Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees celebrates one of Australia's greatest exports—not counting Yahoo Serious, of course.
Our review of INXS: Mystify, published December 13th, 2010, is also available.
Don't change for you.
As I write this, INXS is preparing a new reality TV show in which they search for a new lead singer. Ever since the shocking 1997 suicide of their original lead singer, the brilliant and charismatic Michael Hutchence, INXS has performed with a series of different vocalists. Now, at the same time that they prepare for a new era in the life of the band, the release of this ample two-disc video retrospective allows us to revisit the greatness of the two-decade Hutchence era. Featuring some of their most famously innovative music videos as well as previously unreleased live footage, I'm Only Looking: The Best of INXS, Part One proves that INXS didn't peak in the '80s like so many of its contemporaries but just kept (and, I hope, keeps) moving from strength to strength.
Facts of the Case
Disc One contains music videos for 25 songs, each of which is introduced by a band member:
• "Just Keep Walking"—This low-budget performance
video gives no clue as to how innovative and beautifully crafted INXS's videos
Disc Two features a varied array of goodies:
• Live versions of "Simple Simon," "Original
Sin," "Listen Like Thieves," "Kick," "New
Sensation," "Need You Tonight," "Mediate,"
"Searching," "Elegantly Wasted," and "Don't
Change" (a montage of various performances), each with an introduction by
either the three Farriss brothers or Kirk Pengilly and Garry Beers
With such a wealth of material, I have to start by saying that I'm amazed that this two-disc set represents only "Part One" of a release. Although the videos here only make up a portion of INXS's massive output in that area, there are literally hours of viewing here, and I'm dazzled at the prospect that more will be forthcoming. To tell the truth, this set alone seems like a treasure trove for the INXS fan. If you consider yourself only a casual fan and are only familiar with the band's hits, this collection will make you realize how much you've been missing. The consistently stellar quality of the songs on this lineup, some of which are pretty obscure, proves that the band has far more to offer than the hit singles. It seems that INXS kept finding more energy, more invention, more creativity as the band matured, and it's thrilling that they are still looking to develop and grow even this long after the major blow of Hutchence's death. At the same time, seeing Hutchence in these videos and performance clips saddens one anew at the realization of how much the world lost with his passing. In that respect, this collection is a moving monument to his memory as well as a fascinating and exciting document in its own right.
Although INXS is sometimes relegated by the ignorant to the status of another '80s new wave group, the reality is quite different, and a brief history will probably come in handy here. Originally known as The Farriss Brothers, INXS formed in Australia in 1977, with a lineup consisting of the brothers Andrew, Jon, and Tim Farriss, Kirk Pengilly, Garry Beers, and Michael Hutchence. Their sound was influenced by '70s funk and early R&B more than contemporary new wave. For five years they played in pubs and clubs in Australia before finding success in America in the early '80s thanks largely to exposure on MTV. Their often groundbreaking music videos helped to keep them in the spotlight, as did the increasing media focus on Hutchence, whose powerful stage presence drew comparisons to Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison. Since Hutchence's death, the remaining band members have performed with vocalists Jimmy Barnes, Terence Trent D'Arby, and Jon Stevens, but this DVD collection extends only as far as the end of the Hutchence era.
The 25 videos on Disc One are an exciting tour through the group's development, from the very earliest days, in which we already see the raw energy and conviction they bring to performing (an approach that they learned in their early days when playing in sometimes hostile club venues), to the often polished, carefully crafted, yet fresh and innovative videos that kept them at the forefront of music video craft. Director Richard Lowenstein in particular helped make the band's videos stand out, and his long collaboration with the band made him an unofficial seventh member. His videos for "What You Need" and "Need You Tonight" in particular garnered attention and acclaim—and paved the way for many imitators. A sense of energy and vibrancy distinguishes these videos; they still seem fresh and fun all these years later. Indeed, very few of the videos on this lineup seem dated; the big hair and mullets are about the only elements that occasionally jar. As we move into the '90s we see ever-growing sophistication and even elegance, as in "By My Side" and "Not Enough Time," with lots of layering of images and other visual magic to create a kind of rock 'n' roll grandeur—this is terrific stuff. Each video's introduction provides convenient captions giving the year, director, and shooting location of the video as well as the album from which the song came, for handy reference; captions even identify which band member is speaking, which is also considerate, since some of these fellows look quite a bit different 20-plus years later.
