Andrew Farriss talks to SDE • Thoughts on the Dolby Atmos mix.
Although it didn’t quite make the SDE top 10 reissues of the year, Universal Music’s 2017 reissue of INXS 1987 album Kick was a very impressive re-release.
The four-disc edition of Kick 30 included a Dolby Atmos surround sound version on blu-ray (with all the videos), two bonus CDs (which comprehensively rounded up all the remixes, live tracks and the odd demo/outtake) and a remastered version of the original album. All that was (and is) available for sub-£30. It doesn’t really make up for the flawed Kick 25 though, because most fans are likely to have bought that as well. That slightly more lavish set cost around £50 and included less content than Kick 30. So your total outlay is getting on for £80 and the five year old release is now semi – or almost entirely – redundant.
The Dolby Atmos mix on Kick 30 is interesting. I attended a listening session for it late last year in a suitably equipped room in Abbey Road Studios and it was something of an assault on the senses, particularly with the opener Guns in the Sky. The kick drum and snare sound enormous. Atmos seems to be all about ‘height’ – the sounds fire at you from ceiling level, which takes a bit of getting used to. Of course, the world famous studios had speakers in the ceiling, but I imagine home set-ups are not likely to be as impressive (or destructive). Dolby Atmos accredited ‘soundbars’ and speakers help with this and are designed to ‘fire’ sounds up to the ceiling and bounce them down to your listening position to create the same effect. I haven’t been in a position to test this yet.
If you don’t have a Dolby Atmos compatible amplifier hooked up to a soundbar or similar, we are assured that the blu-ray will deliver “an enhanced sound experience on any surround sound set-up”. I did test this and my results were inconclusive. Giles Martin and Sam Okell’s Atmos mix of Kick results in quite a front-heavy mix in a standard 5.1 set-up, particularly on the centre speaker, where there is all manner of sounds coming through. Normally with a centre speaker you might get an isolated lead vocal (which can sound disconcerting) or various elements randomly turning up (guitar solo here, piano riff there). The centre channel is very busy on a non-Atmos system in a way that I’m not sure I like, particularly. That combined with the fact that there’s not a massive amount going on via the rear channels (not really Giles’ style) make me uncertain about how successful the mix is when played through a standard 5.1 set-up.
It will be interesting to see how Universal deal with any future INXS reissues. I brought up the subject late last year when I had a brief conversation with Andrew Farriss from the band. Of course, Andrew wrote most of the songs on the album with Michael Hutchence. I started the conversation by asking him how he assessed Kick 30 years on from the original release….
Andrew Farriss: Where did those years go? [laughs]. I was amazed when we had a special listening event where people came along, including the public, in a big theatre here in Sydney, in George Street. I was really nervous, having all of us put so much effort into it, so long ago, I thought ‘I hope this is good’… and it was [laughs]. I was really pleased that the public were really into it, with people dancing and clapping and it was cool. I suppose it brought back, for me, a lot of memories. Memories of writing the album, recording it, the process. The process gets lost in the tyranny of time. You just think ‘oh yeah, that happened..’ But it wasn’t that simple. There’s a lot that went into making those recordings…. and not just by the band, but by a lot of very talented people around us who were trying help us do whatever it was we thought we were trying to do.
SDE: Where did those songs come from, those big monster hits that you and Michael wrote?
AF: That’s an interesting question. Because recently we’ve been paying so much attention to this particular album, I’ve been album to recall a lot of what went on. To answer it simply, the album before that was Listen Like Thieves and we had one particular hit called What You Need off that, that went top five in the US and was a really big hit all over the world.This was about 1985 and we’d mixed rock with funk… there was a few people [such as] Ian Dury and The Blockheads, Talking Heads and a few others, who were messing around with similar ideas, but we wanted to do it ‘balls to the wall’, if you’ll pardon the expression, and just make some big thumping thing. But with that particular track What You Need, I remember being at home feeling really strange about [the success] but I didn’t know why. Then I sat down and realised that we’ve just had this big monster hit, we’d got MTV awards for the video, and I suddenly realised the [weight] of responsibility in terms of following that thing up. It was really interesting because I spoke to Michael shortly afterwards and he was thinking exactly the same thing. We were really fortunate, because the other members of INXS besides myself and Michael – my brothers Tim and Jon and Gary and Kirk – we were on tour, I think somewhere in Germany, and we were talking about the next album and I think it was me that said ‘Michael and I are on to something with this rock and funk thing – can you guys just please run with our ideas when we get to the studio.’ It could have been a ‘no, fuck you’ type of thing, but they didn’t – they turned around and said ‘Sure. We’ll back you’. Honestly, that was the turning point. The beginning of giving Michael and I the keys to a very nice car. But in terms of your question, the biggest hits were Mystify, Need You Tonight, New Sensation, Never Tear Us Apart and Devil Inside. The interesting thing with those songs is that they aren’t all exactly the same, either. Never Tear Us Apart is a really different kind of song to Devil Inside. Need You Tonight and New Sensation are a bit more related, because they had that funk thing going on, but Mystify was different again.
