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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Across The Pond and Beyond: INXS

For any of you who have followed this blog with any sort of regularity whatsoever, you may recall that my July 3 entry on Amy Grant had one basic theme going for it.  In that blog entry, I said that Amy Grant made the decision to break out of her comfort zone, and it brought forth some rewards in the form of several Billboard hits, a new fan base, and even a new love interest in the form of Vince Gill.  All because she took a chance and took flight in a new direction that paid off.

The blog subject for today's entry happens to deal with a band from the country of Australia that had a similar experience, triggered by the tragic loss of a key member.  The way they went about finding a replacement for the band was definitely out of their comfort zone.  They took a huge chance in the method in which they auditioned candidates, and by all accounts, the whole experiment could have been disasterous.

Instead, the band has regrouped from their loss, and their replacement has fit in (after a rocky start).  In fact, this particular band played at a summer festival here in town three nights ago.  A band I would have loved to have seen.

(Had it not been for my schizophrenic scheduling at work, I would have...but that's a different issue at the moment.)

So, what band am I talking about?

First, let's get a little bit of history about the band, as well as introducing the original line-up.

Okay...if my facial recognitions are correct, here was the original line-up when INXS began in the late 1970's.

From left:
1.  Tim Farriss - lead guitar
2.  Kirk Pengilly - guitar/saxophone
3.  Garry Gary Beers - bass guitar
4.  Michael Hutchence - lead vocalist
5.  Andrew Farriss - keyboards/guitar
6.  Jon Farriss - drums/percussion

The band released their first album in 1980, and had a bit of success in their native Australia, releasing their second album shortly after their first, and having a few modest hits between 1980 and 1981. 

It wasn't until INXS released their third album 'Shabooh Shoobah' that they started to have international success.  One single from that album, 'The One Thing', peaked at #30 on the Billboard Charts in May 1983.  A decent effort, but more was to come as the 1980's progressed.

During the course of the 1980's, INXS released three more albums.  1984's 'The Swing', 1985's 'Listen Like Thieves', and 1987's 'Kick'.  'The Swing' spawned the single 'Original Sin', which ended up being INXS' first number one single overseas.  And 'Listen Like Thieves' gave the band some success as well.  In particular with this song, which happens to be one of this particular blogger's favourite INXS tracks of all time.

(Didn't that video just regurgitate every 1980's stereotype out there?  I still love it, even though I was barely in junior kindergarten when it was released.)

Their last album of the 1980's ended up being INXS' most successful effort, and it was that album that really propelled them to super-stardom.

First things first, how cool is this album cover?  Seriously?  With random band members posing on the album cover, and with Michael Hutchence staring out the corner of his eye at...well, who knows what?  Perhaps he's noticing that he's going to get clonked over the head by that Tony Hawk wannabe on the skateboard?  Only Michael knew the truth, and as you'll discover later on as you read this, he won't be talking about it.

Kick certainly lived up to its name.  Four top ten singles were released from this album.  'Never Tear Us Apart', 'Devil Inside', 'New Sensation', and this hit, which ended up becoming the band's only number one hit on the Billboard Charts.

Need You Tonight is widely considered to be the band's signature hit, and why wouldn't it be?  Not only was it a number one hit, but at the 1988 MTV Video Music Awards, the video ended up winning five awards.  That's an incredible feat. 

The band followed the success of Kick with their 1990 album 'X', which spawned hit singles with 'Suicide Blonde' and 'Disappear'.  At the time, Michael Hutchence was involved in a relationship with pop singer Kylie Minogue, which brought some of Kylie's fans to the INXS fanbase, and in 1991, embarked on their Summer XS tour, which was a great success.

By 1993, however, interest in the band began to fade.  Certainly their next two albums had charted consistently in Australia and the United Kingdom, but received a lukewarm reception in North America.  In 1997, INXS released the album 'Elegantly Wasted', which was intended to be a comeback album of sorts, and while reviews were mixed, it still managed to sell quite well in Canada, Australia, and the UK.  It seemed as though the band was on the right track again, and the future for the band seemed endless.

