INXS hailed from the pubs of Australia, which is part of the reason they never comfortably fit in with new wave. Even when the band branched out into synth pop on its early recordings, they were underpinned by a hard, Stonesy beat and lead singer Michael Hutchence’s Jagger-esque strut. Ultimately, these were the very things that made INXS into international superstars in the late ’80s. By that time, the group had harnessed their hard rock, dance, and new wave influences into a sleek, stylish groove that made their 1987 album Kick into a multi-million-selling hit. While that sound was their key to stardom, it also proved to be their undoing; the group became boxed in by their Stonesy pop-funk in the early ’90s, when their audience became entranced by harder-edged alternative rock. In spite of declining sales, INXS soldiered on, continuing to tour and record for a dedicated fan base into the late ’90s until Hutchence’s 1997 death brought the band to a close.
Appropriately for a band that featured three brothers, INXS had its roots in a family act, the Farriss Brothers. The group came together while Andrew Farriss (keyboard, guitar), the middle brother, was in high school with Michael Hutchence (vocals). The two formed a band with Gary Beers (bass). Simultaneously, Tim Farriss (guitar) was playing in various groups with his friend, Kirk Pengilly (guitar, saxophone). Eventually the two groups merged in 1977, with Jon Farriss joining as drummer. Two years later, when Jon graduated from high school, the band renamed itself INXS, moved from Perth to Sydney, and began to play the pub circuit. Within a year, the group landed an Australian record contract, releasing an eponymous debut on Deluxe in 1980.
INXS and Underneath the Colours (1981) became Australasian hits, leading the band to an American contract with Atco Records. In 1983, they released their U.S. debut, Shabooh Shoobah, and embarked on an extensive tour which, thanks to the hit single “Don’t Change,” made them minor new wave stars. For their next album, INXS recorded a few sessions with producer Nile Rodgers, which resulted in the sleek, funky “Original Sin,” the first inclination that the band was making a move toward a fusion of Stonesy rock and dance music. “Original Sin” made 1984′s The Swing a minor hit, yet the group didn’t have a genuine mainstream breakthrough until 1985′s Listen Like Thieves, which climbed to number 11 in the U.S. on the strength of the single “What You Need.”
Listen Like Thieves laid the groundwork for Kick, the album that made INXS international superstars. Released late in 1987, Kick worked its way to multi-platinum status over the course of 1988, as four singles — the number one “Need You Tonight,” “Devil Inside,” “New Sensation,” and “Never Tear Us Apart” — climbed into the U.S. Top Ten. In the wake of the album’s success, Hutchence was hailed in some quarters as the heir to Jagger’s throne, and the group was considered to rival U2 in terms of international popularity. However, such success went to the group’s head. Hutchence released the “experimental” side project Max Q in early 1990, and the record tanked. X, INXS’ follow-up to Kick, appeared in the fall of 1990 to mostly negative reviews. While the album generated several hits, including “Disappear” and “Bitter Tears,” only its first single, “Suicide Blonde,” reached the Top Ten in the U.S., and the sales of X were disappointing when compared to Kick.
X hurt INXS’ momentum considerably. Although the group was still quite popular on its accompanying tour — the 1991 live album Live Baby Live was recorded at Wembley Stadium — the group could no longer be considered in the same league as U2 or R.E.M. Hutchence continued to live a jet-setting lifestyle, dating Kylie Minogue and various supermodels, which did not wear well in the wake of alternative rock’s commercial breakthrough in 1992. By the time INXS released Welcome to Wherever You Are, the group’s most adventurous record, they were out of date in 1992, and even a rash of reviews that compared the record favorably to U2′s Achtung Baby couldn’t make it a hit. Full Moon, Dirty Hearts followed in 1993, and it was generally ignored. Following its release, the group left Atlantic, releasing Greatest Hits as its last album for the label.
INXS signed with PolyGram in 1994, yet it took them three years to release a new album. During that time, Hutchence was involved in several tabloid scandals, most notably his love affair with British TV personality Paula Yates (which brought an end to her marriage to Bob Geldof), and he hinted that he was recording a solo album. That record didn’t materialize, but INXS returned in the spring of 1997 with Elegantly Wasted. While the album was greeted with poor reviews, its hedonistic dance-rock was better suited to the late ’90s than the early ’90s, which made the record the group’s biggest hit since X. On November 22 of that year, Hutchence was found dead in his Sydney hotel room, the victim of an apparent hanging; his long-in-the-works solo debut was posthumously issued in late 1999.
Though Terence Trent D’Arby took the frontman role for an abbreviated set at the opening of Sydney’s Stadium Australia in 1999, Jon Stephens filled the spot for occasional gigs that took place through the end of 2003. The singer left to pursue a solo career. INXS was quiet throughout the following year, but in 2005 they teamed with reality-show maverick Mark Burnett for Rock Star: INXS, an elaborate, globally-televised audition that resulted in J.D. Fortune — a former Elvis impersonator from Canada — becoming the band’s new lead singer. – Stephen Thomas Erlewine