Wednesday, November 14, 2012

INXS and the case for musical euthanasia...

In a review of the new Aerosmith album on Popmatters.com, writer Brice Ezell theorizes that "The question of this album is the closest thing the music world has to the moral dilemma of euthanasia". Aside from his brilliantly creative sentence making me feel like a complete hack as a writer, the line stuck with me as I read the news yesterday that INXS were finally packing it in. Kind of. The cryptic and poorly formatted statement on their official website says they plan to "bring down the curtain as a live touring band", but doesn't mention anything else about future plans to record. Let's hope the once-great Australian group has indeed finally called it a day, because if ever there was a band in need of "musical euthanasia", it's been this one. And I say that as someone who has been a big fan of theirs since the mid 80s. 

The years since the 1997 suicide of lead vocalist and frontman Michael Hutchence have not been kind to INXS. They performed with a series of forgettable guest vocalists for a couple of years after regrouping from the loss of Hutchence, including Terence Trent D'Arby, Russell Hitchcock, and Jimmy Barnes. Then someone named Jon Stevens was officially announced as their new lead singer in 2002, but an album with him never materialized and he departed the band. Next came the cheesy Rock Star: INXS TV show in 2005, which saw the band subject themselves to an American Idol-style lead singer search that was won by Toronto singer J.D. Fortune, who had been living out of his car when he applied to be on the show. Just a little over two months after Fortune won the very public audition, his lead vocals appeared on INXS' new Switch album. I thought the release was pretty awful, but the rest of Canada sure responded favourably to it, pushing it to sales of 170,000 (platinum certifications here are given at the 100,000 sold mark) and turning up in strong numbers for the band's live dates. Switch's total worldwide album sales (all figures taken from the album's Wikipedia page) are apparently a little less than one million - that's not a terrible number for a band trying to fill Hutchence's large shoes, but it's a scant shadow of what they used to sell in the late 80s and early 90s (then again, album sales in general were admittedly well on their way to cratering by 2005). Fortune had a rocky and rather bizarre tenure with the band, telling a Canadian TV show in 2009 that he'd been fired from the group because of his heavy drug use. That was news to INXS, however, who later continued touring with Fortune. Following yet another dreadful album release in 2010 with Original Sin, which featured guest vocalists singing on old INXS hits (the writing should have been pretty plainly written on the wall for the band at that point), INXS and Fortune mutually announced they were parting ways. Fortune then later claimed that "I had no idea I had left INXS the second time, to be honest with you". Oy vey. Irish singer Ciarran Gribbin joined the band for tour dates over the past year, culminating with what appears to now have been their last live performance on November 11th in Perth as an opening act for Matchbox Twenty.

It's been downright painful watching this band flail away for the past 15 years as they tried to find their footing and place in the music world after losing Hutchence. The day he hung himself (or died after an autoerotic asphyxiation escapade gone wrong, if you believe the other theory surrounding his passing) is the day the rest of INXS should have had the good sense to retire their name, because replacing the dynamic Hutchence was an impossible task, as has been proven. I'm totally sympathetic to the lousy hand the band got dealt and even cut them some slack for a few years after Hutchence died as they spun their wheels, knowing that this was a close-knit group of guys (including three brothers) that had played together since forming in 1977 and just didn't know anything else. But they should have carried on under a different name, because now here it is, years later, and they've done nothing but tarnish that name with career misstep after career misstep. Hopefully, they've finally come to terms with the fact that INXS just needs to be put down.

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