Like many metalheads, I spent many a year condemning anything verging on pop as simplistic, saccharine drivel manufactured to appeal to the lowest common denominator of music listeners. Over time I’ve softened and come to appreciate that not all pop-infused music can be painted with the same brush. More than this, I’ve come to love many records which lean heavily upon pop elements and one of the records that made this possible was INXS’s Kick. A national icon down here in Australia, I’ve always loved the pop/rock singles of theirs which received plenty of radio airplay. One I day decided to dig into their entire discography and, whilst they have many great albums, Kick is their undisputed opus. Commercially it’s their best seller, with approximately 20 million units sold, while critically it’s by far their most acclaimed. Let’s dig into what makes it so good, and how it impacted me as a music listener.
The record starts with the punchy “Guns in the Sky”, frontman Michael Hutchence having some fun over a single riff which repeats throughout. Little more than an intro with an interesting solo, the track seamlessly transitions into the fantastic “New Sensation” which hits you with a jingly riff that will stick in your head for days. One of four hit singles, if the guitar doesn’t stick in your head then the vocal melodies and harmonies probably will. A touch of sax in the bridge serves as a welcome addition, spicing things up and differentiating them from many of their contemporaries. Despite actively disliking pop-rock, there was just something undeniable about the song’s composition and Hutchence’s delivery that pierced through my own bias. From then on, the record relentlessly brings banger after banger, each song impactful in its own way. Whether it’s Hutchence’s sultry delivery on “Devil Inside”, his charisma matched with another iconic riff in “Need You Tonight”, the sax outro on “Mediate” or the near-perfect ballad that is “Never Tear Us Apart” – INXS hit the mark from start to finish.
With its enormous critical and commercial success, Kick has become famous for the four singles that hit the US Top 10: the aforementioned quartet of “New Sensation”, “Devil Inside”, “Need You Tonight” and “Never Tear Us Apart”. However, there is far more to this album than those four songs. For starters, let’s check out the oft-forgotten fifth single: “Mystify”. My favourite song of theirs, Hutchence’s performance is simply untouchable. The first verse highlights his talents best, with nothing but a catchy piano melody and some finger clicking accompanying the sexy, silky smooth vocals he teases out with ease. The melody is sublime and the delivery unparalleled, the track continuing to build as the rest of the band joins in without distracting from the key elements: the vocals and piano. “Kick” and “Wildlife” are some deeper cuts that inject a heap of energy into the record, with the former’s bombastic brass and prominent bass lines standing out. Thus, the band’s approach of trying to make every song a hit single paid dividends. More than this, they managed to pull off the feat without making Kick seem like a mere collection of songs, with tracks transitioning nicely into one another and working well alongside each other.
As you’ve probably realised by now, I’m quite fond of this record. Growing up I loved the songs that were constantly one the radio. Despite my misgivings and biases, when listening to the record in its entirety for the first time I loved it. Now that we’re a few years down the line, I still love their music and I don’t see that changing any time soon. It showed me that poppy music can still be well composed and put together and it paved the way for me to explore records I otherwise would have ignored. The likes of Zeta, Mashrou’ Leila, The Black Queen and more are records I never would’ve given the time of day if it wasn’t for the impact of INXS. They incorporated pop, rock, blues, and new wave, to name a few, into their own signature sound, leaving the door ajar for me to explore a host of new sounds. For that, I will remain forever in their debt.