Before Michael Hutchence’s traumatic suicide in 1997, and the multiplying tragedies and indignities that followed (the reality program in search of a replacement singer; the Seven Network miniseries; the death of former manager Chris Murphy; guitarist Tim Farriss’s severed finger; his brother and drummer Jon’s recent association with anti-vaccination protests in Canberra), before all of that, INXS were one thing above all else: a brilliant singles band with a shit-hot frontman.
If you are looking for anything after 1992’s patchy Welcome To Wherever You Are, look elsewhere: INXS were already on a steep descent by then. Deep cuts? Forget it: if it wasn’t a single, it was mostly filler. INXS’s best songs were precision-tooled pieces of audio engineering, ergonomically crafted for your radio, your car, your hips and your ears. Their greatest hits almost all pick themselves – ranking them, however, is another matter. Here goes …
15. Bitter Tears (1990)
A Rolling Stones-lite rock and soul workout, the fourth single from X still shimmied and shook, although the tide was beginning to run out on the band by the time of its release as a single in February 1991 – the song peaked at No. 36 on the Australian charts, 30 in the UK and 46 in the US. But as a live act, INXS were at their peak: a few months later, a gravity-defying performance at Wembley would produce the Live Baby Live album.
14. Kiss The Dirt (Falling Down The Mountain) (1985)
The third single from INXS’s fifth album Listen Like Thieves showcases the group’s command of space, with its clanging opening chords followed by silence. What follows is lean, taut rock, with only a brief rave-up towards the end breaking the tension between Andrew Farriss’s keyboards, which lift the song up, and Garry Gary Beers’s bass, which drags it back to earth.
13. What You Need (1985)
The beginning of INXS’s imperial period was kicked off by a leftover. At the end of recording sessions for Listen Like Thieves, producer Chris Thomas didn’t hear the international hit craved by the group and their US label Atlantic. Trawling through demos, Andrew Farriss brought back a groove called Funk Song No. 13. The eventual result was the band’s first US smash; Tim Farriss’s hard funk solo provided the blueprint for Kick.
12. Disappear (1990)
The “do-do-do doo-do-do” introduction is one of those melodies that feels like it was always there – it just took Hutchence until 1990 to sing it. It’s so obvious and innately human that if that was all Disappear was, it would probably still have been a hit. The rest is just scaffolding: the churning chorus is almost superfluous by comparison, with the song resolving to the original idea, capturing the daydreaming bliss of being alone with the one you love.
11. I Send A Message (1984)
10. Beautiful Girl (1992)
INXS’s last flash of greatness, from 1992’s Welcome To Wherever You Are. By then, Nirvana had blown the superstars of the 80s off the map, and INXS found themselves chasing the pack with a notably harder rock sound. But on this lovely, delicate homage by Andrew Farriss to his baby daughter, the band sounded unabashedly themselves. It was the fifth international single from the album, which did it no favours; its comparatively lacklustre chart performance belied its stature as among the band’s most loved songs.
9. Mystify (1987)
The fifth and final single from Kick, with finger-snaps accompanying Andrew Farriss’s barrelling piano chords. Those snaps demonstrate the unshakeable arrogance of a band at the top of its game: everything INXS tried was working, with every part contributing to the incredibly tight whole. The song’s title was taken by the band’s longtime video collaborator Richard Lowenstein for his excellent 2019 Hutchence biopic.
8. New Sensation (1987)
Kick begins with an anomalous song called Guns In The Sky, but that’s really just a scene-setter for New Sensation, which introduces the true sound of the album: relentless Prince-style funk riffs, anchored by a hard four-on-the-floor rhythm. It’s also all about the singer, more than the song. Hutchence is the maximum rock & roll star here, his vocal at the top of the mix. The band, laser-focused on chart glory, knows better than to get in his way.