Album Review: INXS – Switch

Album art for INXS Switch

Eventually, I would probably have become an immense fan of INXS.

I never doubted their music and found INXS the essence of ear candy but my temperament always resisted bandwagons, thus one reason I didn’t embrace INXS as I should have.

Then singer Michael Hutchence died in 1997, 10 years after their multi-platinum release Kick and subsequently ending a 20 year run with the band.

The founding members of INXS in keyboardist Andrew Farriss , drummer Jon Farriss, guitarist Tim Farriss (all brothers),  bassist Garry Gary Beers and guitarist and saxophonist Kirk Pengilly went on hiatus for a year. Slowly they returned, with mostly one-off shows using different singers but finding little success in replacing the eccentric and born for the stage Hutchence.

Their stardom got a boost when the TV reality show Rock Star: INXS capitalized on the then exploding unscripted genre airing in 2005 as INXS brought their search for a permanent singer to the public. They found J.D. Fortune and once the show ended, again, I paid little attention. Over the years, I dived into their catalogue for a spell only to toss INXS on the backburner. I heard they called it quits some years ago and my chances of seeing them live all but died.

INXS usually returns to my forefront after hearing a song on radio or a snippet as bumper music. I think of the band fondly as their early career for some reason elicits feelings of a much simpler time in life. INXS was huge in high school and I am sure I played them while a DJ on my college radio station.

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INXS Switch Album Review

As usual, a slice of “Mystify” recently aired so I pulled INXS out of the dustbin. My initial idea of a Top 10 List (an undertaking in itself!) disappeared when their final studio album Switch began playing (ok streaming). I didn’t know it was Switch but the song was new to me and featured INXS and Hutchence in fine form. Might have to include this song on the Top 10 list. Was it a deep cut or maybe 1997’s Elegantly Wasted their last album with Hutchence?

Nope.

It was Fortune singing.

Vocally, INXS choose well. Fortune retained the sound that made INXS, hailing from Australia, an international, best-selling band embraced the world over. Unfortunately, the demons that Hutchence succumbed to got the best of Fortune as he also struggled with a drug addiction. Fortune was kicked out of the band, brought back, left again, and eventually INXS pulled the plug and retired in 2012. You have to wonder if the rest of INXS thought “not again” and felt the hassle was greater than the music.

Regardless, Switch, produced by Guy Chambers and released in 2005, is a fine INXS record full of catchy phrasing, delicious melodies and sweet grooves that highlights the bands mastery of rock-oriented pop music. Don’t take my word for it. Well, please do read on as I tackle Switch track by track then listen for yourself.

1. Devil’s Party – The song that began this adventure. Sounds like INXS. Sounds like Hutchence. Don’t get “Devil’s Party” confused with “Devil Inside” neither sound alike but both come from the same era. Not sure if that’s a compliment or critique but it’s a solid new wave rock song.

2. Pretty Vegas – Fortune helped pen “Pretty Vegas” perhaps an ode to his Elvis impersonator days before landing the front man job for the one time biggest band in the world.

3. Afterglow – A graceful, contemplative ballad. A should-have-been smash hit had the history of INXS never unfolded. Great vocals from Fortune in this wonderful tribute to Hutchence written by Andrew Farris and Desmond Child.

4. Hit Girls – Great groove. A harder rock song with some edge that starts to envelope a new sound and direction for the band.

5. Perfect Strangers – A classic, well-composed INXS song that falls right into their wheelhouse. Even that dastardly saxophone works! “Perfect Strangers” sounds like Duran Duran’s resurgence era and is as catchy as anything INXS dropped 15 years earlier.

6. Remember Who’s Your Man – A mostly adult contemporary track. The dud of the album, if there is one, but Fortune has moments sounding exactly like his predecessor.

7. Hungry – The more I listen the more I like. “Hungry” infuses 90s alternative with 80s synth into a fresh rock track for 2005 that still resonates 15 years later.  An enjoyable track with a great chorus.

8. Never Let You Go – A bit of reggae, some funk in here as well as ska. A totally different sound for INXS but a solid oddball track that works and somehow fits right in with the rest of the album.

9. Like It Or Not – Comes across initially as a filler but a minute in a half in the band embraces some different musical elements. To me, I think they were having fun while experimenting with instrumentation and a new approach to songwriting.

10. Us – “Us” start out like a 70s funk song that got lost on the cutting room floor 30 years earlier but picked up and made into an enjoyable and harmonious ride without losing the soul the band harnesses from the decade they formed. The chorus just so good.

11. God’s Top Ten – I didn’t even have to look it up. Clearly written about Hutchence and what a song. If I finally get to that Top 10 list you can expect “God’s Top 10” on it. Fortune gets a co-singer in Suzie McNeil who opens the track. “God’s Top Ten” weeps sadness thanks to the heart-breaking melody and INXS saved one of the best off Switch for last. A beautiful honor for the late Hutchence who would be humbled by this song. Good job guys.

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In a perfect world, INXS, founded in 1977, would have celebrated their 40th anniversary this year (their self-titled debut was released in 1980), have twice as many albums and continue to record their brand of funky pop alternative rock music while selling out arenas. INXS is that good and while Hutchens garnered the fame and glory Andrew Farriss was a lot of the brains behind the machine, composing much of the INXS catalog and writing most of Switch.

INXS might have needed Hutchence but Hutchence needed the rest of INXS and the appropriately titled Switch proves this. It deserves a rightful place in the INXS discography and if not for the turmoil with Fortune, Switch should have started a whole new era for the band. An album like Switch offers proof that it’s not always about one member of the band, but perhaps even more that hope remains for others who have lost key personnel.

Since the band’s retirement, INXS has been the subject of various documentaries and thankfully they have not discounted a reunion.

The music world needs INXS.

Grade: A-

INXS Switch Track List:

  1. Devil’s Party
  2. Pretty Vegas
  3. Afterglow
  4. Hot Girls
  5. Perfect Strangers
  6. Remember Who’s Your Man
  7. Hungry
  8. Never Let You Go
  9. Like It Or Not
  10. Us
  11. God’s Top Ten