I saw INXS in concert at Wembley Stadium in 1984. They weren’t famous in the UK at that time. They were the opening support act for my-then-favourite-band-ever, Queen, and they played half a dozen songs which I barely listened to, and they sounded awful. The stadium was barely 1/3 full, it was mid-afternoon, and noone cared. I’d be surprised if they’d had much chance to do a proper soundcheck. But they were definitely awful.
Just a few years later they had swept the world before them with their album Kick and its fantastic hit singles including Need You Tonight, Never Tear Us Apart, Mystify, New Sensation and Devil Inside. Yes, all those tracks are belters, but my favourite INXS album comes later. It’s more polarising even among fans, and I’ve recently revisited it, to find it’s even more impressive than that pop masterpiece.
Welcome to Wherever You Are was released in 1992, when INXS’ popularity had already been on the wane for a couple of years. America had been taken over by the rise of grunge and alternative rock, U2 had ‘reinvented’ their sound with Achtung Baby, and INXS’ record label was sensing their light was fading.
Indeed, there’s a sense from the band that they were getting beyond the mega-stardom by the time of this album, as they never toured to support it, and hence its success was relatively modest. Nevertheless, I Reckon it’s pretty freakin’ fantastic, a collection of terrific songs from a group who knew what they were doing. This was billed as a(nother) attempt to strike a new direction, but IMHO it seems that, while there are interesting stylistic choices, its strengths are entirely drawn from everything that made INXS so successful in the first place.
The opening track, Questions, is an effective prologue: it starts as a definite statement of intent with what seems like a call to prayer and then the thrum of sitars. Indeed, it’s the first track (but not the last on the album) that reminds me of U2, but the U2-still-to-come; in this case the Moroccan influences on their most recent album. At the same time, there are vocal effects and electronic sounds throughout that struck me as being similar to Madonna’s Ray of Light album, still 6 years away.
For all its hints at a revolutionary sound, it leads again straight to U2 (Vertigo?), with the excellent Heaven Sent, a driving rock song, plain and simple.
Michael Hutchence continues his effects-laden imitations of Bono in Communication, a restless, shuffling track that features chord progressions that come right from Kick. The next song, Taste It, is properly old-school INXS (Need You Tonight?) and even features the saxophone so beloved of the 1980s…
Not Enough Time is a terrific track, starting with sultry bass and drum loops. Hutchence is intimate, even creepy, as he seduces the listener with promises of what he would do if only he had more time… before the song opens out with fabulous female backing vocals and anthemic keyboards, with the final refrain “Make time stop for the two of us…”
All Around and Baby Don’t Cry continue this anthemic phase of the album. The first is driven by another bass-led riff with guitar effects, the second features a full orchestra and brassy horn section, along with fully-fledged stadium rock chorus.
Beautiful Girl is from the same stable as The Rolling Stones’ She’s Like a Rainbow, with simple, plaintive piano, before morphing into an altogether darker feel of a girl “running from a bad home … from corner to corner” searching for security in the bright lights of the city.
Wishing Well, Back on Line and Strange Desire all lead towards the end of the album with further experiments, none of which stray too far from classic INXS; percussive guitars, shuffling rhythms, keyboard riffs, sax solos. And then the album closes with Men and Women. Low, clanging chords lie over an ominous, throbbing bass. Michael Hutchence whispers bleak, haunted lyrics. Dark orchestral chords accompany this complete change of mood, that speaks of betrayal and shame.
It’s the most surprising song on an album that sought to revolutionise INXS, but was ultimately an experiment that never got too far from their roots. But don’t for a moment believe that I don’t think it’s a terrific album, their best and my favourite.