Simplistic Rock and Roll: INXS Kick

In 1987, I heard the song “Need You Tonight” from INXS’s simplistic rock inspired album “Kick.” I thought in my 13 years of living, that was the whiniest song I had ever heard. Mind you, my musical diet consisted of some pretty questionable stuff – basically anything on the top 40 radio mixed with a few CCM rock bands, so I was hardly an expert on good music. However, I was also a seventh grader – and one thing seventh graders are experts in is whining.

My negative impression of INXS carried on from my impression of “Need You Tonight,” and well into adulthood. When Rock Star: INXS aired, I had no interest. Fast forward to a couple years ago, and I hear the song “Don’t Change.” I was blown away, and wanted more. So – I put aside my three decades of hating INXS and asked: Is INXS really that amazing? Is the album “Kick” so worthy of all the accolades it receives?

First, let’s examine the hits

With six hits, Kick, probably could have found a place on my “best albums of the 80’s” list of a few months back. So many songs on the US charts meant I couldn’t hardly turn the radio in the late 80s without hearing at least one song from Kick in the course of any given hour. With the sheer volume of hits, this means there has to be at least one dud in the bunch…or is there?

Need You Tonight

The first single released from Kick, the aforementioned “Need You Tonight” sets the tone for the rest of the album. Sound wise, we get a funky little groove. A rhythm guitar and a simple drum beat plays during the entirety of the song. The same notes, cadence, and tempo, for three minutes. During the chorus, we also hear a couple electric guitars answering each other with a handful of raw notes. The simplistic rock and roll sounds of “Need You Tonight” might have actually been the true reason I hated “Need You Tonight,” as well as INXS in 1987 (I liked, and still like, my music loud and complex). However, the simplistic rock and roll sounds of “Need You Tonight” work well as I listen in 2019.

Lyrically, well, 1987 me only heard the phrase “I’m lonely.” So – my thesis of “that’s a whiney song” might not have been fair at all. In fact, while the lyrics of “Need You Tonight” are indeed rather simplistic, they work well. “Need You Tonight’s” true thesis, “all you’ve got is this moment,” plays well with the music – as we get a picture of a simple man asking a simple thing: Will you stay with me tonight?

Grade: B+

Need You Tonight captures one, simple moment in time, and my seventh grade self was wrong about the song’s whininess. Need You Tonight isn’t whiny at all!

Devil Inside

“Devil Inside” keeps the repetition and the simplicity of “Need You Tonight,” but takes on a deeper subject. “Devil Inside” talks about the evil nature of man, and how every single one of us struggle with this evil nature. “Every single one of us, the devil inside.”

“Devil Inside” certainly has a few hard hitting lyrics. The line “It’s hard to believe we need a place called hell” sends shivers down my spine, as it suggests the concept of Hell might as well be moot – we live in Hell already. The lines, “Words are weapons sharper than knives /
Makes you wonder how the other half die
“alludes the idea that we do more harm with our words than with physical violence.”

Ultimately though, what makes “Devil Inside” is the same thing that makes a good portion of the songs on Kick: the repetitiveness and simplicity of both the instrumentation and the lyrics. The chorus repeats the thesis “Devil Inside, Devil Inside, Every single one of us, the Devil inside,” sung in an intense vocal gives us a feeling that we can’t fight this reality. “Devil Inside” accepts our evil nature towards each other as a basic truth of life. The repetitive guitar riff played throughout the song sounds like a grinding and torturous machine – something one might find in Hell, even a Hell on Earth.

Grade: A-

“Devil Inside” might be the darkest song on Kick, but “Devil Inside” is also the deepest and most interesting song on the album

New Sensation

There’s no getting around it – “New Sensation” is a fun, upbeat song. If released today, it would no doubt be the song of the summer, as “New Sensation” makes you want to live life to the fullest.

That being said – part of the “retro album review” experiment is to see if albums such as Kick (and their songs) still hold up in 2019. Honestly, “New Sensation” sounds REALLY dated. Perhaps it’s the saxophones and horns in the chorus that make me very aware that I’m listening to a 1980s song. Perhaps the echoing of “hey, hey, heeeey!” in the chorus. Regardless, as good as “New Sensation” might have been in 1987, the song feels almost painful to listen to in 2019.

Grade: (1987) B+, (2019) C+

“New Sensation” sounds so damned dated in 2019, but it was a heck of a fun song in 1987.

