December 18, 2005

CD Review: INXS - Switch

INXS is back. Albeit, in a slightly altered form. This is their first release of new material since 1997's Elegantly Wasted, and the first since the tragic death of frontman Michael Hutchence. I have been a fan of INXS ever since I was first introduced to Kick. The pop sound, Hutchence's incredible voice, it all came together and created something that struck a chord in my mind. I didn't follow their career terribly closely, but their popularity waned in the early to mid 1990's. They were on the verge of a comeback with Elegantly Wasted, not to mention Hutchence's own solo album, when that shot was shot down.

Fast forward to 2005, INXS is making another comeback. They started this with a search for a new lead singer. The way they went about this caused me to lose a chunk of respect I had for them. They used a reality show, entitled Rock Star, to bring out the contenders. I also suspect that this was a test for what kind of market value the INXS name still held. I have a distaste for reality television in general, so I avoided this series like the plague. I believe this helped me listen to this album as an INXS album, and not some sort of American Idol wannabe.

Switch is their debut release with new singer, J.D. Fortune. It took a few listens, but it has grown on me. It is not really the INXS I remember, but the uniquely identifiable pop sounds are there. As I listened, something dawned on me, this may sound like INXS, but it really isn't. This is a collection of previously unrecorded INXS songs played by an INXS cover band. I know this isn't really the case, but that is what it reminds me of.

Shortly after the Rock Star finale, the band released their first new song, co-written by their new bandmate, "Pretty Vegas." It was a pretty good track, energetic, catchy, poppy, everything that that helped define what INXS was in their prime. Now, a couple of months later, the new album is here for the taking.

One of the standout songs is the opening track, "Devil's Party." It almost sounds like an outtake from the Kick era. Precise drumming, sax sections, high strumming, and a soulful lead vocal all work to ease the listener into this new generation. The energy and party atmosphere gets kicked up a few notches with the anthem "Hot Girls," I see this as being a crowd favorite live cut. Also on the rocking side is "Hungry," a fun, electronic track. INXS always had a good handle on more romantic type pop tracks, one that is a lot of fun is "Never Let You Go." It is incredibly infectious and groove ready.

The album closes with a touching tribute to Michael Hutchence, "God's Top Ten." The liner notes do not state this specifically, but the lyrics are clear, "Romance is gone, He's drifting with the stars, A lyric in his pocket, A little girl in his heart." It was written by longtime friend, and the band's primary songwriter, Andrew Farriss. The song is performed as a duet between J.D. Fortune and Suzie McNeil. This is one of my favorite tracks, a moving tribute, heartfelt in a way that really comes through in the music.

The band is as tight as ever. Precision drumming and bass, covered by guitars, and filled with a liberal dose of sax, almost like they never went away for 8 years. Still, the album may have grown on me, it isn't as instantly catchy as many of the earlier works, Listen Like Thieves or, one of my favorite albums, Welcome to Wherever You Are. J.D.Fortune does a good job of emulating Hutchence's style, while trying to keep a bit of himself in the mix. I think my biggest problem with Fortune is that his voice doesn't match the soul that Hutchence had in his voice. It is a rather intangible criticism, but it just isn't the same.

Bottomline. In the end, this is a good album, just don't expect a continuation of the INXS of old. I don't think that is possible. I am also glad I did not watch the show, that this is my first exposure to the new singer. This is a fun album, one that I would have no problem recommending to old school INXS fans, or anyone who likes well crafted pop.



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