- The Washington Times - Monday, November 28, 2005

INXS

Switch

Burnett/Epic Records

The strange career of J.D. Fortune included stints as a paid Elvis Presley impersonator and a songwriter for a Canadian television show. For a time, he called his car home.

Now he’s the lead singer of what was once one of the most popular rock bands in the world — INXS. Mr. Fortune was chosen by the Australian rockers in September from a bevy of hopefuls on the globally televised reality show “Rock Star: INXS.”



Why is pretty obvious: He sounds a heckuva lot like the late Michael Hutchence, the original, ill-fated INXS frontman who died — whether accidentally or deliberately, no one knows for sure — by hanging in 1997.

The decision to forge ahead without Mr. Hutchence, whose good looks, lush voice and strutting charisma had much to do with the band’s MTV-aided success in the mid-‘80s, is understandable. His surviving band mates waited almost a decade, a more than decent interval, before picking up the pieces.

It wasn’t long enough, however, to justify the tacky “American Idol”-like spectacle that led to Mr. Fortune’s hiring.

Now, the more generous among us might consider a show like “Rock Star” to be more of a — what’s the Miss America distinction? — scholarship program than a beauty pageant. Nevertheless, did the band need to resort to such base showbiz tactics to find a suitable replacement?

The just-released “Switch” is the twist of a knife already in flesh. “Switch” sounds exactly like you’d imagine an album that was recorded hurriedly under the tutelage of a slick U.K. producer such as Guy Chambers, and on the heels of a worldwide hype machine, would sound: almost entirely substance-free, with a cherry on top.

The track selection for “Switch” was impeccably democratic, with each member, even the newbie Mr. Fortune, having a hand in the songwriting. Outside contributors such as Desmond Child and the Matrix also were brought in to spice up the offerings of a band that has been on blocks since the Clinton era.

I liked a few of the stabs at classic INXS from keyboardist Andrew Farriss, who doubles on six-string (his brothers, Tim and Jon, play guitar and drums respectively).

“Devil’s Party,” a horn-laden dance groove, goes down easily enough once you’re over the spook of Mr. Fortune’s mimetic vocal performance. “Pretty Vegas” is the kind of Stonesy, new-wave cross-fertilization that made INXS such a potent commodity in the ‘80s. Even the silly “Hot Girls” — it’s about a guy who stares seductively at a girl who’s munching on a peach — is likable on some mindless level.

The up-tempo electronic rocker “Perfect Stranger” briefly conjures the buzz of “Kick”-era INXS, especially when Kirk Pengilly blows a sax solo. Then you realize it’s a groin-gazing paean to one-night stands: “Let’s just keep this simple/In the a.m., it’s goodbye.”

In general, “Switch’s” stupendously bad lyrics make it a cringey listen. “Afterglow,” a Middle Eastern-styled ballad co-penned by Mr. Child, loses its luster with lines such as “My mind drifts away/We only have today/Touch me and I will follow.”

“Hungry,” with its driving beat and surging chorus, is tripped up by sentiments such as “You need to find the gift of love that comes from deep inside.” “Like It or Not” and “Us” are little more than hedonistic drivel masquerading as commentary on all the trouble in the world (Mr. Hutchence famously accomplished the latter far more economically when he sang, “Every single one of us, the devil inside.”)

Mr. Fortune doesn’t deserve the blame for the bummer of “Switch”; in fact, he’s far from a bad singer. (The soulful high register he finds on “Remember Who’s Your Man” is particularly nice.) The ultimate problem comes in INXS’ attempt to make him the engineer of an already-steaming train that was well-prepared to leave the station without him.

If you’re wondering who belongs to the female voice that opens “God’s Top Ten,” the album-closing tribute to Mr. Hutchence, it’s “Rock Star” runner-up Suzie McNeil (another Canadian, coincidentally).

INXS, unfortunately, is no longer a rock band. It’s a circus.

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