I cannot think of another Australian band who were as versatile as INXS in the ’80s. It’s wrapped up here in ‘Original Sin’, which draws influences from disco and dream-pop but also dips its toes into the darker side of the band’s new-wave rock that would eventually be crystallised on Kick a few years later. There are a lot of cooks on this track, yet the broth remains largely unspoiled. The glam-funk production and all the shiny things you hear bursting out of the speakers came care of Nile Rodgers, who produced the song, while Darryl Hall of Hall & Oates joined Michael Hutchence on the chorus vocal, a neat little tidbit of trivia which I was not aware of until recently. That kind of combined star power would lead to front page music news these days, but back in 1983, it was just what happened when you were a big band trying to get even bigger; you went over to New York and hooked up with the greats. Though it’s a standard now, the album which housed ‘Original Sin’ apparently didn’t really break the band stateside, and they’d have to wait until their next release before they became super-duper international stars. That means that this delicious piece of music history was enjoyed largely by the people of my country, most of whom wore mullets at this point in history, pretty much exclusively. It’s mind-boggling to think about.
There are certain bands where it’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly it is about their sound that makes them so appealing, but INXS never really had that problem. Throughout their recording history, what remained constant was the way the band mixed their instruments so that they packed a huge punch but somehow also sucked themselves out of the room the moment Hutchence stepped up to the microphone. I often argue that the eighties was the point where studios finally caught up to the ambition of the groups who booked them. On ‘Original Sin’ you can hear everything in crystal definition, those wailing guitars, the hollowed out tom fills, the overlaid synths and, you know, all the saxophone, but Hutchence just seems to cruise over it. If he was a charismatic shaman in person, it translates perfectly to his voice, which both hollers with urgency and smoothly slinks through the lower range. In possession of this dual vocal personality. Hutchence was virtually unstoppable, being perhaps the first rock star in this country who was simultaneously an lonely shoegazer and a kickass frontman in one. While synths blast out like ray-guns in the verse, he’s all too happy to croon and look inwards, blossoming out to his full potential gradually. It’s a bit like if David Byrne suddenly hit a chorus and went from being jerky to Frank Sinatra in one fell swoop. No wonder the women couldn’t keep away from him.
Though Hutchence and one of the Fariss brothers wrote this song, Rodger’s imprint is unmistakeable. Those Chic-esque skank guitars in the verses and bridge sound exactly like him, even if he’s not the one playing them, and really opens up the crossover potential for this song to become an underground dance hit. By all accounts, it did. The surviving members of INXS even decided to exhume the track and remake it with their new talent-show winner a few years ago, and throw a proper house beat under it, but it was very unnecessary. With its naturally defined ebb and flow, the insistent disco stride of the verse and the sing-a-long, peace-promoting chorus, the track sells itself. Even that uncomfortable industrial 2/4 bar of drums at the end of each turnaround isn’t enough to stop this bringing bodies to the floor. It’s a song one imagines New Order would love to have written, but the bass line is way too black. It’s what slips into the tank and sends this vehicle hurtling down a twisted dark road, and there’s nothing Australian-sounding about it. Even before they hit it big around the world, INXS had already transcended their time and place. Not bad for a former pub rock band, right?
INXS – ‘Original Sin’