Five ways INXS could’ve really ended on a high
INXS didn’t end on a high – but at least they finally called it a day, writes ANDREW P STREET, who suggest five ways the band could’ve really gone out in style.
“INXS touring days could never last forever. We wanted it to end on a high. And it has.” – Jon Farriss, November 13, 2012
With the greatest of respect to you and your publicist, Jon Farriss: No. INXS didn’t end on a high. INXS ended playing a soulless new arena in Perth with an Irish hired gun on vocals, going through the motions as the opening act for Matchbox Twenty. Let me say that again: One of the greatest bands Australia every produced played their final ever show as an opening act. For Matchbox Twenty.
When was the last time INXS were relegated to openers? That can’t have happened since the early-’80s, surely? And at this point in the career, pulling out a crowd-pleasing “hits’n’memories” set is basically Death By Covers Act, the only difference being that five of the men on stage also performed the originals.
INXS didn’t end on a high – but at least it did, finally, end. But had Farriss wanted to have legitimately finished things on a triumphant note, I can give five moments that would have provided a more fitting coda.
1. After the Summer XS tour in 1991
You need to understand something important about INXS: They were incredibly successful all over the world. No, even more than you think. Stupidly successful. Like, everyone you knew had their albums in their house successful. Everyone. Like, playing to 120,000 people in Brazil successful. Recording a live album at Wembley in front of 74,000 people successful. And they were huge in the US, massive all through Europe, gods in South America and obviously freakin’ superstars in Australia. We’re talking U2-Gaga-AC/DC big here.
The band were not mystical soothsayers so they couldn’t have known that this was going to be the biggest tour they would ever do, but the triple whammy of Listen Like Thieves (1985), Kick (1987) and X (1990) had cemented them as world beaters. If they’d announced an indefinite hiatus at the end of this tour then they’d have been forever preserved in amber, leaving the tantalising question “what might have been?” hanging forever unanswered in the air, rather than responding with “three more increasingly uninspired albums and a shittonne of dickish rock star behaviour”.
How history would have interpreted it: “There are no more challenges to achieve – we have done everything we ever set out to do. Time to set new goals for our Arcadian talents.”
How history actually interpreted it: “Their live album Live Baby Live went platinum in the US? Are you serious?”
2. After 1993’s Full Moon, Dirty Hearts showed their commercial heyday was definitely over
INXS had long been used to putting out an album and seeing it smash sales of the previous one. Take their US successes: The Swing went platinum, followed by Listen Like Thieves going double platinum and Kick going a freakin’ insane six times platinum. Sure, 1990’s X (which had ‘Suicide Blonde’ and ‘By My Side’ on it) only went double platinum, but the band didn’t really tour that disc, or the subsequent Welcome To Wherever You Are (platinum). But then Full Moon, Dirty Hearts turned up with relatively tepid sales (not even getting to gold in the US) and lacklustre chart action for singles ‘The Gift’ and the Ray Charles duet ‘Please (You Got That…)’. One commercial blip is a freak occurrence, twice can be a coincidence, but three times is looking like a pattern: they must have realised that the world was starting to move on, and they could have nipped things in the bud then and there.
How history would have interpreted it: “We are no longer doing our legacy justice, and we refuse to tarnish it.”
How history actually interpreted it: “At least it wasn’t the dog of an album that 1997’s Elegantly Wasted was.”
3. After Michael Hutchence’s death in 1997
Five members of INXS did not die on 22 November 1997, but groups are not democracies in which majority rules. As every sane person knows there is a recognised order of importance in rock bands, and it goes like this: singer, lead guitar, second guitar, bass/keys (tie), drums. Any band can survive losing the bottom half unless they wrote all the songs (admit it: for all you know Coldplay have performed with a different rhythm section every gig of their lives); replacing #2 is difficult but doable; and #1 is almost impossible (unless you’re AC/DC). When your frontman is also the face of the band and an internationally recognised sex symbol, the likelihood of a successful transplant is reduced to approximately absolutely-not-going-to-happen percent. INXS could have wound things up in the wake of tragedy and declared that it was an impossible task to replace Michael Hutchence – not least because, as the next 15 years were to demonstrate, it was true.
How history would have interpreted it: “The strange alchemy that bound the six of us together has been sundered, and we respect that.”
How history actually interpreted it: “Sure, we’ll just find another one of them singing fellas. How hard can it be?”
4. At their 2001 ARIA Hall of Fame induction
In order for an artist to be inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame, according to the ARIA website, “the nominees’ careers must have commenced, and ideally achieved significant prominence, at least 20 years prior to the year of proposed induction.” There was no Hall of Fame in 2000, so 2001 was pretty much as close to the wire as a band whose first releases came out in 1980 could get (The Saints were also inducted that night, having been eligible for half a decade by that stage, so INXS were comparatively lucky). How fitting it would have been if they had dedicated their honour to their fallen comrade and used the opportunity to thank everyone for their love and support before charging through ‘Don’t Change’ one last magical time?
How history would have interpreted it: “We’ve accepted Australian music’s highest honour, and we chose this moment to bow out gracefully while honouring everyone who contributed to our legacy – from the industry to the fans.”
How history actually interpreted it: “Really? You’re still going to do this?”
5. After recording Switch in 2005
Rock Star: INXS was, let’s not beat around the bush, an undignified clusterfuck of wannabes too unconventional looking to be serious American Idol contenders, but it was a legitimately interesting idea. And, hey, it could have worked. Sure, they could have walked in the first day, listened to everyone sing, pointed at JD Fortune and gone, “Oi, Canada dude, you sound like Michael, get in the van”. And given that they’d already toured with Jon Stevens and Terence Trent D’arby by this stage, they’d presumably already gone, “People who don’t sound like Michael don’t really work so well. Let’s get one of those.” And if Switch was a pretty awful album – and it was – it still had enough halfway decent moments like single ‘Pretty Vegas’ to make a case for existing while also making clear that nothing better was in the pipeline.
How history would have interpreted it: “We gave it a red hot go, but it wasn’t to be.”
How history actually interpreted it: “Is ‘Hot Girls’ is the absolute worst song ever written? Yes, I think it is. So, what are Powderfinger up to?”