As the original lead singer of INXS, Michael Hutchence was the human voice of the Australian band's catchy mixture of hard rock and dance music. If not the most technically proficient of singers, Hutchence had a voice that was easy to like and to recognize, and his Jagger-like charisma helped make him a late-'80's MTV idol. In November 1997, Hutchence was found dead of an apparent suicide in a hotel room in Sydney, Australia. Even though INXS was out of vogue at the time, it was surprising how little impact Hutchence's death had on the music world. A self-titled solo album recorded by Hutchence shortly before his death was released two years later, with little fanfare and weak sales. For a charismatic high-profile performer of Hutchence's caliber, such a lack of posthumous interest seemed odd.
Besides his posthumous solo album, Hutchence's non-INXS activities included songs for the Batman Forever and Barb Wire film soundtracks, and two '80's side projects that are now out of print.
In 1986, Hutchence starred in a cult film called Dogs In Space , about a night in the life of young punk rockers in late-'70's Melbourne, Australia. Hutchence portrayed Sam Sejavka, the real-life frontman for an obscure Aussie punk band from the period. Director Richard Lowenstein (who helmed numerous INXS videos) wanted to show that the type of punk movement that was going on in England at the time was also going on in other parts of the world. Unfortunately, the film makes little sense; it is noisy, plotless, and esoteric, and is far less effective than many similar films about alienated youth. The soundtrack album, however, is something to hear. It was supervised by Ollie Olsen, who was once the leader of a pioneering Aussie punk band called Whirlywirld. For this record, he reunited members of his former band, and they provide backing for Hutchence on three of his four tracks. Two of those, the title track and "Golf Course", are hard-rocking tunes co-written by Sejavka that he performed during the period depicted in the film. Another of Hutchence's tracks, "Rooms For the Memory", is a reworked Whirlywirld ballad; it's a decent closing song, but is one of the less interesting tracks on the album. Olsen provides his own lead vocal on the other reworked Whirlywirld song, the catchy electronic "Win/Lose". Hutchence's other track, "The Green Dragon", is a spoken-word monologue from the film.
Elsewhere on the record, there are eye-opening tracks from '70's punk icons (Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, Gang of Four) and two excellent, disparate examples of Aussie punk from that period: the uplifting power pop tune "True Love" by Marching Girls (an all-male trio fronted by future Dead Can Dance guitarist Brendan Perry), and the downbeat ballad "Shivers" by Boys Next Door (aka Birthday Party), which features a haunting vocal by Nick Cave. A needless second version of "Shivers", sung by Aussie-punk vet Marie Hoy and arranged by Olsen, is far inferior. For a walk on the truly barbaric side of Aussie punk, check out the two wordless noisefests that open Side Two. The Dogs In Space soundtrack is a great party record -- if you're throwing an extremely wild party. It's worth searching out.
1. DOG FOOD - Iggy Pop
2. DOGS IN SPACE - Michael Hutchence
3. WIN/LOSE - Ollie Olsen
4. ANTHRAX - Gang of Four
5. SKYSAW - Brian Eno
6. TRUE LOVE - Marching Girls
7. SHIVERS - Boys Next Door
8. DISEASES - Thrush & the C--ts
9. PUMPING UGLY MUSCLE - The Primitive Calculators
10. GOLF COURSE - Michael Hutchence
11. THE GREEN DRAGON - Michael Hutchence
12. SHIVERS - Marie Hoy & Friends
13. ENDLESS SEA - Iggy Pop
14. ROOMS FOR THE MEMORY - Michael Hutchence
Hutchence reunited with Olsen in 1989 for a one-album side project called Max Q. The self-titled album was recorded while INXS were at the peak of their popularity and were on momentary hiatus. The record was co-written and co-produced by Hutchence and Olsen, and Hutchence did all of the lead vocals. A fairly ambitious foray into Midnight Oil-like intellectualism, Max Q consists of moody, hard-edged electronic music with lyrics about fear and greed. Marie Hoy, another participant from the Dogs In Space soundtrack, contributes guest vocals on "Soul Engine", and at least two of Olsen's Whirlywirld bandmates (John Murphy and Arnie Hanna) played instruments on the album. Max Q certainly makes an interesting listen, although its overly cynical and pessimistic worldview (especially on "Way Of The World" and "Ot-Ven-Rot") is sometimes off-putting.
2. Way of the World
3. Ghost of the Year
7. Soul Engine
9. Monday Night By Satellite
Hutchence's self-titled solo album was released two years after his death, in late 1999 (early 2000 in the U.S.). His main collaborators on the album were Andy Gill (formerly of Gang Of Four) and Danny Sabre (formerly of Black Grape). Gill and Sabre shared songwriting and production duties with Hutchence, and both of them played several instruments. The two of them used the 2-year time gap to add lush layers of sound and polish to the album. Although the result is somewhat reminiscent of the 1992 INXS album Welcome To Wherever You Are, Hutchence's solo album doesn't bear too much resemblance to the work he did with his usual band. It is more like a middle ground between Max Q and '90's alternative dance music. There is plenty to enjoy superficially, but if you dig beneath the sleek surface of several songs, you can sense that Hutchence had grown increasingly world-weary. Some have even felt there were hints of suicidal depression in the lyrics of "Don't Save Me From Myself" and "Get On The Inside". Other songs, such as "Flesh And Blood" and "Baby It's Alright", also show a more sensitive side of Hutchence than his work with INXS did. "She Flirts For England" was a song about his then-fiancee Paula Yates, who died three years after Hutchence. One complaint: Bono's guest vocal on "Slide Away" was very obviously added after the fact, and comes across more like a gimmick than an inspired touch. Otherwise, Michael Hutchence is a satisfying (and occasionally saddening) farewell to his fans.
1. Let Me Show You
3. Get On The Inside
5. All I'm Saying
6. A Straight Line
7. Baby It's Alright
8. Don't Save Me From Myself
9. She Flirts For England
10. Flesh And Blood
11. Put The Pieces Back Together
13. Slide Away (featuring Bono)
See also INXS
The Internet Movie Database entry for Dogs In Space