15 years since his tragic death the feelings are still raw, yet the memories and the legacy of this great man will last forever. This Australian icon became world famous with his one-of-a-kind character and charisma that made INXS one of pop and rock’s classic bands.
Remembering One of the Last True Rock Stars.
Put the pieces back together/every moment back together/In your quiet moments/Looking back in tears/Can I count the nights you’ve lived/That you’d live again, Michael Hutchence: Put The Pieces Back Together.
Icons don’t come around every day, believe that. Don’t be fooled by the who’s who of today. Some stars today are merely ‘role models’ and they’re not doing a very good job at that either. Sure there are icons still around, but sometimes the word ‘iconic’ is thrown around all too much. Michael Hutchence however was iconic. It’s hard to believe it’s been 14 years since he was found hanging in a Sydney hotel room on November 22nd, 1997.
Let’s look back and celebrate the man.
Celebrate and not speculate because when Hutchence burst onto the scene with his band INXS back in 1979 it was this man and his personality and not his personal life or troubles that people were attracted to. His energetic, magnetic and sensual persona is what gave him a presence on the world’s biggest stages. A presence that extended from the small pubs and hotels INXS played coming up in 1977 to the sold-out stadiums they made it to when they truly broke out. His enigmatic personality, coupled with his good looks and his confidence, matched with the blueprint of a true rock star persona, made sure all eyes were on him. Then the lyrics he wrote, cultivated with the way he sang and the ways he moved about the stage, did the rest. A true star who sang some of the best songs and made some of music’s most memorable moments became an icon. A guy that just like AC/DC before him and Heath Ledger after him was iconic not just in his native Australia but all around the world.
INXS first commercially hit in the 80s with their self-titled debut. Just Keep Walking was their first hit. Their success came from their own hard work. They played sold-out shows almost every day of the week. As attention grew, people wanted a piece of this band even before the press got wind. The band’s hard work was rewarded with a gold plaque for their debut and, more importantly, their name on everyone’s lips. INXS were playing 300 shows across Australia during the release of their second album Underneath the Colours. When their third album Shabooh, Shoobah hit, they broke America, making the billboard charts behind great music and the dynamic, provocative personality of Hutchence.
INXS first number 1 in Australia was Original Sin. Sin had lots of rhythm with fast-paced drum rolls, quirky saxophone and even stranger ad-libs from Michael. The great lyrics from Hutchence completed the song perfectly and the hometown heroes took seven Australian Countdown awards and a double platinum plaque for the song’s album The Swing. The first three albums established the band, but with this swinging success Michael, Garry, Andrew, Jon, Tim & Kirk truly planted their feet.
With their feet firmly in place it was time for INXS to break new ground. They did this in the mid-80s with the release of two albums, one definite and one definitive. By 1985 INXS were in the mid-90s of degrees of hotness. The band’s first million seller in the States came with Listen Like Thieves. The album’s title also spawned a hit single and more radio play was garnered with the funky hit What You Need. A song so funky that the artist always known as funk, Prince, covered it back in 2007 during his legendary tour of 21 dates in London.
The album Listen Like Thieves featured memorable hooks and intriguing lyrics. Like many rock greats before him, Michael was a master at writing love songs. Michael indulged a lot in his life but it seemed like love was really his biggest motivator. INXS songs were the type of catchy tunes that only after a few listens on the radio listeners would know word for word. Michael’s passion for writing about love was fuelled with his lyrics. Even if the songs were about loss, they still had an element of positivity to them. Songs like This Time (“We are hoping/yes we are praying/this time will be the last time/that we will fight like this”) and Kiss The Dirt (Falling Down The Mountain) (“Playing in the dirt/we find the seeds of doubt/don’t water them with your tears/don’t think about all the years/you’d rather be without”) epitomise the beauty in the hope and belief of love. Michael was able to translate this into song seemingly effortlessly with the help of writing partner Andrew Farriss.
INXS biggest-selling album propelled them even higher. Kick in 1987 expanded their already wide and diverse fan base even further. Millions of copies were sold and 5 MTV Awards and a Grammy nomination came. Some of the band’s biggest singles, Mystify, Need You Tonight, Never Tear Us Apart and New Sensation helped make this album a rock and roll classic. From the success of this album came a lot of buzz, a lot of excitement and even more touring around the world.
The singles themselves became classics around the world. Never Tear Us Apart showcased Michael’s ever-improving writing ability. At his worst, Hutchence was honest, at his best he was poetic. INXS may have recorded their best love song with lines like, ‘We could live for a thousand years/but if I hurt you I’d make wine from your tears”. Lines that are so soulful just check out modern day legend, Ben Harper’s take on them. The jam New Sensation seems to be a motivating, mainstay at sporting events and Need You Tonight was another provocative hit that helped Hutchence become a hit with the housewives. The video for this song furthered this. Striking black and white images and Michael’s colourful personality helped this become yet another classic visual for a band that was becoming known for their unique music videos. The camera loved Michael and Michael loved the camera – sometimes maybe a little bit too much – not that the housewives minded.
