Wednesday, August 12, 2015

CD Odyssey Disc 770: INXS

For the second straight review we have an album that was so popular in the mid-eighties it was unavoidable.

Disc 770 is….Kick
Artist: INXS

Year of Release: 1987

What’s up with the Cover? Half of Michael Hutchence’s head, who nevertheless still looks handsome and smartly dressed, plus a bunch of other unattractive band members dressed like dorks. Also a skateboard. You can almost hear some out of touch record exec saying “And ah, yeah, put a skateboard on the cover, boys. The kids, they love their skateboards” as he waved a cigarette absently with one hand and dropped ashes on his mahogany desk that some receptionist would later have to clean up.

How I Came To Know It: I was a teenager in 1987, so like every other teenager in the western world, I knew this album. However, I never owned it until about three years ago when our friends Gord and Dawn were getting rid of their music collection, and I bought it off him for a good price.

How It Stacks Up: I had originally saved the #1 spot for this album, but frankly listening to it today just enraged me. I’m moving all the other albums up one spot and putting it dead last instead. Here’s the full list:

  1. Listen Like Thieves: 3 stars (reviewed back at Disc 292)
  2. X: 3 stars (reviewed back at Disc 460)
  3. The Swing: 3 stars (reviewed back at Disc 362)
  4. Kick: 2 stars (reviewed right here)

Ratings: 2 stars

When I rolled this album I was excited to giving it a listen with fresh ears, after refusing to give it a chance as a teenager. Instead it became a flashback to why the record annoyed me so much the first time.

“Kick” has a pretty simple formula – write a simple lick or guitar riff, play that lick to death, never letting it develop melodically, then add in some stupid lyrics that are borderline nonsense and then trust lead singer Michael Hutchence to bail you out and make them sound good.

Against all odds, Hutchence manages to pull this off on multiple occasions. He was a handsome guy built for the video age, but he also has a great rock voice and charisma that pours out of his vocals like liquid gold.

New Sensation” and “Devil Inside” follow the formula to a tee. Both songs have instantly recognizable licks. “New Sensation” is about drug use and “Devil Inside” is attempting to speak to the battle of the sexes. At least I think what they’re about, since the lyrics are awful. Here’s the beginning of “Devil Inside”:

“Here come the woman with the look in her eye
Raised on leather with flesh on her mind
Words as weapons, sharper than knives
Makes you wonder how the other half die.

“Here come the man with the look in his eye
Fed on nothing but full of pride
Look at them go look at them kick
Makes you wonder how the other half live.”

Let’s put aside these incredibly bad attempts at rhyming for a second and just try to figure out what is going on. Are women killing men with their words, or is she raised on leather and using her body as a weapon? Is the guy hungry or angry? Is he kicking women? Just what the hell is going on here? Answer – who gives a damn.

When Hutchence sings this crap he just makes you think “dance party!” so it doesn’t matter what is going on, I guess. They might as well be filling the air with “oh oh oh” or “sha na na” like later Shania Twain songs do. Despite Hutchence’s heroics “New Sensation” can’t resist inserting an atrocious combo solo between a strangled saxophone and a drunk electric guitar. Fortunately it only lasts for about a bar and a half.

The best songs on the record are the sexy, sweaty “Need You Tonight” and “Never Tear Us Apart” the latter of which is a pretty sweet combination of classical violins backing a pretty rock n’ roll love song. Hutchence squeezes every drop out of “Never Tear Us Apart”, which is both sexy and cool and a key reason this record scores 2 stars. For all that, I think “By My Side” off of their next record (1990’s “X”) is a better version of the same thing.

So far I’ve only been talking about the album’s hits (it had a bunch) and if you’re hoping that the deep cuts redeem the overall experience, you are hoping in vain. Mostly, the other tracks have all the faults of the hits, minus the good riffs.

The album’s absolute nadir is “Mediate” a song that is basically eighties drum percussion and Hutchence rattling off a list of words that rhyme with the song title and don’t have much point beyond that. One line even implores listeners “not to hate” but I hated it anyway.

Given that “Kick” isn’t demonstrably different from my other three INXS albums, you might ask why I had such a strong reaction. Simply put, the other albums do what they do better. “The Swing” does the crazy eighties percussion sounds better. “X” is more polished and has markedly better songwriting overall and “Listen Like Thieves” is better on both these counts.

By contrast, “Kick” makes me hear the faults of other INXS albums feel magnified, which is probably the biggest reason it made me so grumpy.

Ten years ago, I watched the TV show “Rock Star: INXS” where the Farriss brothers sought a new lead singer to replace the tragically deceased Hutchence. After many weeks of weeding folks out, they ended up with finalists Marty Casey and J.D. Fortune. Casey was a real artist, and even brought an original song that was borderline thoughtful to the finale. Fortune was a Canadian doofus who looked and sounded like a bad version of Hutchence, and had very little going for him beyond that.

Regrettably, Fortune won, and they launched a tour that no doubt was packed with twenty-year anniversary celebrations of “Kick.” I kept well away; it takes all the talent of Michael Hutchence to kick even a bit of life into this album.

Best tracks: Need You Tonight, Never Tear Us Apart

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