn’t save this thing.
Yet in recent years, young acts like The 1975, Passion Pit and Halsley have been acknowledging the influence of INXS on their own 80s-engorging ways, and Kick in particular. And in a year where people are talking about 30th anniversaries of classic albums and which one defines what was happening in 1987, Joshua, Document, Faith, Bad, Sign, Appetite…they’re all incredibly worthy candidates. But it’s very much high time for Kick to secure its place as a crucial part of that conversation. Especially when you consider the upcoming release of a 30th anniversary deluxe edition of the album out on November 24th and features in addition to a wealth of demos, remixes and live cuts also includes a brand new mix of the original LP by Giles Martin.
“Ten years from now, we don’t wanna look back and say, ‘Listen to that hit record we made just to have the biggest hit record in the world – ugggghhh! Why did we do that?’ Andrew Farriss asked Scoppa in that CREEM interview. “Y’know? I don’t want my kids to listen to a record that we’re not happy with. We wanna make the record that we wanna make – that we can sit and listen to and all be fans of and feel good about. That’s our ‘quest’.”
Three decades later, it is safe to presume the way by which Kick has established the legacy of INXS as one of the true giants of pop music those sentiments have been robustly quantified.
Ron Hart is a New Jersey-based writer whose work has appeared in such publications as Rolling Stone, Downbeat, Billboard, Spin, Vibe, Paste and many other publications too numerous to mention. Follow him on Twitter.
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