The numbers are undeniable. It’s 40 years since INXS’ first gigs, as the Farriss Brothers, in Sydney’s northern beaches. It’s 30 since their biggest album, Kick. And it’s 20 since the shocking death of their gifted, charismatic frontman, Michael Hutchence. On which anniversary is most significant, however, opinion is strangely divided. Yet another book, a revealing new TV documentary and a feature film in progress suggest the public appetite is for Hutchence: his gifts, his magnetism, his lovers, his tragedy.
And as always, the view from INXS HQ is that it’s about the music: 10 funk-pop albums made by six guys that will continue to fuel and further the legend, if business manager Chris “CM” Murphy has his way, for “the next 40 years”.
“I call it ‘the INXS Musical Extravaganza’,” he says of one of four “big” projects in the pipeline. “It’s going to blow people’s brains away.” And so is “the ultimate INXS documentary”, which he’s been working on since 2009 – the year he returned to the campaign he deserted in 1995, in the depths of Hutchence’s paparazzi hell with Paula Yates.
The official spearhead of this chapter is this month’s 30th anniversary expanded reissue of the album that remains the band’s finest hour, Kick: a four-disc set replete with bonus tracks and a brand new “Dolby Atmos” remix by Giles (son of George) Martin.
For Murphy, the key memory from the original 1987 episode is the bit where he defied the U.S. record company’s rejection of the album, took it straight to radio off his own bat and built a slow-burning, six-million-selling smash.
Songwriter Andrew Farriss and his guitarist brother Tim recall a more romantic journey, from rehearsal sessions at the Sydney Opera House to the exhilarating escalation of an 18-month world tour.
“The mission statement was very clear,” says Andrew. “From the time we started touring the U.S. in early 1983, we began to have Top 40 hits in different parts of the world. Michael and I, especially, were very aware with the album that became Kick that we needed to pull a rabbit out of a hat. It was next-level time.”
Tim remembers producer Chris Thomas (Pink Floyd, Roxy Music, the Beatles) playing a key role in throwing Kick into gear.
“We all agreed we’d got halfway there with Listen Like Thieves [in 1985],” the guitarist says. “It was [Thomas’s] idea, but we all knew: ‘We’ve gotta get back in and make another record. This time let’s not pussyfoot around.'”
The game-changing decision for album six, unanimously agreed on a tour bus in Germany, was that all songs should be penned by the band’s most consistent hit-makers: Andrew Farriss and Michael Hutchence.
“Michael never played an instrument,” Andrew says. “He was truly one of the greatest vocalists that I have ever heard, but I’ve gotta say that I felt enormous pressure on myself, musically.
“I became a maniac. I pulled the phone out of the wall and I basically lived in one set of clothing for two weeks at a time and did nothing but write music all day and all night. I was absolutely obsessed.”
The album’s staggering run of singles – “Need You Tonight”, “Devil Inside”, “New Sensation”, “Never Tear Us Apart”, “Kick”, “Mystify” – vindicated the songwriters to the tune of four U.S. Top 10 hits. In turn, Kick vindicated INXS as a stadium act of historic stature. “It was like riding a wave,” says Tim, “looking up and thinking, ‘This thing is big. I better get my shit together here’, and you get on it, you’re in the tube flying and you’re going, ‘Fucking yeah, this is working…'”
That wave rolled on for two more albums: X in 1990 and Welcome to Wherever You Are in 1992. “For us, personally, that was even more significant,” Tim says. “With the commercial success of Kick we gained this feeling of empowerment to go out and be a little bit more adventurous.”
Soon after the latter album, as countless books and docu-dramas have since recounted, the INXS story would take a grim turn, away from the bright lights of Wembley Stadium and into the darkness of their lead singer’s head. Injured in an assault in Denmark, hounded to the brink as a UK tabloid target, it was a tailspin from which he would not recover.
Those intent on telling that story, including long-time ally/video-maker Richard Lowenstein, are reviled in colourful terms by Chris Murphy. “As far as I’m concerned Michael Hutchence was the biggest rock star in a band called INXS,” he says flatly. Those pursuing other angles are actively stalled or, at the very least, starved of access to INXS’s music and surviving members.
For his part, Tim Farriss has little time for swatting the “cockroaches” these days. Blissfully resident in Italy for much of the past year, he evinces very little interest in raking over whatever mistakes might have been made in the shell-shocked aftermath of that terrible night, 20 years ago.
“The big mistake was really in [Michael’s] passing,” he says. “Not seeing the signs, just saying ‘Good night, see you tomorrow’, like we had a million times before … Not seeing it coming was the biggest thing of all. The sheer shock was unbelievable.”
His brother Andrew, now living in Broome with his new wife and optimistic plans for a next phase of music-making, feels the sting of the media’s relentless intrusions more acutely.
“People love to see something that’s fresh and beautiful and successful but they also love the wounded animal,” he says. “They love to track down something that’s bleeding. It’s almost a sickness that goes with the human condition.
“But for all of that, I’m actually not cynical. I love music, and I’ll always love the guys I worked with in INXS. I heard a saying once that you can achieve anything if you don’t mind who takes credit for it. I think that’s what we did with Kick.”
One more anniversary for the road: November 11th marks five years since the last time INXS performed, with singer Ciaran Gribbin, opening for Matchbox 20 at Perth Arena. Is it ever likely to happen again?
“I doubt it,” Andrew says. “But that’s not to say I wouldn’t want to.”
From issue #793 (December, 2017), available now.