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Journal of Peter Greenwell

Tag: pub rock

INXS – Kick

INXS were a singles band, let’s make that clear straight away. Their albums – all of them – are loaded with filler to a lesser or greater degree. Sometimes they’re jam packed with terrible songs that don’t even qualify for filler status. Kick is the one platter in their discography that has the least amount of both filler and dreck.

In that regard, it’s a step up from Listen Like Thieves and it’s certainly a mile ahead of anything released afterwards. There’s only two songs on this record I regard as filler – Tiny Daggers and Calling All Nations. And, why oh why, did they feel the need to re-record The Loved One? Their Deluxe Records era cover is just as good.

All the aside, this is the culmination of their Stonesy pub-rock/new wave incarnation. They perfected this sound, something they’d increasingly been working on since Shabooh Shoobah. I Need You Tonight, New Sensation, Devil Inside, Mystify are all great tracks.

But this is their last great record, with “great” being relative. The 90s weren’t kind to pub rock bands and INXS never did quite wrap their heads around the sounds and trends that decade generated.

Kick

INXS – INXS

OK, let me say immediately that this debut effort is far from a good album. It’s fair at best. It sounds like a rough collection of unrelated material cobbled together. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in an INXS review, the band was better at singles than albums. There’s always filler on their records. Of course, this is no exception.

It’s Australian pub rock infused with a healthy dose of keyboard-heavy new wave. In fact, on a few tracks like Learn to Smile and In Vain (both equal highlights here), the synth is out front and blaring. It has a rough and crude sound too, indicative of the cheap, early 80s relic that it is. To be honest, INXS never really got away from this sound completely until Listen Like Thieves. For all of the production money sunk into Shabooh Shoobah and The Swing, they’re really just updated versions of this record, with slightly better songs and stronger songwriting.

There was only one single released from this record – Just Keep Walking, and it’s a doozy. They wanted to release In Vain but were vetoed by their then record company. Apart from the aforementioned Learn to Smile, the only other standout track is album closer Wishy Washy. Everything else is pretty much faceless. Not a great start IMHO, all things considered, but it got INXS in the charts and got them going on to greater and more global things.

inxs first album

Men At Work – Cargo

This is album number two and no, it’s not as good as Business as Usual. Of course not, it couldn’t be. But on its own merits, it’s quite a good record.

It’s more of the same – the overall sound hasn’t changed much since the first record, the same grooves, the same rhythms etc. So why isn’t it as good? For starters, the songs are definitely more downbeat. More morose, more political…now that’s not so bad, but the songs themselves aren’t as catchy or as hook-laden. There’s simply nothing on this record as attention grabbing as I Can See It In Your Eyes or Be Good Johnny. The downbeat songs on Business as Usual, like the aforementioned I Can See, are bursting at the seams with sing-along hooks and beats. Not so on Cargo. It’s far more of an acquired listen.

It starts off brightly enough with the pseudo-jokey Dr Heckyll and Mr Jive and you’re reassured that you’re back on familiar ground, then we get the morose Overkill, which was the record’s big hit. Things after that waver between serene and bleak, interspersed with some throwaway dross like I Like To and Settle Down by Boy, the first of which is quite frankly an embarrassing song.

There are some gems though – High Wire masks its political overtones with frenetic energy and the album closer, No Restrictions, is probably the record highlight. There are a couple of B-sides they released (Shintaro and When the Money Runs Out) which, in my opinion, should’ve replaced a couple of songs on this album – it would’ve improved things overall.

Cargo doesn’t hold a candle to the first record, but as I said, standing on its own pluses, it’s by no means a dud, but it’s the last decent thing they did. After this, Men At Work disintegrated (losing their drummer and bassist) and they put out the over-produced and synth-drowned Two Hearts, which really is an awful record. Logically, the band died a natural death not long after.

cargo

The Saints – Prodigal Son

Disclosure: I’ve not listened fully to any other Saints record, nor have I ever owned any other. Criminal, I know.

Well, on the heels of their breakout record All Fools Day, the Saints reconvened and recorded this. This record features a different lineup than the previous album, but that’s how the Saints rolled. Every record seemed to have a different guy in it, or a returning band member. The only constant was singer/guitarist Chris Bailey.

Prodigal Son is what you’d call a straight up rock album with a slight country edge to it. Side One is made up of faintly ringing melodies, deft touches, chiming guitars, but it doesn’t really grab or hold your attention apart from the confronting Sold Out where Bailey seems to mock the preposterous idea that he – you guessed it – sold out. Lots of brassy horns on that one and it’s a rollicking tune for sure.

