INXS was one of the earliest bands I remember liking, probably a full year or two before I first started buying music. My cousin got me into them because he loved their 1992 album Welcome to Wherever You Are, and this led me to purchase their 1994 Greatest Hits album pretty early on in my CD buying years. Though I no longer have it--I replaced it with the more comprehensive 42-track anthology, Shine Like It Does--I listened to it a hell of a lot in those first few years of my music fandom, and I don't think I ever quite understood at the time that they were a different sort of band. I just assumed that they were like R.E.M. or U2--they'd been around longer, but otherwise were part of the same alternative scene that I was listening to. The fact that I had never seen one of their videos on MTV apparently didn't phase me from that belief.
As was typical for the time, their Greatest Hits included two new songs to coax their fans into paying for music they mostly already had, and one of those new songs, "The Strangest Party (These Are the Times)" became arguably my favorite INXS song.
INXS are one of the hardest bands to peg into any sort of style. They're general vibe is dance pop, but they sure as hell don't sound like any other dance pop bands. They're mostly guitar driven, which is unique enough, and the chorus's usually reach a level of epic sing-along. If you could somehow have a New Wave band completely devoid of any punk influence (which I realize is a mutually exclusive concept), then I guess that gets you close, but still somehow not quite. Maybe the reason I assumed they were part of the alternative music scene at the time was because they didn't fit anywhere else either. And they were at least rock and roll, even if a heavily danceable, pop version.
I've always been a sucker for a good epic pop song, and "The strangest Party" definitely qualifies. The guitar doesn't even register until the chorus, with mostly just the vocals and drums making an impact before then. Then the chorus explodes into a glorious party anthem that demands to be sung along to.
It seems uncouth to like INXS these days, and I've never quite understood why. You never even see Kick on any "Best Albums of the '80s" lists, which is pretty baffling. People seem to love hearing their singles in isolated bursts, but somehow can't equate that with liking the band across the continuum. A large swath of their work stands the test of time, and a song like "Need You Tonight" still sounds like it could have come out last month. It's like their sound captured the best of what people think of as "The '80s" without ever being held prisoner by the stench of the '80s. And yet, we somehow collectively hold that stench against them, even though it's not there. Pop culture doesn't always make sense.
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