Atlantic Records, 1990


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


If there was one moment I'd have to name that was the beginning of the end for INXS, it was when some critics considered their 1990 release X to be a moderate failure.

Okay, before you pick up your keyboards to start flaming me, note that I didn't call the album a failure. In fact, this might be one of INXS's least appreciated albums. Coming off the smashing success of albums like Listen Like Thieves and Kick, the expectations from Michael Hutchence and crew were sky-high. It would be hard to live up to the pressure to release an album on the same level as the previous two.

So, in the eyes of the industry, INXS was fighting a losing battle - and that's a shame, because musically, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 X is very much a more cohesive work than Kick was. True, it might have been a bit formula-heavy, but as long as Hutchence, the brothers Farriss and crew could make it work, so much the better.

Of the eleven tracks on this album, "Suicide Blonde" might be the best-known. (Funny, I always thought Charlie Musselwhite provided the harmonica work on this track.) However, it is not the best work on the album - and perhaps because this is the first thing off X that many people heard thanks to radio, they were quick to judge the rest of the album in a negative light.

Thing is, if you immediately wrote off the album, you missed some solid rock and roll. Tracks like "Disappear" and "Bitter Tears" also got significant airplay, "Bitter Tears" being a great track that was underappreciated by many. But the real story might have been some of the music that didn't get radio attention. "The Stairs" is a track that takes some time to build up into a musical crescendo, but it's very much worth the time to listen to. Likewise, "Lately" is a powerful track with the catchy chorus that sucks me in every time that I listen to it. For that matter, the whole second half of X is some of INXS's strongest work of their career that I can recall at the moment of writing this review.

So what do I mean by "formula"? Simple: on almost every INXS song, there is a guitar riff that the work is based on, and the guitars all have a certain "jangle" to them, not entirely unlike The Edge of U2's playing style in the mid-'80s. Unpleasant? Hardly, although after a while, you do find yourself wondering if the band can do anything a bit richer. (The one weak note I'd mention now: "By My Side" sounds like a reformatting of "Never Tear Us Apart," only with a slightly harder edge to it.)

Is X the commercial flop that we've been led to believe it is? Not a chance. In fact, this could be the one INXS album that is worth dusting off and rediscovering in between bowl games today. After a few listens to X, it makes me feel worse not only that Hutchence isn't with us anymore (having committed suicide in 1997), but that INXS really weren't appreciated when things started to click musically for them.

Rating: B+

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.