Albums Revisited: INXS ‘Kick’ Turns 30: celebrating INXS’s career-defining album 30 years later.
I wrote recently about how 1987 was the most pivotal year for music in the Reagan era (click here for my list of the 30 best albums from 1987).
And one of the most iconic releases was certainly Kick (which celebrates its 30th anniversary October 19th, with a deluxe reissue due later this month). It would be the album that made INXS a household name.
In retrospect, INXS were somewhat of an anomaly. They were a weird band that were hard to classify. They were a mix of new wave, funk, and scrappy pub rock. They were pop, but with an edge that befitted their Aussie roots.
The group had made steady inroads to rock stardom—the synth heavy 1982 album Shabooh Shoobah, the funky Nile Rogers produced The Swing and 1985’s anthemic Listen Like Thieves all paved the way, but Kick made them the hottest Australian rock export since AC/DC.
The seeds for Kick’s success were planted earlier that summer on The Lost Boys soundtrack, with their cover of the Easybeats breezy rocker Good Times becoming a smash hit. But nobody could have predicted how big Kick would get.
This included their own record label. Atlantic hated Kick. So much, in fact, that they offered the group a million (?!?) dollars to rerecord it, as keyboardist/main songwriter Andrew Farriss recalled in 2012, saying they were told We can’t get this on the radio. You have to be like what’s happening now. He responded with we think this is what’s happening now. I’m guessing those same execs feel pretty dumb now.
Guitarist/saxophonist Kirk Penguilly once said We wanted an album where all the songs were possible singles. Mission accomplished. It felt like a greatest hits compilation, with Need You Tonight/Mediate, New Sensation, Devil Inside, Never Tear Us Apart, all going Top 10 in the U.S. Mystify hit #17. That’s 6 out of the album’s 12 songs. To date, its sold 20 million albums worldwide. Insane.
Kick, like Listen Like Thieves, was produced by Chris Thomas (who previously produced both the Beatles and the Sex Pistols), and it sounds huge and glossy. It fit the late 80s like a glove. It’s a party in album form, with the single Calling All Nations the official invite.
Farriss (whose brothers Jon and Tim played drums and guitars in the band, respectively), had a mad creative streak, becoming so obsessed he made a cabbie wait outside his house with the meter running while he worked out the arrangement to Need You Tonight (as detailed in the phenomenally shitty biopic Never Tear Us Apart. Oh man, it’s bad).
From there he flew to Hong Kong and worked out the rest of the song with Hutchence in about an hour. Not too shabby.
Need You Tonight and the other singles were perfectly distilled into MTV-friendly videos, with frontman Michael Hutchence the obvious focal point. Where his band mates were blandly handsome, he was destined to be a rock god, with his flowing mane and steel toed boots. He had the kind of charisma you just don’t see in modern music. Girls wouldn’t shut up about him. And guys couldn’t help but be jealous. He was just cool like that.
They also made a video for Guns in The Sky, and it wasn’t even a single. But it was my favorite song, showing a harder edge than any other track in their catalogue, which took a break from their libidinous streak with lyrics about the fears of nuclear war. The title track and Tiny Daggers were too other solid deep cuts, which would have been hits too if they were put on the radio.
Kick was so big it bled into 1988, when I saw them in concert on their Calling All Nations tour. It was my first concert (PiL was the opener). You couldn’t have asked for a better maiden voyage. They rocked Reunion Arena in Dallas, and Hutchence owned the crowd, showing why he was one of the best frontman of the 80’s (I particularly remember him goofing on the sex-scandal plagued televangelist Jimmy Swaggart before launching into Devil Inside).
The album would be their biggest moment—the 90’s were less kind to INXS. While 1990’s X was a hit, it couldn’t match Kick’s success and the songs weren’t nearly as good. Further albums also failed commercially, feeling out of place during the sullen, distortion fueled alternative era.
Then things got worse. As bad as it gets. We’ll never really know why Michael Hutchence killed himself, but he certainly left a void as big as the music he made when he was alive.
I now gravitate to INXS’s earlier albums (mainly because I burned myself out on Kick), but the memories and melodies of Kick always bring a wistful smile to my face. I still wanna be as cool as Michael Hutchence, but at 46 I’ve accepted my fate…I’m still hoping steel toed boots make a comeback though.