Never Tear Us Apart

In the 80s, every album needed at least one slow dance track. “Never Tear Us Apart” was that track for Kick. In fact, “Never Tear Us Apart” was THE slow dance track of the year – well, I imagine it must have been. I really didn’t dance with too many (or any) girls in 1987. But from what I remember, “Never Tear Us Apart” was the song that made all the girls swoon.

“Never Tear Us Apart” has an underlying electronic piano groove repeated throughout the song (with a few key changes here and there to keep up with the changes in the song). The rest of the instrumentation is fairly minimal, with a few drums and guitars chiming in at appropriate times – save for one 80s saxophone solo.

One feature of “Never Tear Us Apart” that adds so much to the song – a dramatic pause after the first and second choruses. My heart wants to stop with the music!

As far as lyrics, “Never Tear Us Apart” features some absolutely beautiful phrases in the second verse. “…we all have wings, but some of us don’t know why?” tell us of the potential to love – and yet some of us never realize that potential. But the real gem are the lines “If I hurt you / I’d make wine with your tears.” Pure poetry and powerful imagery! No wonder all the girls (allegedly) swooned to “Never Tear Us Apart!”

Grade: B+

If the sax solo were a little longer, I might not be so generous with this grade, but the song’s strengths certainly outweighs any dated sounds in “Never Tear us Apart.”

KICK

The title track, in all honesty, feels like a filler track. “KICK” (in all caps) charted the lowest of all the songs on Kick, reaching #33 on the US main charts. Still, KICK is the only song on Kick that was nominated for a grammy (U2 won for “Desire,” a far superior song).

“KICK’s” thesis as stated in the chorus, “Sometimes you kick, sometimes you get kicked,” seems a little too simplistic. “KICK” also has the achilles heel of some of the other songs on Kick – ie over usage of the 80s sax. All in all, “KICK” lacks much of any substance.

I will say one positive thing about “KICK” – it’s an incredibly high energy song. Perhaps that’s why it was nominated for best rock performance. “KICK” seems like the type of song that in concert might sound incredible, while on the album seems rather meh.

Grade: C-

While “KICK” probably sounds great live, I’m listening to the album version and I’m bored with the song.

Mystify

The last song released as a single from Kick, “Mystify” gives us a totally different sound than any other song on the album. With “Mystify,” we have an almost blues groove .

There’s really not much to say about “Mystify.” except it acts as a sort of palate cleanser for the rest of the album. It’s a change of pace, genre, and all in all, just a fun song.

Grade: C+

I can’t hate “Mystify,” I can’t love it. If “Mystify” came on the radio, I wouldn’t change the station.

Grade:

What about Kick’s deep cuts?

While Kick had an impressive six hits, Kick had a total of twelve tracks. Some of these tracks are, of course, songs I had never heard before today – some I have heard in passing. Some songs, I know from other places. So – what about the deep tracks on Kick? Do they work? Do they sound dated?

Guns In The Sky

The opening track on Kick, “Guns In The Sky,” opens with some annoying grunting. Yes, if you listen to Kick from start to finish, the first sounds you hear are annoying, proto Tim Taylor esque noises.

Arr! Arr! Guns in the Sky!

These grunts are easily forgotten when we get into the meat of Guns In The Sky. The song serves as an anti-war chant. The tempo shows a military like cadence, or that of a protest song. Even the grunts have a purpose, as they show the blasé attitude towards weaponizing space held by the Reagan /and Bush Sr administrations (sidenote, the Trump administration holds similar attitudes, God help us all).

As far as opening tracks, the politically charged “Guns In The Sky” seems a bit of a bold choice considering the commercial push of INXS and Kick. However, the beat gets us riled up for the swell of emotions and (ahem) new sensations we’re about to experience. I guess “Guns in the Sky” kicks us into receiving the rest of the album.

simplistic rocks deserves puns!
Red Card! Too many puns!

Grade: B

My first listen gave “Guns In The Sky” a much lower grade. However subsequent listenings of “Guns In The Sky,” gives me an appreciation and respect for the song.

Mediate

“Mediate” almost has the same concept as Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Stop the Fire” as, the rapid firing of terms and phrases that don’t really relate. The tying factor, every line ends with the “ate” sound. Mediate, the number eight, fabricate, the animal we ate, the youth irate….you get the point.

