June 16, 2004



INXScusable: Singer search hits desperation level

Judas Priest made a questionable personnel decision years ago by hiring the singer of a Priest cover band to replace the departed Rob Halford. That move pales in comparison to what INXS plans to do to fill the late Michael Hutchence's shoes.

Stories have circulated lately confirming that the surviving members of the Australian rock band have teamed with TV producer Mark Burnett, the primary creative force behind Survivor and The Apprentice, to present Rock Star, an upcoming reality show that will serve as a worldwide search for INXS' next singer.

It's a search and a show that the public -- particularly longtime INXS fans -- might not want to see. And those people who decide to tune in shouldn't get their hopes up.

To say that Hutchence was INXS would be unfair to the musicians -- keyboardist-guitarist Andrew Farriss, guitarist Tim Farriss, guitarist-saxophonist Kirk Pengilly, bassist Garry Gary Beers and drummer Jon Farriss. After all, it was their often-danceable grooves that gave Hutchence a solid musical foundation over which he could strut his stuff. However, there's no denying that Hutchence was the voice and the face of INXS -- much like Jim Morrison was for The Doors -- and when it comes to certain bands, sometimes the public doesn't exactly embrace a replacement singer.

Since Hutchence's death in 1997, INXS has employed three. From 2000 to 2003, relative unknown Jon Stevens gave it a shot, following shorter stints by more established names -- Jimmy Barnes and Terence Trent D'Arby. The turnover, regardless of the reasons, might be an indication that the hands of fate are against INXS.

But no band can be faulted for trying to sustain a career. It would seem that an act with INXS' track record shouldn't have to wade into the reality TV cesspool to find another singer, but the remaining five guys are willing to take that dive.

It's been reported that Rock Star contestants are expected to attend a series of workshops dealing with such areas as songwriting and performance. Those are skills that can be taught, and the next INXS singer had better be a good student, especially when it comes to the former. A quick glance at the liner notes of 2002's The Best of INXS shows that Hutchence co-wrote 16 of the album's 21 songs, including the hits "What You Need," "New Sensation," "Need You Tonight," "Devil Inside" and "Suicide Blonde."

But there are some things that people either have or they don't, and one is charisma, which arguably was Hutchence's greatest strength. Much like U2's Bono, Hutchence was the focal point of his band; he knew all eyes were on him and seemed to thrive on the attention. It takes a rare individual to withstand that type of pressure in the spotlight.

Another organic characteristic that is infinitely important to a band is chemistry. Hutchence and his INXS mates developed their bond as a band over a period of years on the road and in the studio, starting in 1977. In comparison, the condensed period of time it takes to film a TV reality series is a drop in the bucket and not exactly the most natural environment for a band to gel personally or musically, even when only one of the members is a newcomer.

Sometime next year, Rock Star is expected to air on a major U.S. television network, and at its conclusion, INXS will have a new singer. Too bad Burnett and INXS didn't pay attention to TV's dating reality shows and realize that manufactured relationships often lead to nothing.

-- By Chris M. Junior

Sounding Off, a music opinion column, appears regularly on www.medleyville.us

Posted by medleyville at June 16, 2004 03:31 PM