On November 22, 1997, Michael Hutchence was found dead inside a Sydney hotel room.  He was only 37 years old.  The reports of his death was ruled to have been a suicide, fueled by alcohol and drug use.  However, that ruling has since been disputed by several sources, including fans of INXS, and really, as of 2011, perhaps the real cause of Hutchence's death will never truly be known.

With Hutchence's death, the band was now left without its voice, as Michael was the lead vocalist on almost all of the songs that brought INXS fame.  The band took a year off to cope with the sudden death of Michael Hutchence before playing again.  They attempted to perform concerts again with replacement vocalists such as Jon Stevens and Terence Trent D'Arby, but it just wasn't the same.

Remember that part at the beginning of this blog entry about how the band took a big risk in trying to find a new lead singer for their band?  This is where it comes into play right here.

By 2005, reality television was gaining in popularity, and talent shows such as American Idol were gaining in popularity.  If you had told anyone ten years earlier that INXS would be using reality television to search for a new lead singer, they probably would have laughed off the idea.

Yet that summer, the band did exactly that.

Rock Star: INXS premiered on CBS on July 11, 2005, where fifteen people competed for the chance to become the new lead singer of the band.  Amongst the competitors were Suzie McNeil, who later achieved success on Canadian music charts, and Tara Slone, a Canadian who had minor success on the charts as well.

The eventual winner of the competition was, yet another Canadian.  One who was living in his car when he applied for the show.

J.D. Fortune had taken a huge chance by applying for the show without so much as having a permanent address at the time.  When he was on the show, he took an even greater risk that ended up influencing the band's decision to choose him as the eventual lead singer of the band.

When the show reached the point where only eight contestants remained, there was a challenge where the competitors were split up into two teams of four.  The challenge was to write lyrics to a melody, provided by Andrew Farriss.  J.D. happened to be in a team where he had trouble seeing eye to eye with the other members in whatever ideas he had for the lyrics.  What eventually happened was that J.D. broke away from his team and wrote lyrics of his own.  This was a risky move, because it could have been seen as J.D. being unable to work in a team environment (which would not be a good quality to have if one were to join an already existing band), but it was a risk that J.D. wanted to take, and he hoped it would pay off.

What was the song in question?  Have a listen.

'Pretty Vegas' was the hit of the show.  The fans loved it.  More importantly, INXS loved it.  The fact that it was a J.D. Fortune creation just made it that much better. 

It was that song that cemented the band's decision to hire J.D. as their new lead singer.  In fact, the song proved to be so popular that when INXS released their 'Switch' album later that year, 'Pretty Vegas' appeared on the album and was released as a single that November.

You see what I'm talking about with the whole idea of stepping outside the comfort zones and bending the rules, and how it can lead to great things if timed correctly?  This was a perfect case.  Had INXS not agreed to do the reality show, they wouldn't have met J.D. Fortune.  Had J.D. Fortune not sent in that application to the show, he wouldn't have been a contestant.  Had J.D. not have broken away from the group challenge to write his own solo lyrics, 'Pretty Vegas' would have never been written, and so on, and so on.

Granted, the road for both INXS and J.D. Fortune hasn't been a rocky one.  It was reported in 2009 that J.D. was fired from the band in Hong Kong (in an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Fortune had admitted to cocaine use during this time period), and that lead to a rather tumultuous time period for the band.  By 2010 however, the band had released another album together, and it appears as though INXS has given J.D. another chance.

The band is now currently on tour, with Brockville, Ontario having hosted them for a July 3 concert for the town's Riverfest celebration.

A concert that I would have loved to have gone to.

However, if the success of the concert and the band's future plans are any indication of the what is to come, I have a feeling that I might get another chance to see them in concert again.

I certainly hope that is the case.

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