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Michael Hutchence: Gifted, Troubled, Mystified Mind

Towards the end of an era, we witness how there are some talents that are just irreplaceable. As the last rockstar for his generation, Michael Hutchence embodied the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. The frontman for the Australian-based rock band INXS had it all—charisma, a seductive voice, trademark curly hair and sexual prowess. For most of the 80s you couldn’t escape his music as the band dominated pop and rock radio. But behind the persona, Hutchence hid a gentle soul that was so introverted it left his family shocked when they witnessed the artist onstage.

Born in the metropolis Sydney, Hutchence would only spend part of his infancy in the home state before his family settled on the shores of Hong Kong. As his father recalled, “Michael was an adorable baby with a sweet nature and just giggled and smiled and was no trouble at all.” His family would witness the natural talent that bore inside of him after winning an audition for a commercial at the age of eight. After moving for a second time to Brisbane, Hutchence found his musical side in high school. He met future bandmates Andrew Farris and his brothers Tim and Jon who instantly clicked with his tastes for rock music. The four would form a band and hold concerts in the house garage. After graduation, the group would evolve their neighborhood scene to the concert pubs of Sydney supporting local groups. Fan interest grew over the groups natural stage presence and Hutchence’s model-like looks before signing their first record deal.

The band made their official debut in 1980 with the single “Simple Simon” followed by their self-titled album INXS. The record’s new wave, ska style found its place in the pop market in their native Australia. While it received considerable airplay, critics were less enthusiastic about the album overall despite its fan appraisal. But every reviewer noted that Hutchence was indeed a special talent to watch out for. Allmusic’s senior editor quoted that Hutchence “exuded a powerful vocal charisma.” But the Aussie’s weren’t aware that INXS were just scratching the surface of their talent.

While they would release decent follow-ups to their debut, the band wouldn’t strike it big in their homeland until 1982’s Shabooh Shoobah. The band took a departure from their noted ska style and approached a more rock tribal sound. Hit singles “Don’t Change” and “The One Thing” catapulted INXS to become major stars in Australia and reach US attention. The band made their first American trip providing tour support for fellow contemporaries Men at Work and Duran Duran. But Hutchence’s stage presence and vocal timbre gave the group an edgy nature compared to their touring members. The lead singer mulled over what the next direction should be for the band’s sound after noticing they could greatly stand out. But no one anticipated how they would reinvent themselves next.

1984’s The Swing ushered the doors of alternative rock for Australia with INXS leading the way. After starting out as a new wave act with dance vibes, the group steamrolled into an almost pure rock sound. With the help of funk master Niles Rodgers, the band transformed the pop scene with the breakout “Original Sin”. The hit single not only featured Rodgers in his signature guitar funk but also the “Blue-Eyed Soul” singer Daryl Hall. Critics hailed the band as one of the top acts to coming out of Australia and cement Hutchence as the heartthrob with a voice. The single still receives significant airplay and is labelled as ‘the most Australian song of all time.” The album reached multi-platinum status and was followed by the banger Listen Like Thieves. But Hutchence knew that their newly acquired international presence would have to be followed with something. His response and natural songwriting skills would bring the world to its knees.

The age of 1987 saw a plethora of pop and dance hits, but none equaled to what INXS would release. Kick shattered international charts and earned the group their first double platinum in the US. The album’s four consecutive hit singles dominated airwaves and established Hutchence as a world-class singer/songwriter. “Need You Tonight”, “Never Tear Us Apart” and “Mystify” perplexed critics and fans with its rock/dance hybrid. The band’s homage to their rock ‘n’ roll influences paired well with their modern take on pop and funk. Hutchence leading the way with his mesmerizing live performances and boastful voice etched himself into the hearts of millions. Including the legendary singer of U2, Bono, who was in love with his voice and showmanship. The album has sold over 20 million copies worldwide, is accoladed as the best Australian album ever released and received three Grammy nominations. The group would also witness a resurgence of awards in 1993 and The World’s Best Selling Australian Artist at the WMA’s.

While their next albums would be released to generally favorable reviews, the group wouldn’t achieve the level of groundbreaking success again. Hutchence had spared with his plaguing emotions for many years with substance abuse fueling the fire. The frontman had tried his hand at a film career but wouldn’t find any immediate success compared to his music. As the band started to decline in the 1990s, Hutchence found himself caught inside a love triangle leading to legal battles. But behind the scenes of tabloid drama, the singer found his peace and comfort in the recording studio. While crafting his planned solo debut he gained an appreciation for the dark, moody sound of grunge music. But tragedy had struck producers as they were awoken to the news of Hutchence’s death. The mystery and mental circumstances surrounding the leader singer’s death are still discussed to this day. Lead producer, Andy Gill, would complete the album with it being Michael Hutchence to honor his memory.

Hutchence’s passing is still felt to this day, but none more so than his immediate family. As his father writes, “His solo album is the best memorial we could ever have of this great son.” His legacy and artistry are carried on as Bono is just one of many others to remix his material. Other posthumous works and full-length documentaries were soon produced. While his life and music became intimately detailed, others chose to honor him in their own music. Nick Cave and Duran Duran and the members of INXS paid tribute to Hutchence during their ARIA Hall of Fame induction. To sum up the life and career of Hutchence in one sentence would be almost impossible. But Hutchence biographer Toby Crewsel had done it best stating, “Hutchence was, without question, one of the truly great frontmen—he expressed the music in a dynamic way few others could.” Or as Hutchence himself would put it, “I’m just a man.” Enough said.

Written by Trenton Luber


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