"Sometimes you kick, and sometimes you get kicked," as the title track to INXS's biggest-selling album (1987's Kick) goes. Luckily, this band -- who'll make a stop at New York's Beacon Theatre August 4 -- is presently kicking, with a new tour and CD (Original Sin) featuring Rob Thomas, John Mayer, Train's Pat Monahan, and Ben Harper in retooled versions of its own classics.
The Aussie sextet's oft-mentioned struggles, including original singer Michael Hutchence's death in 1997 and the path paved by subsequent vocalists (including Jon Stevens, Terence Trent D'Arby and "Rock Star: INXS" winner J.D. Fortune) have yet to dim its members' passion for recording and playing live or alter fans' belief that the indomitable spirit of INXS lives on, 34 years after its first gig.
"We're still very much in the land of the living," drummer (and youngest of INXS's three Farriss brothers) Jon Farriss tells me. "It's impossible to avoid obstacles. You have to stand tall and look at the positive aspects of life. For us, it's music."
It's been nearly 14 years since Hutchence was found dead in a Sydney hotel room. Although INXS may wish we journos would stop talking about the elephant in the room, mentioning the band's name without acknowledging the huge loss it suffered when its soulful frontman died would be doing an even greater disservice to the band's legacy -- and its future.
"Everyone has their own process for grieving," Farriss says of losing Hutchence. "We were at ground zero [in this process]. It's beyond words to say what that was like."
Hutchence's larger-than-life presence never overshadowed the band's talents; yet repurposing INXS for life without the sensitive, sultry star hasn't been a bed of roses.
INXS (from left to right: Kirk Pengilly, Garry Gary Beers, J.D. Fortune, Andrew Farriss, Jon Farriss, Tim Farriss). Photo credit: Petrol Electric. Photo courtesy of CO5 Media.
When American TV came calling with a hit reality show in 2005, INXS was ready to move on -- if not emotionally, then professionally. The fact that 2006's Switch was written and recorded in such a short amount of time with a new member "pulled out of obscurity" (as Farriss says of the charismatic Fortune), was "very stressful." Yet, the venture yielded INXS its first U.S. Top 40 hit in thirteen years ("Pretty Vegas," with lyrics penned by Fortune in an episode of "Rock Star: INXS") and two memorable ballads for its catalog ("Afterglow," "God's Top Ten").
In spite of reports that Fortune ended up homeless in 2008 after fronting INXS on a two-year tour in support of Switch, ultimately, the match seems to have gelled; Fortune is back, bringing heat and a contemporary edge to lead vocals on the band's summer tour, as well as on a remake of "The Stairs" (from Original Sin).
While the Original Sin project, which Farriss executive produced and recorded with the band and a bevy of guests in New York, London, Brazil, Canada and Australia, holds definite appeal for longtime fans, the "Original Sin" single featuring Rob Thomas and DJ Yaleidys made a surprise leap into the mainstream when it knocked Britney Spears's "Til the World Ends" out of the top spot to take the #1 position on the Billboard Dance chart the week of June 6, 2011.
The rest of the album isn't lost in a time-warp, either: Farriss's favorite track from Original Sin takes the 1987 hit "Mystify" global, with Parisian singer Loane purring in French and Mayer cool-noodling on guitar (atmospheric sliding courtesy of INXS's Kirk Pengilly), while indie vocalist Nikka Costa reimagines "Kick" as a sparkling midtempo pop ditty, Monahan faithfully remembers "Beautiful Girl," and Harper wails on a psychedelic, string-filled "Never Tear Us Apart."
As for future plans to record new material, they're likely inevitable. "We go on and do what we do," Farriss says. "It's only natural that we're going to be doing something." For now, though, INXS is enjoying playing its greatest hits on the road, as well as performing the deep cuts fans love ... with Fortune at the mic and the spirit of Hutchence in the air. "It's all the stuff in the middle that makes us who we are," he says.