October 31, 2017 INXS – Kick Turns 30
Looking back on the year of 1987, life was very different. The Berlin Wall still stood, Ronald Reagan was in the White House, and the Cold War was still on. Furthermore, in the world of Rock-n-Roll, American and English bands dominated the charts with big hair, tight jeans, and larger than life power anthems. A unique portion of modern history, through it all, Australia’s INXS had already been around a whole decade. Begun with their first eponymous album in 1980, the talented band earned further notary with 1982’s Shabooh Shoobah, 1984’s The Swing, and 1985’s Listen Like Thieves. At this point very much a household name in their homeland, times were about to change, and in 1987 they released the album Kick, catapulting them into international stardom.
Their sixth overall studio album, Kick hit shelves on October 19th of 1987 and, within months, the unique sounds of the album would dominate radio airwaves turning INXS into a band capable of hosting stadiums. Still the band’s most successful album to date, Kick continues to sound as fresh and current 30 years later as it did when it first came out on vinyl and cassette.
Although, the road to Kick’s success was not an easy one. The story goes upon completing Kick in the earlier part of 1987, Band Manager Chris Murphy took the album to top Atlantic Records executives in New York City to hear the finished product. Hoping for praise and support, instead the label all but hated Kick, even offering the band $1,000,000 to return to Australia and make a new album. Imagine that! Fortunately, INXS was steadfast in their belief in Kick, and went around the top label executives directly to Atlantic Records’ radio promotion division to play them the track “Need You Tonight.” Finding a market for the single on the college scene, it became a hit. Following the same strategy, they did the same with second single, “Devil Inside,” and, from there, it was a snowball effect as the music of Kick picked up more and more steam. Naturally, the label, regardless of their opinion of Kick, were forced to add the album to their release schedule for the fall of 1987 and, as they say, the rest is history.
The question is, why would a record label initially balk at the opportunity to release an album like Kick? Well, clearly they did not have their finger on the pulse of the consumers. You have to remember, this was the ’80s and playing it safe would be foolish when it came to music exploration. That said, Kick offered something different to listeners. Yes, it still rocked, but it was not like anything else out at the time. Bands like Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe, along with Aerosmith were all hitting the high spots, although they were all quite similar with power chords, power ballads, and anthems. INXS were a breath of fresh air. Sure, they had guitars, but they also had saxophones as well. Their music was a rich mix of New Wave and Pop combined with Funk and Dance before being rocked up. It was sexy, you could dance to it or you could make out to it, and many would agree Kick was the pinnacle of their diversity.
A band of uniquely talented musicians, The Farriss brothers provided the core of the band, with Andrew on keyboards as the main composer, Jon on drums, and Tim on guitar. Joining them was Kirk Pengilly played both guitar and saxophone, Garry Gary Beers adding bass, and finally, their charismatic Vocalist/Lyricist Michael Hutchence at the top of the pyramid. Hutchence was a phenomenal frontman and a real performer. He had it all, sex appeal, good looks, as well as that bad boy reputation that attracted the girls.
A dynamic team, together they joined forces to carve the twelve songs of Kick, recorded at Rhinoceros Recordings in Sydney and at Studio De La Grande Armée in Paris, France. Putting all they had into the album, the opening track, “Guns in the Sky,” is a commentary on the Reagan plan for ‘Star Wars,’ with his idea of having guns in the sky to shoot down Russian missiles. Needless to say, it was a scary time when all feared nuclear annihilation and this highly expensive, fanciful idea was received with much ridicule and concern. The song is heavily punctuated with drums and percussion while there is also a strong relentless rhythm with vocals that are mainly spoken. It had a resentment seething in the delivery and frankness that was unusual for the time.
This was before the album’s third single, “New Sensation,” a less oppressive offering about a new love and the excitement of those first encounters. Reaching No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, No. 9 in Australia, No. 25 in the UK, and No. 8 on the Album Rock Tracks in the US, it would continue a string of success for INXS. Rich with a brass section that really bursts out, it has a funky groove that hooks you in.
Keeping the hits coming, “Devil Inside” followed as a sexual temptress that lures the man in. Here, Hutchence’s voice is husky and sensual, adding to the lustful vibe of the song while offering a look at human nature along with our dark side. Released as a single in 1988, it was highly popular in the American market, going to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks, but was staved off from the top spot by big ’80s hits “Get Outta My Dreams, Get into My Car” by Billy Ocean and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” by Whitney Houston. Not too bad for an Alternative band right?
Which leads us to the album’s first single, “Need You Tonight.” With its distinctive beat and guitar riff, it is the only INXS single to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Also the most synonymous track to be associated with INXS in the mainstream, years since, it has repeatedly been covered and been a subsequential hit for several artists. With a raw sexuality that is infectious, chances are most can recite the song word for word.
Interestingly, on Kick, the big hit of “Need You Tonight” segues seamlessly into the track “Mediate.” Having the distinction of almost every line rhyme with the word “ate,” the song’s video was a homage to Bob Dylan, using the same format as he had used for “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” even down to misspelled words on the cards. Lyrically, it is a bizarre mix of phrases that rhyme, a very repetitive musical background which is far more interesting the more you listen to it. Often overlooked by more mainstream consumers, thankfully, even all these years later, satellite radio’s SiriusXM First Wave plays the song as part of “Need You Tonight,” keeping it in the forefront of the more keen listener’s mind.
At this point, you are at the meat of Kick with the bluesy Pub Rock love song “The Loved One,” which is more raunchy rather than romantic. This is while “Wildlife” is raucous, in both cases, the woman is the strong one in control, which was an unusual portrayal of women for the time. This type of flair fit INXS, and the track that arguably completes Kick would be the ballad “Never Tear Us Apart.” Released as a single in 1988, it is instantly memorable, complete with string arrangements and dramatic pauses. The music video even offers thought-provoking content, featuring a love story between two people on different sides of the cold war. Set in Prague, it is a cinematic masterpiece for its time.
Catchy from the start, INXS still keep it coming toward the backend of Kick with the album’s fifth and final single, “Mystify.” Another relationship song, it is about the mystery in a love affair and the lyrics are highly poetic while it does not have formulaic structure that was common in the ’80s, naturally spawning the band yet another charted hit.
From here, the album is rounded out by the title track “Kick,” which bright and positive. Following is “Calling All Nations,” recommending that everyone worldwide come together to have a party, not war, and “Tiny Daggers,” a retrospective relationship song. The latter looks at the way you can move on after the breakdown of a love affair and is musically a Pop/New Wave song, proving that, with Kick, expect the unexpected.
An album with a ton of compelling bits of history, even Kick’s cover art was fresh and exciting. It ‘popped’ artistically and grabbed your attention from the racks of records in the shops. Kick was an album that dared to be different, and as a result, it became a top album in 1987, has since sold well over 20 million copies the world over, but most of all, it will forever more be considered a classic of the 1980s decade and beyond.