SDE: When you had recorded the album, but before it had been released, what was the reaction? Was there a lot of excitement from the band and the label, that this was going to be a monster?
AF: That’s a really good question. I think we were really, really excited about the album, but it was nothing like anything we were hearing on the radio. I think the record company was nervous… you know, frankly, I’m not sure they knew what to do with us. A lot of acts at the time were making music that sounded similar to their other songs, the grooves sounded like the other grooves and the beats sounded similar… but a lot of Kick doesn’t sound like the same song – it jumps all over the place. So the record company weren’t sure what to do and Never Tear Us Apart in particular… I’m going say this, I don’t mind, I live by it, but when we first brought that song to the band, I wasn’t convinced it was any use on the album. I thought it was a silly thing really… it sounds so old fashioned, with this very emotional lyric. And yet you’ve got this other song going ‘fuck, let’s go baby. Let’s get it on’. But Michael was a fan and [producer] Chris Thomas in particular, and in the end they were right. It was originally more like a band track with tremolo guitar instead of strings and things. It was Chris who suggested playing the chords with some string sounds and we experimented and that’s why it sounds how it sounds.
SDE: After it was all finished, how did the massive success of ‘Kick’, particularly in America, with all the hit singles and the touring, how did it change the band?
AF: That’s another interesting question. I remember we were at a big, big festival somewhere in Europe by the end of that tour – it was something like 14 months we did touring that record, or something ridiculous – and my brother Jon got something like a repetitive strain injury in his legs. He played very hard, and even though we were young, he was still struggling to perform at that energy level at that point. Sting was at the same festival and he’d heard about my brother and came over to see if he was alright. That tour, in particular, was a slow burn. It didn’t start off as a big thrilling experience. It was interesting… we actually took the band around all the little C and B markets in America, playing all the little colleges… that’s how we started the tour and by the end we were playing stadiums. It was bizarre. Even though we’d done big gigs before, like festivals, it really was a turning point for us. Once the record company got it and radio got it, it just flew.
SDE: Talking about the reissue in particular, it was only five years ago that the 25th anniversary reissue came out and now we have this one. Does it frustrate you a little bit that the record company are fixated on ‘Kick’ and none of your other albums have received this treatment?
AF: It’s funny you should ask that because I was looking recently at just how much work we did around the Kick period and afterwards on subsequent albums. Before that, with Listen Like Thieves we had a couple of sort of outtake things… like Mannish Boy with Muddy Waters, but we didn’t have much in the way of outtakes and novelty tracks. We had some, but not much. With Kick we realised we weren’t just a ‘touring band’ we could be a recording band. With our career before Listen Like Thieves, I always thought we were a touring band who put out soundtrack albums. Really. And it wasn’t until probably when we met Nile Rodgers and recorded Original Sin in New York in ’83 [that things changed]. In fact, David Bowie‘s Let’s Dance album… the day after David and his band took their gear out we went in, to record our track the next day. Literally, the next day. So we were very much shocked, that we could do something like that. Your question is an interesting one, because the tracks that we did after Kick and so many of those recordings, we began to take our time and experiment. And if you look carefully at a lot of the outtakes and rarities and odd things off Kick, they don’t sound like Kick at all. I mean, Jesus Was A Man and some of that stuff is pretty much from outer space really, compared to the album…
SDE: But tell me about future plans. I’m a particular fan of ‘Welcome to Wherever You Are’ which I think is an amazing record. Are there any plans to reissue your other albums, and that one in particular?