All of the video directors are wise enough to place the band members at the fore, and one of the other things one can't help but notice over the course of the videos is that Hutchence is a natural in front of the camera. His singing talent aside (if one can put so considerable a contribution to the side, even momentarily), he brings together energy, ferocity, sexuality, swagger, and sensitivity in a powerful Byronic persona. But although Hutchence's astonishing on-camera presence and musical talent are what many people remember, the entire band is charismatic and full of personality, and this really helps to sell even the more eccentric videos, like "Listen Like Thieves" and "Taste It." The warm glints of humor and sheer enjoyment of performing that emanate from this group of friends and collaborators cement our own delight in watching them. This especially comes across in the bountiful array of live performances. Filmed in venues as varied as Japan, Sydney, and London over a range of more than 14 years, ranging from an Australian dance club to the Wembley stadium, these clips capture the exhilaration of being present at an INXS concert. The word that keeps coming to mind here is energy: One simply never gets the sense that these men are anything less than fully committed to their music and their fans. The surviving group members have praised Hutchence in particular in this regard, but all are to be credited with bringing everything they have to their performing.
There are so many gems here that it's difficult to single anything out. I was particularly delighted by the Disc Two content, which I had not expected to find so engaging. There's lots of unexpected treasure here: We see some offscreen glimpses of Hutchence in rehearsal in the "Welcome to Wherever You Are" feature—and also glimpses of his effect on the crowd, as security guards carry out a succession of women who have fainted. The video for "Please (You Got That)" is a particular pleasure since we get to experience Hutchence and Ray Charles singing together, both evidently enjoying themselves greatly. The montage of live performances of the band's anthem "Don't Change," which is seamlessly edited, provides a surprisingly moving record of the band over a 14-year period. It's especially interesting to hear director Richard Lowenstein weigh in on his collaboration with the band in the "Behind the Scenes" featurette, since his work did so much to promote INXS's popularity. There are some fun tidbits to be gleaned in all the introductory clips provided by the band members on both discs. Overall, this is a bountiful offering of great material, worthy in itself and not just for its supplemental or curiosity value.
Video quality, as one might expect from footage that spans a more than 20-year period, is not always consistent or strong; the earliest videos, like "The One Thing" and "Don't Change," are riddled with grain, speckling, and other flaws, and little or no restoration seems to have been done. Likewise, early live footage ("Simple Simon") shows the limitations of the videotaped source material. In the more recent material, however, video quality is clean and vibrant, setting off the visual innovation of the music videos beautifully, and blacks are deep and rich.
Disc One features three audio options: Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, DTS 5.1 surround, and PCM stereo; on Disc Two, only the former two options are offered. As is the case with the video quality, the early '80s materials sometimes exhibit some shortcomings as presented in both the surround tracks; nevertheless, both surround options are well mixed, created with genuine care for the music. Rather than pulling apart the different layers and capriciously isolating them, the surround mixes instead expand the stage of the vocals and instruments. Of the two surround options, the DTS is clearly superior: The highs are brighter, the percussion sharper, and Hutchence's vocals fuller and richer. The PCM stereo track is also excellent, especially in its crystalline highs and detail, in which it sometimes surpasses the DTS. Listeners who don't have a surround system will find that the PCM track provides an extremely satisfying listening experience.
The only annoyance of real note in terms of audio is the fact that the interview clips in the "Behind the Scenes" featurette are rendered in surround, and the speakers' voices aren't placed in the front speaker. Thus, the interviewees sound rather hollow, and viewers who don't have a surround setup will experience a dramatic drop in volume in the interview footage interspersed with the video clips. However, the introductory clips on both discs for the videos themselves are mixed with voices in the front speaker, which is much more pleasing and eliminates the seeming unevenness of volume.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
At first I was surprised and a bit disappointed that this set contained no feature specifically set aside in which to remember Hutchence and pay homage to his contributions to the band—as songwriter as well as singer and performer. It seemed like a rather glaring oversight. The more I reflected on this seeming omission, however, and the more of the collection I watched, the more I realized that such a memorial would have been unnecessary and even, paradoxically, out of place. This release celebrates not just one man but the entire band, after all; moreover, Hutchence's legacy is felt everywhere on these two discs, not just in performance after performance but in the comments and reflections of the band members and collaborators. To set aside a separate interview in which to discuss him would be not only redundant but intrusive, since the other members of INXS have maintained a great deal of privacy about their feelings since Hutchence's death, as is their right.
In the end, I think the band members made the appropriate choice. This release places the emphasis on the enduring creation that these six talented collaborators worked together to produce, letting us revel in the excitement and power of their music, which is exactly what it should do.
It's thrilling to rediscover a band that not only endured the '80s unscathed but created music that, over two decades later, still has the power to move and excite. Even for music fans who came to INXS more recently and aren't driven by nostalgia, I'm Only Looking is both a fascinating journey and a high-powered musical experience. If you are a fan, you have no excuse for missing this DVD set. And if you consider yourself a "kind-of" fan, this collection may well convert you into complete, gushing fanhood.
Guilty? As if. INXS is encouraged to return to this court with Part Two of their video retrospective, but in the meantime, court is adjourned so that the justices can go mix it up on the dance floor.
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