“All we’ve got is this moment,” INXS frontman Michael Hutchence implores in the band’s biggest American hit, “Need You Tonight.” But in the case of the band’s landmark sixth studio album Kick (1987), nothing could be further from the truth. The album, which sold more than nine million copies around the world and spun off five hit singles, has received no less than four expanded reissues in the last 15 years. In 2002, Atlantic Records and Rhino (who oversee the band’s catalogue in North America) remastered and expanded the album with four unreleased demos and outtakes; two years later, Mercury Records (the band’s European label) issued a double-disc deluxe edition that featured none of those outtakes but a disc’s worth of B-sides and 12″ remixes. In 2012, Mercury again rolled out the red carpet with Kick 25, a 3CD/1DVD set featuring all the material from the previous reissues, a handful of extra bonus tracks and a DVD featuring some documentary and behind-the-scenes footage and some of the videos.
Now, only five years later, Kick 30 (Atlantic/Rhino/Petrol R2 565069) again ups the ante: a 3CD/1Blu-ray set that features all the audio from Kick 25 (plus another seven bonus tracks – essentially every song, edit or mix from the Kick era), a new Dolby Atmos mix of the album, and all the Kick-era videos (but none of the documentary footage). The fourth Kick reissue in 15 years. Is this finally the definitive take on this must-hear album? Unfortunately, the bevy of special features don’t quite add up to a truly mystifying package.
If you’ve never heard Kick, here’s what you need to know. After breaking out from Australia to America with 1985’s Listen Like Thieves and the U.S. Top 5 hit “What You Need,” INXS were poised to make even bigger waves with their next album. The live energy that followed the band from their previous tours was still there, and songs (chiefly written by Hutchence with keyboardist/guitarist Andrew Farriss) were flowing. Augmented by Chris Thomas’ steely production, Kick combined the band’s own raucous rock ‘n’ roll energy with the austerity of European pop and the edge of late ’80s funk and soul – and struck some serious commercial as well as artistic gold.
The growling guitar riffs from Tim Farriss and Kirk Pengilly (who also infused many of the songs with barely tamed blasts of saxophone) and the jittery rhythm section of bassist Garry Gary Beers and drummer Jon Farriss coalesced under Andrew’s peerless musical direction – and Hutchence’s smoldering model looks and neo-Jagger voice added a tidal wave of attitude to the project. From The Rolling Stones to The 1975, the waves Kick sent out by jumping into the pool of rock can still be felt to this day. You doubtlessly know the taut “Need You Tonight” and anthems like “New Sensation” and the churning ballad “Never Tear Us Apart,” but Kick offers much beyond even its singles: barely containable, bouncing bursts of energy like “Wild Life,” “Calling All Nations” and the throttling title track; a hearty take on Aussie bar band The Loved Ones’ “The Loved One”; and resolute closing track “Tiny Daggers,” which still feels like the last thrilling roller-coaster drop at the end of this album-length amusement park.
But if one thing has marred Kick in all its reissues, it’s the mastering: overdriven and compressed, sopping much of the album’s sonic power. Kick 25 was particularly offensive in this regard, even more so than Rhino’s loud 2002 reissue – and Kick 30 doesn’t seem to do anyone many favors here, especially as it’s not clear who mastered the album. (One page of the booklet seemingly cops to remastering the last remaster, credited to Giovanni Scatola in 2011, and done again by Alex Gordon at Abbey Road. One page later, Don Bartley, who remastered the 2002 and 2004 editions, was again given credit for mastering the original album.) In either case, this writer A/B’d with a recently acquired copy of the original CD as issued by Atlantic in 1987, and the difference was striking.
But you don’t buy a deluxe edition of an album just for the original LP, of course, and Kick 30 packs quite a punch in terms of its bonus content. There’s an additional 27 tracks here: everything from every previous reissue, plus a handful of period and slightly non-contemporaneous cuts. (For those keeping track: additional cuts are the short, Australian single edit of “Devil Inside,” the longer version of “Different World,” as heard on the “Crocodile” Dundee soundtrack and the “Listen Like Thieves” 12″ single; three remixes and edits of “Need You Tonight”; the “Kookaburra Mix” of opening track “Guns in the Sky” from the “New Sensation” single; and a closing live version of “Shine Like It Does” from the band’s 1985 concert for the Prince and Princess of Wales.)
