Kick (25th Anniversary Edition)
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/08/2012
Oh, eighties: I detest you so. And yet, there are little moments—and not just the ones occupied by Born In The USA and The Joshua Tree—that have redeeming qualities. Despite the fact that INXS is a band I paid almost no attention to back when they were all over the radio with this album in 1987-88, Kick does have its charms.
Five Aussies with a slinky sound full of ’80s sheen and cheesy synth effects just wasn’t something that was going to hold my attention at the time. And yet, looking back, it’s easy to understand why singles like “New Sensation,” “Devil Inside” and “Need You Tonight” were all over the radio at the time: the danceable grooves, the snaky, propulsive guitar lines, the sheer earworm-inducing repetitiveness…
Truth be told, though, the band’s not-so-secret weapon was always frontman Michael Hutchence. Yes, his lyrics could be pretty pedestrian, but he was never, on his worst day, a pedestrian performer. Like a magician making something appear bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, through charisma and sheer force of will he takes a lyric like “Never Tear Us Apart” and makes it feel important. And the swagger on the sexier tunes..! Let’s just say, Mick would be proud.
Even second-tier cuts like “Mystify” and “Need You Tonight” are elevated by the combination of strong hooks and Hutchence’s dynamic performances. The music often feels dated, particularly on the formulaic, repetitive opener “Guns In The Sky”—ironically one of the weakest tracks on the album. Still, there’s no denying the propulsive charms of tunes like “Wild Life” and “Tiny Daggers.” Call it arena rock with soul, especially when you get to “Calling All Nations,” which sounds shockingly like “Centerfold”-era J. Geils Band. Other tracks lean more on mindless repetition, notably the downright irritating “Mediate” and the title track, though at least the latter adds sassy horns.
Of the extras on this deluxe commemorative edition, one of the most notable has to be the “soul version” of “Never Tear Us Apart,” where they strip away a lot of the ‘80s power ballad trappings of the familiar version of the song, and reach into its bluesy heart. A demo of “Mystify” similarly reveals its core of piano, drums and soulful vocals, which means you’re left with the essence of INXS: a simple groove, a steady backbeat and Hutchence’s emotive vocals.
Kick was a high-water mark for the band, one which some say presaged the quintet’s downfall by thrusting them too far, too fast into the upper ranks of rock superstardom. Whatever the truth behind the headlines, the truth of this album survives: in its strongest moments, it’s a punchy, groove-filled, dynamic piece of work by a band and a frontman in the prime of their lives.