Favorite Albums: INXS, Welcome to Wherever You Are

For some people, INXS was that band that kind of slid into semi-obscurity after the mega-huge multimillion-selling album Kick from 1987. They followed up in 1990 with X which contained a few hits such as “Suicide Blonde”, “Disappear” and “Bitter Tears”, but they never quite hit the same heights after that ’87 album. By the early 90s they were an 80s rock band trying to compete with the oncoming 90s alternative rock wave.

In late summer of 1992, they released what I think is their best 90s album, Welcome to Wherever You Are, and it’s often one that get the least attention of their later career. It’s a band growing out of their old sounds and styles and trying out new things.

The album was preceded by a teaser single, “Heaven Sent”, which features the band sounding gritty, playing loud and loose, the complete antithesis of the glossy tracks on X. Back in my college days, Boston’s alt-rock station WFNX picked up on it and gave it a decent rotation as it fit in nicely with their current playlist of grunge, Britpop and late post-punk. The follow-up single in the UK and Australia was the groovy singalong “Baby Don’t Cry” which also received local airplay here in the States.

Welcome to Wherever You Are is all over the place, but that’s a part of its charm. The production also has a distinctly early-90s quality to it, heavy on the treble and distortion for maximum loudness. There’s the bouncy New Jack beat of “Baby Don’t Cry” as well as the funky Madchester beat of the US follow-up single “Not Enough Time”, which is my favorite track off the album. It’s got a laid back mid-tempo groove and a smooth delivery that makes you want to move. (It’s also got a fantastic slow build to a glorious coda, and you know how much I love those.)

They didn’t completely ignore their own tried-and-true styles, however. Even with the tense beats and trippy feel of “Taste It” (complete with video that most definitely did not get airplay on MTV in the US due to its, er, sexiness), there were hints of the classic INXS seeping through. The gorgeous ballad “Beautiful Girl” (featuring backing vocal from none other than U2’s Bono) could have fit anywhere on their last three albums and really should have been a hit single for them.

[Side note: I will always equate this song with the radio commercial for Cambridge Soundworks that WFNX used to play in late ’92 into ’93, which used the instrumental opening as its music bed.]

Interestingly, one of the downfalls of this album — aside from it being from an 80s band and released during the initial relentless wave of Nirvana, Metallica, Soundgarden, and all the other grunge and metal favorites of all the bros out there — was that they chose not to tour for this album. Instead they would let the singles run the course while working on the follow-up album, 1993’s Full Moon, Dirty Hearts. That particular album went further in the direction of attempting new sounds to fit in with current styles, but alas did not quite nail the landing; it’s got some fantastic singles (“The Gift” is a powerhouse track that demands top volume, and “Please (You Got That…)” is great bluesy fun with Ray Charles duetting) but overall it feels a bit disjointed and out of place. Despite this, they’d continue touring and releasing a greatest hits compilation, but not re-emerging with anything new until 1997’s Elegantly Wasted, which was a fine return to form but unfortunately their swan song with Michael Hutchence, who died later that year.

All told, listening back to this album now, Welcome to Wherever You Are is truly a fantastic album that just happened to be out of place with everything surrounding it, including the rest of the band’s discography. Some of its singles do still get airplay now and again, but more often than not you’ll hear something from Listen Like Thieves or Kick instead. It’s a deep-cut kind of album that really deserves another listen.

Spare Oom Playlist, March 2021 Edition

Thanks for waiting! As promised, here’s my list of new tunage that’s been rumbling through my speakers as of late. It was a quietish month for the most part, as the March release calendar usually is, but it contained some quality music that I’m sure I’ll be listening to by the end of the year.

Jane Weaver, Flock, released 5 March. This is a peculiar yet catchy album that I keep coming back to. It kind of reminds me a bit of St Vincent, only with a bit more of a Stereolab synth studio-boffin approach.

Barbarossa, Love Here Listen, released 5 March. Speaking of synth bloopiness, this is another one that popped up and stuck in my head during my writing sessions.

Ghost of Vroom, 1, released 19 March. For those of you who loved Soul Coughing back in the day, this band is for you. Mike Doughty has returned to his oddball poetry rap over funky riffs and quirky samples (thus the band name, hinting at the SC debut Ruby Vroom) and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. It’s hard not to listen to this album without grooving along! This one’s definitely going to get a lot of listening here in Spare Oom! [Side note: Doughty prefaced this album in December with a three-track EP fittingly entitled 2. That one has a track called “Rona Pollona” that’s been getting some airplay on KEXP.]

Too Much Joy, Mistakes Were Made, released 19 March. I’ve been following TMJ’s singer Tim Quirk on Twitter and he’s always a lot of fun (he just wrapped up a super-long Tumblr post series called “5-Star Songs” that was wonderful), and I’m happy to say that his band’s first new record in years is a corker. They still retain their goofy sense of humor — their deep-fake video above for “Uncle Watson Wants to Think” is both creepy and hilarious — but they’ve also tempered it with some serious moments as well.

Middle Kids, Today We’re the Greatest, released 19 March. I’m still not quite sure where to file this one, as it seems to shift between mellow bedroom pop and bouncy indie rock, but it’s fascinating and I keep coming back to it during my writing sessions!

Ringo Starr, Zoom In EP, released 26 March. Still going strong after all these years, Ringo brings out his classic cheerful, positive sound once more, once again with a little help from his friends.

Siamese Youth, Echoes of Tomorrow, released 26 March. A recent find that is of course right in my wheelhouse. It’s light and fun, and self-consciously so, and that’s part of its charm. It’s a feel-good album meant to be enjoyed and lift your spirits. It’s up there with The Sound of Arrows as a record perfect for my writing sessions!

Fitz, Head Up High, released 26 March. The Tantrums’ lead singer drops a solo album that sounds like it easily could have been a FatT record, but it focuses much more on his poppier side and less so on the groove. It’s an interesting shift, but it works just fine.

UNKLE, Ronin I Mixtape, released 26 March. I will of course download any and all UNKLE music. This one is James Lavelle’s project of reworking some previously released tracks and creating new ones, also while revisiting the sound experiments of Psyence Fiction and Never Never Land that initially made the group’s name.

tUnE-yArDs, sketchy., released 26 March. Merrill Garbus returns with a record that may not be as off-kilter as WHOKILL but definitely contains that fascinating oddness the band is known for. It’s got some great radio-friendly tracks as well, such as “Nowhere, Man” and the above.

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Not bad for what’s usually a slow month! I’m looking forward to more in April, in which we’ll see some classic reissues, a few new platters from bands we haven’t heard in a while, and some long-awaited titles that have teased us for a few months!

BRB, scheduling my vaccinations

Oof, that was quite a chore. I just spent close to six hours this morning trolling eight or nine different websites (plus a phone app) looking for COVID vaccination openings, but my diligence and French-Canadian stubbornness PAID OFF. I will be getting the first dose next Thursday over in Mill Valley, which is a shortish trip across the Golden Gate Bridge from here, with dose #2 TBA at the same place. WIN!

Anyway, I was planning on doing a Spare Oom Playlist March Edition post today but due to said trolling (and needing to get some work done later today), I’ll push it off to tomorrow. Thanks for waiting!