INXS - Shine Like It Does: The Anthology (1979-1997) INXS
Shine Like It Does: The Anthology (1979-1997)
(Atlantic/Rhino)


If I'd heard "Simple Simon" or "We Are the Vegetables" on the radio, instead of on the new two-CD, INXS retrospective from Atlantic/Rhino, I'd never have guessed who the band was.

Shine Like It Does: The Anthology (1979-1997) offers 42 tracks spanning the Australian band's two-decade career that was cut short by the suicide of singer Michael Hutchence on the eve of its 20th anniversary tour. The first CD opens with some of those very early songs, which owe a lot to the skinny tie/New Wave sound sweeping the world at the time, and finds INXS struggling to emulate some popular English bands of the moment. "Just Keep Walking," in particular, sounds more like The Clash than the trademark tight rhythm grooves that would become the hallmark of a more mature INXS in the mid-'80s.

It was on the band's fourth disc, 1981's Shabooh Shoobah that INXS made its first real statement of sound. With "The One Thing" and "Don't Change," INXS cracked the international pop consciousness with a new sound, albeit one that owed something to Duran Duran in its echoey guitar lines. But Hutchence was coming into his own as a distinctive vocalist, while the Farriss brothers (there are three in the INXS fold) were slowly moving away from their derivative punk explorations into a more innovative mix of pop, funk, and soul, all tweaked with the studio tricks of the synthesized New Wave. The band captialized on its breakthrough with a controversial hit about interracial love in "Original Sin," which dropped off 1983's The Swing. But it was with 1985's Listen Like Thieves that they truly began to reach their stride, pulling together an album of non-stop crunch rock anthems, led by the singles "This Time," "Shine Like It Does" and "What You Need." And then came 1987's Kick, with its stream of hits in "Need You Tonight," "Devil Inside," "New Sensation," "Never Tear Us Apart," and "Mystify." The band successfully left the decade without being pigeonholed as an "'80s band," and in 1990 unleashed X, its ninth disc, which included the irrepressible hits "Suicide Blonde," "Disappear" and "Bitter Tears." But its long run at the top of the charts did finally begin to slip in 1992 with Welcome to Wherever You Are, which spawned the not-quite-megahits "Heaven Sent" and "Not Enough Time." The following year came "The Gift" from Full Moon, Dirty Hearts, which also included an uncharacteristic duet with Ray Charles. The band seemed to be searching a bit for a new groove, a theme which would be underscored by the single "Searching" from their next disc, 1997's Elegantly Wasted, which spawned a hit in its title track. While their appeal may have slipped somewhat on their last couple LPs, INXS was a band that was never far from the top, throughout their hit-studded career.

Shine Like It Does: The Anthology (1979-1997) includes all of the above-mentioned songs and more, some of them Australian or U.S. single edits, rather than original album versions. Listening to the band mature over the course of these 42 tracks with hit after hit after hit is a fascinating, groove-laden ride that will make you mourn Hutchence's death, deeply.

This was a band that had it all. Shine Like It Does holds a boiled- down best of a two-decade, star-studded career. This is a potent dose of pop the way it should be played. Catchy, funky and memorable.

 

Stabbing Westward Stabbing Westward
Stabbing Westward
(Koch)


Chicago's own Stabbing Westward scored well on the industrial rock circuit with its first three albums, selling more than 1.5 million copies of its dark rock anthems. Falling somewhere between Depeche Mode and Nine-Inch Nails, the band hit a perfect niche of pounding rhythm and noise that drove the downer lyrics of singer Chris Hall into the "yes, I've been there, I feel your pain" circuit of the brain. Their music was and is cathartic heavy without being bludgeoning, melodic without being treacly.

After three albums with Columbia, the band parted ways in 1999 and forged a new deal with the independent Koch label to release its self-titled fourth album this spring.

Its rebirth CD, Stabbing Westward, continues in the same vein as its 1996 hit, "What Do I Have to Do?" from Wither Blister Burn + Peel and "Everything I Touch" from 1998's Darkest Days, moving from fist-raising angst to empathy-inducing pathos in moments. Stabbing Westward is a passion play of powerful proportions, with cycles of light and dark, fire and ice. The CD cover is awash in images of the sexual taunting of a goth girl, and the album lyrics reflect the same, with Hall detailing line after line of desperate isolation and loss. If you read the songs as being about the same failed relationship, this is an album of obsession, of a lover's inability to move on once rejected.

In "So Far Away," the disc's first track and single, Hall sings of the isolationism we all feel, no matter how close we get to another:

I wish that I could find a way
To smash my fist right through these walls
Of ugliness and emptiness and gently touch your face
But every time that I touch you
You feel so far away
And every time that you need me
I feel so far away.

In "High" he proclaims "I've never been as high as I was with you/love's a perfect high." In another "just out of reach" theme, in the gently strummed "Happy," Hall asks an old lover:

Tell me are you really happy
do you think he's really worth the pain?
tell me are you really happy now
or did you simply throw our life away just to be unhappy?

And in "Perfect" he nostalgically looks back at a broken romance (the same one of "Happy?") and asks "Why can't it be, perfect like we used to be?" Then in "Wasted" he complains "my love's been wasted/everything is gone" and you can physically feel the anger in hurt packed into that potent declaration. This guy has a lot of heartache to share. In "Angel," the band switches guitar gears a bit to craft a solid anthem that, with a slightly different production in a slightly different time, would have been a huge pop-metal hit a la Firehouse or Winger. But that's not a bad thing - this song, throwback qualities or not, rocks! It's a rare celebratory love song for the band:

I've never been loved by an angel
I've never felt anything so pure
I've never been loved by an angel
until tonight when your heaven filled my world.

This is a triumphant (if often gloomy) return for Stabbing Westward. Every song on this disc is solid, and most are fist-raising powerful. This is a band at the top of its form.

(Stabbing Westward will play Chicago's Congress Theatre on June 29-30 with The Cult and Monster Magnet.)