30 Years Ago: INXS Finally Achieve, Then Immediately Question Superstardom With ‘Kick’
Make no mistake: INXS had enjoyed some success – including a recent platinum-selling album and a Top Five U.S. hit with "What You Need" – before Kick arrived on Oct. 19, 1987. Still, they were well aware that the band had yet to produce a career-defining record.
"We want hits," frontman Michael Hutchence told the Morning Call in 1988. "We love pop culture, and really appreciate pop music. It's overlooked a lot of times – the power of pop and how important it is and its social consequences. There's nothing better than a million people liking your music at once."
Request granted. Kick went supernova, selling more than 9 million copies worldwide while producing four Top 10 Billboard singles – including their first-ever chart-topping song. Hutchence, Garry Gary Beers, the Farris brothers (Andrew, Jon and Tim) and Kirk Pengilly became overnight sensations, a decade after their founding in Sydney, Australia.
That suddenly didn't sit well with the iconoclastic Hutchence, who worried that he was being turned into a music-video caricature – and, more particularly, that INXS weren't being taken seriously.
"Sure, it bothers us," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1990. "We deal with people and issues in an insightful way. There's more to INXS than danceable music and that damned sex-symbol thing."
In keeping, they refused to take the milquetoast, MTV-pleasing way out. Kick paired the straightforward come-ons of "Need You Tonight," their breakout hit, with darker ruminations on "Devil Inside" and more topical commentary on "Guns in the Sky" (a biting, album-opening rebuke of the so-called Star Wars defense initiative) and "Calling All Nations."
Musically, they likewise rushed toward the path of most resistance. Rather than issuing a creatively stunting sequel to 1985's Listen Like Thieves, Kick combines that album's harder edges with the rhythmic approachability of 1982's Shabooh Shoobah.
"For me, Kick is the first record of ours that I'm really happy with," lead guitarist Tim Farris told the Orlando Sentinel in 1988. "Kick sort of ties it all together. It really is the culmination of five earlier records in 10 years, of six guys being virtually married to one another."
As momentum behind the album continued, INXS stayed on the road. In the fall of 1987, that meant college gymnasiums. Then "Need You Tonight" pushed Michael Jackson off the top of the Billboard charts. They became the first Australian band to notch a U.S. No. 1 since Men at Work's "Down Under" from five years before. By early 1988, they'd graduated to stadiums.
On the one hand, there was no small amount of validation in that for the hard-working INXS. "There was so much pressure after Listen Like Thieves," Hutchence admitted in his talk with the Morning Call. "People have to learn when they get into us that we are not a band that just regurgitates its style. We like taking risks. Rather, we like taking the right risks. That's why we called the album Kick. We're not pulling any punches."
On the other hand, this whole rock star thing was going to take some getting used to. "It's like being in the Twilight Zone," Hutchence told the Times. "I can step outside myself and look at all this and see it's sheer madness. Sometimes I wonder why I'm doing it. The pace, the pressure, the people grabbing at you – it's lunacy."
Those proved to be prophetic words. After completing some 16 months of touring, INXS took a lengthy post-Kick break, sidelining themselves until the dawn of the '90s with X.
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