It's about time someone defended INXS' '90s output and we're carrying the baton.
INXS are undoubtedly Australian music heroes. There's barely an '80s artist that holds a candle to their hits, whether it's Suicide Blonde, Need You Tonight, Never Tear Us Apart.... But we hit the end of the X era and all of a sudden the love dries up and the historic tables turn. The singles chart hits disappear and the media darling status starts to mirror the chart success.
We're not here to chart the downfall... we all know where things end, but there's a serious injustice in the INXS story and that's the marginalisation of the band's early '90s output including, Welcome To Wherever You Are and Full Moon Dirty Hearts. We'll leave Elegantly Wasted for now. The album that was released just prior to Michael Hutchence's death is best left for another essay, but the 1992-1994 period and its two albums are being tracked in history as the fall of INXS. We think history deserves another look.
Welcome To Wherever You Are is the album that started the commercial rot, failing to crack the US top ten and falling quickly out of the charts in Australia. The next album Full Moon Dirty Hearts faired even worse, failing to crack the US top 50 and gaining just one star in its AllMusic review, plotting a trajectory of a band that was past its peak, both commercially and with critics.
But what if there was an alternative history? One where the band weren't being judged on their previous success, but on the songs on hand? We agree-- both albums weren't 100% winners on every track, but anyone suggesting that previous albums were perfect are looking through rose-coloured glasses. The issue with the two records were that they tracked a band experimenting and evolving in a world that was arguably moving quicker.
Revisiting the early '90s output shows a band in pretty fine form if you look at its best moments. We took a new look at the two albums and considered what things would look like if the best moments of both were combined into a real snapshot of what was happening in team INXS from 1992-1994. What we found was possibly their best record - 'Welcome To Dirty Hearts'.
Here's our alternative universe where the two albums are formatted into a single volume for your listening pleasure, turning the narrative of a band on the decline into a new narrative of a band releasing what could easily meet or beat what came before. Listen to the reformatted album and tell us this doesn't stand up proudly with Kick and X.
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Track One: Taste It
This video is age restricted (hence no embed), which is an indicator of where the band were at. It's often forgotten how innovative INXS were visually as well as aurally and their early '90s video budget must have caused nose bleeds. A cracking video and an even better song. A victim of timing rather than quality, if this one was on Kick it would have been one of the band's biggest. Try to defy that soaring sax line and the sexy vocal. Watch it here.
Track Two: The Gift
So timeless it could hold up if it was released today, The Gift was the first track released from the Full Moon Dirty Hearts record. Perhaps a little progressive for their older fans and not quite progressive enough for a world that was about to be hit with Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral, this is nonetheless a total triumph of production, both sonically and for the video which was in its time pretty amazing. Listen to this one with 2022 ears and it still holds up well... perhaps even better than it was received in 1993.
Track Three: The Strangest Party (These Are The Times)
Technically this one isn't from either of the two albums, but was a new track added to INXS' greatest hits which was released in 1994, so of the same era as the two albums in question. The Strangest Party (These Are The Times) is another dark pop banger, fitting perfectly on our hypothetical record between The Gift and Time. Deny that driving drum beat, we dare you.
Track Four: Time
A balls-out rock tune, our hypothetical track listing shines with this classic INXS tune Time. The fact that this was the third single from a supposedly one-star album (FMDH) shows that perhaps this wasn't given its due back in 1993. It's not breaking any barriers, but this is as solid a song as INXS ever produced.
Track Five: Not Enough Time
Switching back to Welcome To Wherever You Are, this tune dials back the tempo but not the pop sensibility. Not Enough Time was used on the soundtrack of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, becoming the band's first top 30 hit in the US since Disappear in 1990 and ended up being their last US top 30 chart appearance. A great tune that once again holds up today.
Track Six: Beautiful Girl
If Not Enough Time dialled up the schmaltz, Beautiful Girl turned it up to 11. The iconic piano line that opens the song sets the scene for one of INXS' greatest ballads. As good if not better than anything on their '80s albums, this tune showcased Hutchence's sex appeal in an understated track that remains one of their most popular on streaming (currently only being beaten by Kick tracks), despite not being a huge hit back in 1992.
Track Seven: I'm Only Looking
We're including this album track from Full Moon Dirty Hearts as an overlooked gem. It was never a single, but holds up as a solid album track. Perhaps a little more '80s sounding than some of their other '90s output, the track allows for some killer guitar and horn solos and what album doesn't benefit from that?
Track Eight: Baby Don't Cry
Seen as many as the 'jump the shark' moment for INXS, Baby Don't Cry went the whole 'Grand Final half-time entertainment' treatment with children's choir and soaring, repetitive chorus. Scorned at the time and missing the US charts, this one has nonetheless held up well and we're proud to slot it in at number eight on our hypothetical album reimagining.
Track Nine: Heaven Sent
The first single from Welcome To Wherever You Are was always a curious choice, given the other tracks available to the record company to choose from on the album, but nevertheless, first single it was. We can only wonder how the album might have faired if the record company had led with Beautiful Girl or Taste It? It's a good tune, perhaps being let down by being neither heavy enough for heavy rock fans, not soft enough for the band's pop following. But at track nine on Welcome To Dirty Hearts? Banger.
Track Ten: Please (You Got That)
Another track derided at the time, this was an incredibly curious pairing with Ray Charles coming along for the ride. It may not have made as much sense at the time, but it works pretty well today on the back half of this record.
Track Eleven: Full Moon Dirty Hearts
We're ending the album with the title track from the Full Moon Dirty Hearts record. It's a slower, bluesier number with a female vocal counterpoint and is the perfect comedown after what really has been a huge record of big, big songs.
Of course, this entire exercise is hypothetical. The INXS discography happened how it happened and as with every band in history, each album has its share of filler, but what we've been aiming for with this exercise is to show that history has a strange way of writing itself without critical gaze. Were these albums really the downfall of INXS, or was the response to them more cultural than aural?
We leave you with the hypothetical album that never was, Welcome To Dirty Hearts, so you can make your own mind up.