The video of Need You Tonight also blended in seamlessly to the track Mediate, which furthered the display of Hutchence’s lyrical ability. Michael effortlessly rapped cohesive words and sentences that rhymed with the word Mediate. Not many rock singers had done this before him and again this was an example of Hutchence’s self-assured swagger, which is why he appealed to so many people. Confidence is one of the most attractive features and whether on the microphone, the screen or the stage Michael had it by the bucket load. Even performing for Jools Holland, sprawled across a piano, with shaggy hair, workman jeans and baggy clothing, he was still the perfect man for those housewives tuning in on a Friday night.
This hot streak continued for Hutchence and INXS as their follow-up X was no slouch. The album spawning hits such as Suicide Blonde, Bitter Tears & Disappear, which helped INXS leave their successful decade of the 80s on a high note coming into the 90s. Although the last decade saw fewer releases and tragedy for the band and its lead singer, the 90s still had high notes for INXS. In 1991 the band headlined Wembley Stadium in London with Michael’s magnetic onstage persona attracting a crowd of 74,000 excited fans.
With the release of Welcome To Wherever You Are INXS pushed the envelope further both musically and visually with their second, definitive album. The band included an orchestra on the hit Baby Don’t Cry offering appreciation to other forms of music. They also, however, received heat again for the video of the hit Taste It, with Michael again raising the temperatures of female fans and music television networks alike, albeit in very different ways. Beautiful Girl was yet another classic love song from the band with genuine and endearing lyrics from their frontman. A song, like all love classics still relevant today (just check the trailer for hit movie, Love & Other Drugs). The positivity in Michael’s writing again shined through. Too many songs these days about love or lost love focus on all the negative, back then, however, Michael begged to differ. He even described the complications in relationships perfectly on the classic album take Men and Women.
Approaching the mid-90s INXS cooled off a little bit, but they still remained relevant and true to their style with the release of Full Moon, Dirty Hearts in 1993. One of the band’s most aggressive songs The Gift was full of heavy guitar and fire, especially in their award-winning, ground-burning video. Now it was getting even harder to cool off Hutchence or his fan base. The album also featured a couple of guest appearances, but Michael more than held his own alongside strong personalities like Ray Charles (Please (You Got That …)) and Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders (Full Moon, Dirty Hearts).
A couple of compilation albums came and then years later there wasn’t much noise from INXS and their outgoing singer. This was apart from his often-time written about private life and problems. Hutchence’s drug and relationship problems with celebrities was something the tabloids couldn’t resist prying into. The music heads, however, wanted to hear something new, something true, something public, not private.
In 1997 came the last album from INXS with Hutchence, Elegantly Wasted. The album may have not been a commercial success, but it showed that the band had moved with the times. Musically and lyrically they remained relevant and true to themselves despite a harder, more mainstream, American sound. They showed in that respect they could stand next to other rock acts from Dave Matthews Band to Pearl Jam.
The album’s title track was a hit and songs like Shine showed that they could even move with the times with their speciality of rock and roll tracks infused with funk. Songs like Searching (“Have we lost direction/washed our hands of blood/I’m in need of sensation/is there more to this love”) and I’m Just A Man (“I’m just a man/my will is so strong/When I’ve got plans/I close my eyes to the pain”) showed Michael Hutchence’s introspective style of writing in a much stronger and more poignant light. Bold but beautiful, dark but decadent.
This writing ability was then seen even more with the release of the last studio album from Hutchence, his self-titled solo LP. Cuts like Possibilities, Fear, Put The Pieces Back Together and All I’m Saying stirred the soul, but he also had fun too. Songs like Get On The Inside and Let Me Show You gave fans the fun-loving, sexy Michael they were used to. It was clear, however, that this was a very personal album, especially as it was a solo piece. The haunting Flesh & Blood (“All of the days we thought would come/all of the words we thought had gone/all of the pain & pleasure gone without you”) and Slide Away (with Bono) showed a much deeper side of Hutchence’s thinking. This resulted in beautiful, yet saddening tracks to hear straight from the man’s heart.
Since his death his legacy has lived on to the full in his music. Wealth of timeless classic songs, entertaining, loving and at times reflective, has been the legacy of one man and his band. He was an icon in his life and his death marked yet another tragic case of an icon gone before their time. The rest of INXS have soldiered on and kept Michael’s name and music alive. They have also tried to go on as a band. Terrence Trent D’Arby did a very good job filling in at the opening of the ‘Stadium Australia’ in Sydney, but he rightfully made it clear that his performance was out of respect, as a guest and nothing else. Replacing this man has been a much harder task for the group. It always will be when some little-known names follow in the footsteps of such a huge talent. Even the modern day staple of reality television produced a new singer and album, but even that was no good as J.D. Fortune ended up without a band – and as it seems a home – living in his car. Even as nice as tribute albums featuring the talents of INXS, French singer Loane and John Mayer are, nothing bests the original, real thing.
The reality is that the talent, charisma and confidence that burst out of Michael was all natural. It cannot be taught, trained or cultivated over a television series. Michael was nothing short of iconic, a phrase which, when properly given, is an exclusive one and not a doled out saying. Michael Hutchence epitomized both a true rock star and entertainer. He was born to do what he did and what he did in turn lives on a decade plus after his death. Plain and simple, Michael Hutchence cannot be replaced and he will always live on in his music and he will always be INXS.
Live baby live/Now that the day is over/I gotta New Sensation/In perfect moments/Impossible To Refuse. INXS: New Sensation