AF: Good question. Welcome to Wherever You Are we were experimenting at that period a lot too and I think that album and the ‘X’ album that we did before, but particularly with Welcome to Wherever You Are, what we were trying to do – and I think we mostly did it – we didn’t want to make another Kick. Probably a crazy commercial decision…
SDE: But a great creative one…
AF: Yeah, I hope so. Let’s put it this way, if we hadn’t changed the creative direction before we were doing Kick, we wouldn’t have had Kick. And so we wanted to keep experimenting with our sound and what we could come up with and I think Welcome to Wherever You Are really confused a lot of people because it didn’t sound like the INXS they knew as a stadium band. They were like ‘what the hell is this?’ [laughs]. You know, it had weird sort of sitar things and all kinds of odd sounds. What we were also trying to do – and this is a bit confusing as well – but we didn’t just want to make Welcome to Wherever You Are we wanted to make an album straight after that – not tour, for the first time, off of the back of one of our studio albums and do another album again. Unfortunately Michael had hit his head not long after Welcome to Wherever You Are and he was a bit ill for a while but he [eventually] got much better and we finished the album. We probably would have had a better experience internationally with radio if we’d done a tour after Welcome to Wherever You Are, but we didn’t. I think Welcome to Wherever You Are with rarities and outtakes and stuff.. it is an interesting set of recordings and I think, lyrically as well it challenged things. It was a bit more personal, the writing on it. I was writing about having children and Michael was writing about experiences with relationships and then there was the more esoteric things on the album. Welcome.. had gone a long way from where we were with Kick.
SDE: So is that going to be reissued next? Do you know what the plans are?
AF: Er, to be honest with you I don’t know exactly, but I think that would be good. And the other album, which is a very interesting record, is Elegantly Wasted, the last album we did with Michael. Michael and I had both talked a lot about writing and we’d spent a lot of time in Europe in particular, in his house in France and also in Spain and later with the band in Canada. We spent quite a lot of time working through ideas for that album. There’s some amazing recording techniques on Elegantly Wasted… some of them are pretty cool, some great drum sounds for example. But also Michael, particularly, was going through some heavy shit at that time in his life and I think it was very important for him to get it all out on that record. Lyrically, I still find it fairly confronting to listen to a lot of that album, because I remember exactly what it was like when we writing it. Discussions about what the songs were about, who they were about. But Welcome too.. my bid would be for those too albums, to really explore the outtakes and things from those albums.
Thanks to Andrew Farriss who was talking to Paul Sinclair for SDE.
The Kick 30 reissue of Kick is out now.
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Kick 30 - 3CD+blu-ray deluxe edition
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Kick 30 - half-speed mastered 2LP vinyl
Kick 30 / 3CD+Blu-ray deluxe edition
CD 1 – ORIGINAL ALBUM REMASTERED
1. Guns In The Sky
2. New Sensation
3. Devil Inside
4. Need You Tonight
6. The Loved One
7. Wild Life
8. Never Tear Us Apart
11. Calling All Nations
12. Tiny Daggers
CD2 – DEMOS, MIXES & MORE
1. Move On [Guitar Version]
2. I’m Coming (Home)
3. Mediate [Live From America]
4. Never Tear Us Apart [Live From America]
5. Kick [Live From America]
6. On The Rocks
7. Do Wot You Do
8. Mystify [Chicago Demo]
9. Jesus Was A Man [Demo]
10. The Trap [Demo]
11. Guns In The Sky [Kick Ass Remix]
12. Need You Tonight [Mendelsohn Extended Mix]
13. Move On
CD3 – ADDITIONAL MIXES & B-SIDES
(tracks in bold, new additions compared to KICK 25)
1. Never Tear Us Apart [Soul Version]
2. New Sensation [Nick 12” Mix]
3. New Sensation [Nick 7” Mix]
4. Devil Inside [Extended Remix]
5. Devil Inside [7” Version]
6. Devil Inside [Radio Edit]
7. Different World [12” Version]
8. Different World [7” Version]
9. Need You Tonight [Big Bump Mix]
10. Need You Tonight [Ben Liebrand Mix]
11. Need You Tonight [Mendelsohn 7″ Edit]
12. Guns in the Sky [Kookaburra Mix]
13. Calling All Nations [Kids On Bridges Remix]
14. Shine Like it Does [Live]
1. Kick Mixed in Dolby Atmos & High Definition Audio
2. Promo Videos
Guns In The Sky
Need You Tonight
Never Tear Us Apart
Kick [New 2017 promo]
Kick 30 / 2LP half-speed mastered vinyl
1 Guns in the Sky
2 New Sensation
3 Devil Inside
1 Need You Tonight
3 The Loved One
1 Wild Life
2 Never Tear Us Apart
2 Calling All Nations
3 Tiny Daggers