Reflecting on the Australian rock greats’ most underrated album
“I lifted a lot from Michael Hutchence,” Michael Stipe told Clash Magazine in 2019. “He was a big influence. Not just on myself but on Bono. I met Michael through Bono. And we both took more than a page from Michael’s book.”
There’s another interview on REMHQ’s YouTube page where Stipe directly praises material Welcome To Wherever You Are–the transitional 1992 masterpiece by INXS that turns 30 today. Namely the track “Beautiful Girl,” which Stipe cites as a key influence on “Strange Currencies,” one of the main singles off R.E.M.’s crunchy 1994 classic Monster.
“Actually it’s me doing my version of Michael Hutchence,” he tells comedian Adam Scott and Scott Aukerman in the aforementioned video. “My God, to have him describe his intention for that song, like what it really was–not the glossy pop song that we all know and love–but his intention as a writer underneath it was profoundly disturbing and beautiful.”
But it shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear how Stipe and Bono looked up to the creative maneuvers of Hutchence, considering how INXS were as equally adept at rolling with the times as U2 and R.E.M. were at the time.
And Welcome To Wherever You Are was the album that saw INXS barrel headfirst into the modern sounds of 1992 with fearless aplomb. I was always of the mindset that WTWYA served as something of an answer record to Achtung Baby in the way by which INXS–working alongside producer Mark Opitz (who also worked on the band’s 1982 LP Shabooh Shoobah)–took on the dirtier, more experimental environs of the “grunge” era and made them their own.
“Like Achtung Baby, Welcome to Wherever You Are is to a great extent about textures. From song to song, INXS doctors traditional rock arrangements with strange sounds and adds instruments so that the result has a rougher, more alternative edge,” wrote music critic Karen Schoemer in The New York Times on August 30, 1992. “By adding the rougher, alternative-rock edges, INXS just seems to be searching for something hit singles can’t buy: hipness and credibility. In the new mainstream, they can be all that matters.”
Yet when listening to WTWYA 30 years later, it has become clear that INXS already had hipness and credibility baked into them. From a fan’s point of view, this group had always taken keyboardist Andrew Farriss’s uncanny knack for pop hooks and molded them like soft clay to the shape that moved them at the time, evidenced on the three classic LP’s that preceded WTWYA in 1985’s Listen Like Thieves, 1987’s breakthrough Kick and 1990’s equally underrated X.
On Welcome, I strongly believe that INXS not only met the challenge of Achtung Baby, but transcended it as well. Songs like “Heaven Sent,” “Taste It” and “Communication” buzz, glitch and thump in ways that fans of Nine Inch Nails and Pop Will Eat Itself could surely endorse, while the sensuous ballad “Not Enough Time” sways like a Neneh Cherry song. “Baby Don’t Cry,” meanwhile, is propelled by the Australian Concert Orchestra and rivals “Never Tear Us Apart” in its symphonic pulchritude.
Knowing now how much the likes of Bono and Michael Stipe looked up to what Michael Hutchence and INXS were doing adjacent to their own activities in the early 90s should validate the greatness of Welcome To Wherever You Are. For my money, it’s just as good as Kick as a complete album.
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