The difference between “Mediate” and We Didn’t Stop The Fire – Mediate gives us a bit more of a more hopeful and active platform. “Mediate” does not simply list things that happen, but insists that we take action against the evils of this world. Once more, the video emulates Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” This emulation gives us further evidence that Mediate does not want us to just stand in the sidelines – but to actually do something. “Mediate” wants us to liberate, mediate, and at the very least, try not to hate. “Mediate” insist that we fight the Devil Inside.

Grade: B+

“Mediate” comes at you with another socially and politically charged message, which is just as relevant today as it was in 1987. “Mediate” also serves as an antithesis to “Devil Inside.”

The Loved Ones

“The Loved Ones” is a rerecording of an INX song originally released in 1981. “The Loved Ones” hit the #20 spot in 1981 on the Australian charts, and was a major staple to any INXS concert.

Why did INXS re-record “The Loved Ones?” After all, Kick already had 11 other songs – more than enough for a proper release. Was it because they hoped the song would catch on in the US and UK? Was it because INXS just loves the song? Who knows, but honestly – “The Loved Ones” is a pleasant, pretty, and simple love song. The world needs more songs like “The Loved Ones.”

Grade: B+

Try not to feel all lovey dovey and touchy feely while listening to “The Loved Ones.” I dare you!

Wild Life

While the term “Simplistic rock and roll” carries a positive connotation through most of Kick, this is not the case with “Wild Life”. “Wild Life” feels more like filler than any other song on Kick thus far. “Wild Life” feels extremely formulaic and just boring. I guess not every song can be a winner.

Grade: D

“Wild Life” loses my interest pretty quickly…I’m not willing to spend anymore time on this song.

Calling All Nations

“Calling All Nations” is another example of a song that’s just there. As track 11, perhaps INXS (or their record label) figured only true fans of the band would listen to “Calling All Nations” more than once or twice. That might be the excuse for the song, but with 11 other songs, Kick didn’t need the padding of “Calling All Nations.”

At the same time, I can respect the message of “Calling All Nations.” Essentially the song is a call for all people to gather in peace. How can I argue with that?

Grade: C-/D+

I can’t argue with the message, but I can argue with “Calling All Nations'” composition.

Tiny Daggers

“Tiny Daggers” shows that even if a band plays simplistic rock music, this does not mean their music is simple. While the music feels happy, “Tiny Daggers” calls out to a friend that has changed for the worse. “Tiny Daggers “gives us a personal message to this friend.

“Tiny Daggers” is, like almost every other song on Kick, a song that repeats itself again and again…and again. In this case though, the repetition mimics human history. There will always be that one friend who changes because of a cruel world – because of people who, don’t fight their own inner evilness, and thus let it spill out onto others. Every single one of us, the devil inside…

The closing track of Kick, “Tiny Daggers,” is a great capstone for the album. “Tiny Daggers” serves as an interesting book end with the opening track as well – as “Guns In The Sky” warns of the evils of the world at large, whereas “Tiny Daggers” warns us the evils of the personal world.

Grade: A-

Certainly one of my favorite tracks on the album by far. I wish they had released “Tiny Daggers” as as single. I might have been an INXS fan for 30 years, instead of 3.

Does Kick’s simplistic rock stylings work in 2019?

The songs of Kick rate from really good to really bad, with most of the songs being average or above average. The message of Kick, however, talks about the evils of the world, of other people, and even the evils inside our own souls. The repetitive lyrics, simple music, and stripped down instrumentation of simplistic rock makes this message a lot more accessible. Perhaps the simplistic rock and hard hitting message of Kick gave the audiences of 1987, and even 0f 2019, exactly what they (and we) need(ed).

Yes – some of the songs on Kick just don’t cut it. Some of the songs sound dated. You know what – fast forward through those. You Don’t have to listen to “New Sensation” or “Kick” or “Wild Life.” You should, however, listen to “Devil Inside,” “Meditate,” “Tiny Daggers,” and “Guns In The Sky.” And again – the simplistic rock stylings make their message easy to digest.

All in all, the experiment of simplistic rock stylings that is Kick really does hold value in 2019. Oh, and make sure to slow dance with you sweetheart to “Never Tear Us Apart.”

Image By David.moreno72 - Pentax z-20, Tokina 28-70, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55963738Simplistic Rock Artist and lead singer of Michael Hutchence
RIP Michael Hutchence – 1960-1997
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