Review: INXS Switch

I freely admit that I was never a huge fan of INXS. I’d call myself a greatest hits fan – someone who likes their popular songs, can barely come up with the names of their albums and before Rockstar: INXS would have had a hard time naming any other members of the band other than the late Michael Hutchence.

So, after hooking me in with the above-mentioned Rockstar: INXS show I gave their new album in eight years, Switch, a hard listen. For the most part, it delivers.

The songs seem like they barely missed a bit from their last offering. Personally, I think the time away from the music scene gave the industry time to remember why they like dance rock. Just take a listen to contemporary artists like Franz Ferdinand, the Killers or Scissor Sisters to hear the INXS influence.

Of course, the most interesting aspect of the new album is J. D. Fortune as their new front man. I was not firmly convinced he was the right choice although I think he sounded the most like Hutchence, even though he pales in comparison. I really would like to hear some of the live shows the band did with Terence Trent D’Arby as their lead singer.

You might think with eight years of material, the album would be even stronger than it is. Being a fan of Boston and the years between their albums I should have known better. That’s not to say that there aren’t some amazing tracks on this album. Keyboardist/guitarist Andrew Farriss did well in hooking up with producer-songwriter Guy Chambers (Queen, Robbie Williams) and seasoned songwriters like Desmond Child. Fortune also co-writes three songs.

So what do we have? Switch is a slick, polished album of mostly above average songs with a couple of diamonds thrown in. The final, pleasant surprise was hearing former contestant Suzie McNeil on the album. I didn’t expect that, although the members of INXS absolutely loved McNeil’s voice and I should have guessed she would be used in the studio.

Switch track-by-track:

Devil’s Party 3:25
This feels like a true Memphis-style rocker from the Canadian Fortune. The guitar/keyboard/sax is all INXS circa 1980-something. If you close your eyes you might hear a touch of Hutchence. I can’t tell if they tried very hard to make J. D. sound like him in the studio or J. D. is doing it all on his own. Musically, it screams INXS. A nice track to lead off the album.

Pretty Vegas 3:27
The first single, famously co-written by Fortune on the reality show, is hooky, guitar-driven and full of attitude. I absolutely loved it when I heard him sing his lyrics to Dave Navarro on the show and when he performed the full version I was floored. I convinced that when he performed the song, he won the job. I love the chorus, “It ain’t pretty, after the show, it ain’t pretty when the pretty leaves you, with no place to go.” Infectious and danceable, I imagine it will chart pretty high.

Afterglow 4:08
I was waiting for the tribute song to Hutchence and I was not at all disappointed. This track sounds like nothing INXS has ever written before. I’m not hearing J. D. attempting to do MH with this track. It really sounds like him singing instead of trying to copy someone else. I’m a bit surprised that Desmond Child co-wrote this song. This is what a pop ballad is supposed to sound like and Child isn’t really known for them. It should be the second single.

Hot Girls 3:30
Here’s my favorite song on the album, by far. It grooves with a hooky melody and J. D. in full smoldering glory. The repeated lines are inspired and even more hooky than Devil’s Party. The guitar/keyboard here is unique and something that I wish Journey would incorporate more into their music. In addition to some female spoken-word Japanese, McNeil weighs in with big-sounding backing vocals and a few heavy breathes. I predict this becomes the song du jour of the female pole dance set.

Perfect Strangers 4:12
So far, the album is batting 1.000 with track after track of great songs. Here we have an ode to anonymous one-night stands. Kirk Pengilly brings it with a sexy sax solo. It has one of the best opening lines ever with, “Don’t tell me your name, just use that pretty mouth.”

Remember Who’s Your Man 3:28
Another non-traditional INXS-type song that sounds like something the Glimmer Twins with Barry Gibb might have written. This acoustic, mid-tempo love ballad is the first sign that someone in the band actually has a heart. “Driving downtown to your house, your lights are never on/ You got me hooked, I want to drown, without your hand, I’m going down,” sings Fortune, who also shows off a nice falsetto.

Hungry 4:47
At first I didn’t like this track. After repeated listens, I think my initial impression was wrong. I’m still not a fan of the New Wave, ‘80s-sounding keyboards or the fact that it sounds like Bowie was recruited to sing. The break in the middle of the song is musically interesting and that raises it out of the doldrums of a bad 80s song, but not by much.

Never Let You Go 4:18
This is horrible. I expect Bob Marley to start singing instead of Fortune. INXS should never write a song with a ska beat. The melody is crap and the lyrics are worse than crap: “If someday I find me the answer, I’ll move down south and marry a dancer.” The worse song on the album by far.

Like It Or Not 3:44
What the hell is this ska-influence coming from? Blah. It smacks of filler. If the whole album had been this way, I’d throw it away. This is so forgettable I don’t want to write anymore about it.

Us 4:07
This sounds very contemporary. I read that this song is reminiscent of Robbie Williams, an artist I can’t name a single song he wrote. Lyrically, it’s the social issue song. Musically, it’s mid tempo U2-like with a break that gives it that distinctive INXS sound. A subtle horn section made me think of Chicago (the band, not the city) for some strange reason.

God’s Top Ten 4:54
The tribute to Hutchence, his late partner Paula Yates and their daughter Tiger Lily is sweet and soulful. A hauntingly pretty piano progression starts off this track and then unexpectedly McNeil sings the first stanza. Since I don’t have the CD insert I’m not entirely sure that Fortune is singing on the second stanza because to me it sounds like runner-up Marty Casey instead. I’m probably wrong. McNeil and Fortune do sound really well together. I wouldn’t be surprised if they bring her along on the tour to do back-ups.