I've spent the last day listening to the new INXS album, "Switch." One of the benefits of working for a radio station in getting things early. (*wink*) This album is the first without Michael Hutchence and with new lead singer J.D. Fortune, chosen through this summer's reality show, "Rock Star." It's no secret that both Scott and I really enjoyed "Rock Star," far more than "American Idol." Where Idol has given us clones of Christina Aguilera, Luther Vandross and Barry Manilow, Macy Gray, and Faith Hill, the talent pool in Star ran a little deeper. The band could have gone a number of ways and any of the top three were hideously talented , though Mig Ayesa was far better suited to fronting the Bay City Rollers than he was INXS.
Add to this that INXS is one of my favorite bands and this is an anticipated album. Given the last couple years, where Jamie Foxx and perhaps Joaquin Phoenix will win Oscars for performances that go beyond imitation and into channelling of their subjects, it shouldn't surprise me that INXS, by design and fate, have done the same for this comeback. From the first phrase on "Switch," a song called Devil's Party, your eyebrows will raise and you'll check iTunes to make sure you're playing the new album and not a song from the Hutchence era.
INXS was smart to use "Pretty Vegas," a great single that got J.D. the gig, as the first single. If we hadn't seen Fortune singing and even writing the song, we'd have no frame of reference when this album came. With Vegas, INXS has a slight transition. It fits well into the INXS catalog, is a fun single, and still there's no disconnect between new band and old. Without that, the album and its sound would seem creepy.
Yes, Fortune -- my choice for winner early in the show -- turns out to be an adept channeller of Michael Hutchence in both timber and phrasing. It says something that it was a more jarring transition from the groovy rock of "Listen Like Thieves" to the more mainstream "Kick" than it is from Hutchence to Fortune. Played end to end over a series of albums, people that weren't familiar with the band would be hard pressed to pick out which were which.
Where Fortune falters is in originality and lyrics. Channelling doesn't leave much room for uniqueness and I'd imagine much of this was by design. INXS had to show that they were as good as they were, not that they were breaking new ground. (Of course, this makes you wonder if during the show, this was the plan. No other contestant could have made this album.) They accomplish that.
The lyrics are iffy, downright corny in places. "Answer" is going to followed by "dancer", "remember" by "December" and in some places, Fortune finds a phrase like "touch you inside out" that he revisits multiple times. Hutchence was no great poet, using words more to get his mood across than to give a message. The lyrics of some of INXS's best are shaky on close inspection; I'll defy you to explain the lyrics of "One Thing" or "Devil Inside." To say that Fortune doesn't have the charisma of Hutchence is like saying that he doesn't have the looks of Brad Pitt - few do, if that many. He shown an interesting combo of vulnerability and bravado when on stage during "Rock Star", so I'm intrigued if he'll play well in arenas and grow into the role more as well.
It's a good album, not great, but packed with singles. "Pretty Vegas" is perhaps the best summer song in a while, albeit a bit late, while "Perfect Strangers" will be the song that most will remember years from now. Is it "Kick?" No, but again, few are. It's not as good an album as "Thieves" or "Shabooh Shabbah" either, but listened to with those, it stands as a solid INXS album. That in itself is a feat. The band has reinvented itself and stayed the same, all at once.