Still, Side Two is where it’s at. First up is the dreamy re-recording of their 1983 classic Ghost Ships followed by the rousing Massacre. Tomorrow calms things down a bit then we come to the album highlight of Stay, which rates in my book as one of the best songs ever made. The album then concludes with the folksy yet stark ballad of Shipwreck where Bailey struts his poetic skills. And that’s ballad in the word’s traditional sense too, of a story set to music.

The CD version includes a cover of the Easybeats’ The Music Goes Round My Head which you can safely ignore. It’s a terrible song that was originally on the soundtrack of an equally execrable movie.

OK, in conclusion, Prodigal Son is not a great album. It’s a little too samey on Side One and the songs do blend in to one another. One review stated that it’s “intelligent rock with a prickly edge” and that’s a fair claim. It’s not immediately gripping stuff, and it took me a long time to warm to it, and really listen to anything on it apart from Stay and Ghost Ships. But nowhere does it really sit up and cry out for attention. Understated is a good word to summarise this record. Bailey must’ve thought so too, as this was the last record he made under the Saints name for over ten years.

prodigal son cover

Men At Work – Business As Usual

It still boggles me how this band and particularly this album made it big in the US. Apart from the tongue-in-cheek jingoism of Down Under, this record is pure Australian new wave/pub rock – nothing really inherent in the music to appeal to Americans or anyone else apart from Aussies.

But appeal it did.

Who cares? A good album stands on its own, and that’s precisely what Business As Usual is. It’s a timeless classic, a record I’ve been in love with since it appeared in 1981. There’s only two songs here you could call filler, and realistically, the other eight were easily viable singles. I Can See It In Your Eyes (album highlight) and People Just Play With Words could easily have sat next to Down Under and Who Can It Be Now? on the charts. Same with Helpless Automaton.

Catch A Star and Touching the Untouchables are this record’s filler and even so, they’d stand up and take notice on most other artist’s albums.

This album’s closer, Down By The Sea, is the album closer to close out all albums. You can seriously imagine yourself running carefree with the love of your life, while the relentless waves crash in.

Let’s face it, the whole record is brilliant. They never did something this good ever again. Cargo has its moments, but few like you’ll find on this LP, and Two Hearts is an acquired listen, which is putting it charitably.

business as usual

INXS – Listen Like Thieves

Another INXS record, another crazy title. This is INXS’s fifth long player, and it’s better than anything that came before. Certainly better than Shabooh Shoobah which has more filler than this. Listen Like Thieves is about as close as INXS got to releasing an LP that was filler-free. Yes, even the old classic Kick has padding.

Some of the weird keyboard doodlings of yore are still present on this album, but it takes a back seat to the drum-heavy blues/funk/new-wave crossover that this band became renowned for. While The Swing began heading in this direction, it still possessed a lot of the band’s pub rock sensibilities. They’re all but gone now and INXS have progressed into the big league.

Contrary to how it usually went in the 80s, it’s Side Two that has all the great music. From the opening roar of Biting Bullets to the thundering quasi-metal of Red, Red Sun, Side Two just soars along. Same Direction is the album highlight and rates amongst the top 5 of anything they ever did. This Time is there too, as is the Australian bush-in-summer instrumental of Three Sisters.

Side One has the filler, alas. Take away What You Need and Kiss The Dirt, and you can happily write it off. Truthfully, the record is worth buying just for Side Two. As I said, this is as good as INXS got with making an LP full of killer songs. Enjoy it.

listen like thieves

INXS – Shabooh Shoobah

Strange title for a record, right? INXS’s third release, and their first on a big label. This was the first INXS record I ever bought and listened to, on the strength of two very powerful singles, Don’t Change and The One Thing. Not unsurprisingly, these two songs are last and first on the album, respectively. Apart from the great To Look at You and Black and White (the other two singles) this album is pretty much throwaway. To be honest, INXS always were better at singles. I’ve yet to listen to any album of theirs that is 100% consistent or lacks weak tracks.

This album is not as good as Kick or even Listen Like Thieves and although it sold well in Australia and verily launched the band to higher things, it’s nothing special. I like it because I’m used to it. I know each of its ten songs off-by-heart, but I also know them for the filler they are mostly. Tracks like Here Comes and Soul Mistake are definitely second-order INXS. Old World New World has enough of the alien about it to transcend total filler status but seriously? Buy it for the four singles if you must, or get hold of a Greatest Hits collection. Like I said, they did singles better than albums.

shabooh shoobah

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