INXS were never particularly a “B-sides band”; one has only to hear faux-jazzy throwaway “On the Rocks” or rough demos of “Mystify” and “The Trap” (which bears similarity to “Tiny Daggers”) to realize this. That’s not to say there isn’t gold herein, like the catchy enough “Move On” (the “guitar version” from the 2002 reissue is the superior version) or the blistering pop of “Do Wot You Do” from the Pretty In Pink soundtrack in 1986. And while Kick‘s singles followed the trends of the age by starting to include 12″ mixes that were less extended versions and more unpredictable alternate takes on the songs in question, there’s a lot to enjoy here, like Nick Launay’s takes on “New Sensation,” interesting approaches to “Need You Tonight” by Julian Mendelsohn and Ben Liebrand (these helped carry the song to chart success in the U.K.) and the intriguing Kids On Bridges vamp on “Calling All Nations,” as commissioned for Kick 25. (One curious omission here: “Good Times” and “Laying Down the Law,” the band’s collaborations with Cold Chisel frontman Jimmy Barnes that kicked off the Australian tour preceding Kick. While not precisely a track from the period, neither are “Do Wot You Do” nor “Different World” – and all have a place as stopgap, pre-Kick soundtrack cuts, with “Good Times” and “Law” ending up on the album for teen vampire drama The Lost Boys. “Good Times” is even discussed and reference in the liner notes several times, so it’s hard to reconcile this omission.)
While it’s great to have just about all the Kick-era material in one place – especially as opposed to three different products – the bonus discs do suffer under the same team of Scatola and Gordon. Launay’s rare 7″ version of “New Sensation,” for instance, is meant to crackle with a bit more radio-ready energy than even Bob Clearmountain’s original album mix. What we instead get is a version of the track that just needs to be turned down. As there aren’t many digital resources to find this material, it’s rather unfortunate that it all sounds the way it does, in just about every place you can get it.
Kick 30 closes with a Blu-ray featuring the original album in Dolby Atmos and PCM stereo – mixed by Giles Martin and Sam Okell, the team behind The Beatles’ brilliant Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band remix this year – and eight promo videos. While I confess to not having a Dolby Atmos set-up (nor a fax machine, an Apple IIc, polio or a falcon), I did gamely listen to the mix as flattened to my stereo speakers. Those with a full rig are definitely going to hear the difference; so much of the INXS mystique focuses on the band’s charisma and attitude that it’s easy to forget the Farrisses and Beers are terrific musicians. That’s rectified in Atmos – many great riffs and moments from deeper within the mix are brought to the fore – though the new approach does slim down a bit of the reverb that firmly put the record in 1987. It’s a drier mix for sure, and your mileage may vary. Good things cannot be as quickly said about the video portion, which suffers from a clumsy interface (no “play all” function) and, more egregiously, edits on three of the videos. Intros to “New Sensation” and “Need You Tonight” are shortened, and as each video plays as a discrete feature with no continuous play, the seamless transition from “Need You Tonight” to “Mediate” is lost entirely. What makes this even less forgivable is that the videos can be viewed uncut on the band’s YouTube page. (A new promo video for the title track, featuring new footage of skateboarders in Venice, California, is wildly inessential.)
A handsome box set design can make or break a box set of less-than-sterling quality, and Kick 30‘s appearance hovers dangerously toward the “break” side. A spined carrier for the four discs is the one place to find the album’s instantly recognizable full sleeve artwork; on the outer case, it’s reduced to just Hutchence and the skateboarding feet of Tim Farriss. (In another indicator of sloppy design, the subtitles of the bonus discs as written on the package – “Demos, Mixes & More,” “Additional Mixes & B-Sides” and “Dolby Atmos Mix & Hi-Resolution Audio” – are written as “Demos & Mixes,” “Alternate Versions, B-Sides & Additional Mixes” and “High-Definition Audio & Promo Videos” on the disc labels themselves.) The 44-page booklet does feature a great, multi-part, in-depth essay from Daryl Easlea and great photographs from the band archive – though it’s a shaky landing with no original discographical information provided for the bonus content.
If you’ve never owned INXS’ Kick, rectify that immediately with an original copy of the album. I’m no audiophile, but I can tell you that nothing comes close. If you’re a hardcore fan who’s tried to track down all the previous reissues of the album for these bonus tracks, this is the set to get. But you can’t help but wonder at what could have been. Sometimes you kick, sometimes you get kicked; Kick 30 manages to do both.