Sunday, June 9, 2013

KICK: A Masterpiece, Signifying Nothing

Guns in the Sky - INXS (mp3)

If life via pop music is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” then there is no better bombastic yet meaningless expression Shakespearean philosophy from the 1980s than KICK by INXS.

KICK is, simply, a pop masterpiece, an album as mesmerizing to hear as it is vapid to contemplate.

Unlike many of the ‘80s biggest-sellers, KICK is not trapped by its decade even as its timestamp is clear. Although it enjoys its synthysized moments, it’s not imprisoned by them and is more eager in celebrating guitar hooks, occasionally intense if uncomplicated drums, and the orchestration of The Hook.

Michael Hutchence is, in this Shakespearean analogy, the idiot in the truest Tragic sense. Here is a man who exuded such a knee-knocking vibe of sexuality that he could have seduced about any woman or man he targeted. Hell, I doubt there were many mammals who could have turned him down. So how flabbergastingly ironic that a man who could have slept with anyone and anything found his demise attempting to pleasure himself in solitude?*

INXS was always gifted with the ability to craft a killer pop song. From their arrival on the big scene in 1982 to their forgettable departure in 1997**, only one album failed to offer an earworm gem. From their first video, when “The One Thing” concludes a fruit-eating bacchanalia with a woman “eating out” a fruit and leaving the remnants on the table like a discarded pudendum, it was clear they would be a band more often interested in the carnal than the romantic. (Not that you can’t have both, but that was rarely the INXS mission.)

For sheer pop sonic pleasure, I’d happily put up the best 10 INXS songs (list included below) against any band’s. They might lose a handful of competitions, but no more than that. They’d lose fewer if you don’t expect any lyrical depth.

Amusing Side Note: I frequently visit SongMeanings.net to read the mostly-erroneous interpretations of songs, but you’ll find few errors -- and few comments in general -- on the INXS song listings.

All other INXS albums are like Krystal burgers - a lot of bread filler existing only to make a tiny patty of meat look bigger. Even X, their second-best effort and a damn fine album, has more than a couple of useless and forgettable songs. But not KICK. Kick is strong from start to finish, and it perfectly balances a diversity of sound with the establishment of a musical identity.

Don’t just take it from me. Take it from Beck, one of the more eccentric musical minds of the last 20 years who likes dipping his toe into the pop mainstream on occasion. Beck grabbed a group of musicians and started Record Club, recreating five entire albums -- each in a single day from first rehearsal to final recording, and KICK is clearly chosen out of great respect for its wire-to-wire potency (Watch their YouTube video of the entire process, or read the NPR article on it).

* -- To be fair, Hutchence probably died of suicide, not accidental autoerotic asphyxiation. Which would be tragic but not Shakespearean Tragic. And we can debate whether either is Shakespearean Tragic, but what fun is that? Just roll with it!

** -- INXS post-Hutchence is even more irrelevant than R.E.M. post-Berry. I own “Switch,” so I’m entitled to claim this.

Billy’s Top 10 INXS Songs (in no order):

Good Times (feat. Jimmy Barnes) - about partying and sex
The Stairs - it might be their deepest song... which is barely a compliment
Don’t Change - entire meaning contained in title
What You Need - is sex
Disappear - what happens to the world during good sex
Taste It - the kind of sex that gave Michael Douglas cancer
New Sensation - in praise new and different sex
Not Enough Time - to have as much sex as Michael wants/needs
Devil Inside - what makes us hunger for massive amounts of sex
By My Side - in bed, before, during and after sex

3 comments:

Srikanto Bormon said...
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Katrina Hogarth said...

I dunno I think there may have been more to "Don't Change" as he bitterly laments, "message received loud and clear" (fine!) "don't change for you" (why do anything to better yourself or make yourself happy?) "Don't change for me" (you don't love me enough to make the changes you need to make...) Even though as he throws in the towel he realises that the sky is not going to fall down, discovers a love he has lost (which I suspect is his old life and self esteem) he seems to tell us that either he is executing bitterness or the other party is in refusing to change.

Billy said...

Hey Katrina - Thanks for that comment! And yes, for such a simple song, it cuts deeper than just "the title says it all." Your points are all valid. I wrestle with whether the narrator is bitter... or resigned. A relationship failure is not, as he says, about good v. evil. It's just about incompatibility. And most of us get to a point when we realize that "won't change" frequently means "can't change." All of which is me replying that I basically agree with you. Thanks again.