INXS hailed from the pubs of Australia, which is part of the reason the band never comfortably fit in with new wave. Even when they branched out into synth pop on their early recordings, they were underpinned by a hard, Stonesy beat and the Jagger-esque strut of lead singer Michael Hutchence. Ultimately, these were the very things that made INXS into international superstars in the late ’80s. By that time, the group had harnessed its hard rock, dance, and new wave influences into a sleek, stylish groove that made their 1987 album Kick a multi-million-selling hit. While that sound was their key to stardom, it also proved to be their undoing; INXS became boxed in by their style of Stonesy pop-funk in the early ’90s, when audiences became entranced by harder-edged alternative rock. The band continued to tour and record for a dedicated fan base until Hutchence’s untimely death in 1997 brought the band’s heyday to a close.
Appropriately for a band that featured three brothers, INXS had their roots in a family act, the Farriss Brothers. The group came together while keyboardist Andrew Farriss, the middle brother, was attending high school with vocalist Michael Hutchence. The two formed a band with bassist Gary Beers. Simultaneously, guitarist Tim Farriss was playing in various groups with his friend, guitarist/saxophonist Kirk Pengilly. Eventually, the two groups merged in 1977, with Jon Farriss joining the unified lineup as drummer. Two years later, when Jon graduated from high school, the band renamed itself INXS, moved from Perth to Sydney, and began to play the pub circuit. Within a year, the group landed an Australian record contract and released an eponymous debut on Deluxe in 1980.
INXS and Underneath the Colours (1981) became Australian hits, leading the band to an American contract with Atco Records. In 1983, they released their U.S. debut, Shabooh Shoobah, and embarked on an extensive tour which, thanks to the hit single “Don’t Change,” made them minor new wave stars. For their next album, INXS recorded a few sessions with producer Nile Rodgers, which resulted in the sleek, funky “Original Sin,” the first inclination that the band was making a move toward a fusion of Stonesy rock and dance music. “Original Sin” made 1984’s The Swing a minor hit, yet the group didn’t have a genuine mainstream breakthrough until 1985’s Listen Like Thieves, which climbed to number 11 in the U.S. on the strength of the single “What You Need.”
Listen Like Thieves laid the groundwork for Kick, the album that made INXS international superstars. Released late in 1987, Kick worked its way to multi-platinum status over the course of 1988, as four singles — the number one “Need You Tonight,” “Devil Inside,” “New Sensation,” and “Never Tear Us Apart” — climbed into the U.S. Top Ten. In the wake of the album’s success, Hutchence was hailed in some quarters as the heir to Jagger’s throne, and the group was considered to rival U2 in terms of international popularity. However, such success went to the group’s head. Hutchence released the “experimental” side project Max Q in early 1990, and the record tanked. X, INXS’ follow-up to Kick, appeared in the fall of 1990 to mostly negative reviews. While the album generated several hits, including “Disappear” and “Bitter Tears,” only its first single, “Suicide Blonde,” reached the Top Ten in the U.S., and the sales of X were disappointing when compared to Kick.