I love the 90s

Playlist: Remembering Chris Cornell

Last month we lost one of the best voices in rock, Chris Cornell. The news came as a shock to fans and those who knew him best. Many are still trying to make sense of the situation and come to terms that he’s gone. He may no longer be with us, but at least we have the gift of his unforgettable music. Not only did he make wonderful music with Soundgarden and on his own, he recorded various covers throughout his career. Whether with Soundgarden or solo, Cornell gave us some of the most chilling and unforgettable covers reminding us why he was a phenomenal singer. To remember Cornell, let’s look at some of his best cover songs.

“Come Together” – Beatles cover from 

Soundgarden takes this psychedelic Beatles song and turns it into a gritty, dirty affair. They bring in the down tuned guitars, sludgy riffs, and screeching guitars, slowing things down and making everything heavy as hell. They manage to turn the song into a bonafide rocker making you want to bang your head and stick up those devil horns. If you didn’t know anything about The Beatles, you’d be convinced Soundgarden were the originators. It may be gritty, yet Cornell’s vocals keep the soulful vibe of the original.

“Whole Lotta Love” – Led Zeppelin cover from Guitar Heaven The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time

When you get one of music’s greatest guitar players along with one of rock’s greatest vocalists, you know you’re in for something good. In 2010, Carlos Santana and Chris Cornell teamed up for a rousing cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta love.” While it’s very true to the original, you can’t deny how much it just fucking rocks. Santana lights up the guitar making the iconic riff sound sweeter and sexier. Cornell easily gives Robert Plant a run for his money. He hits every note perfectly reminding you what a great singer he was. The Led Zeppelin version will always be great, but Cornell and Santana almost have them beat with their cover. Why didn’t they do a whole album together?

“Billie Jean” – live Michael Jackson cover

Lots of artists cover this Michael Jackson hit, but no one else brings you to tears with it like Chris Cornell. With only his vocals and an acoustic guitar, his rendition is absolutely haunting. Cornell manages to bring out the underlying darkness of this song that you often forget once you hear that iconic beat. He sings the song as if he’s been through this hell himself. His vocal delivery is so powerful and so intense, it would bring tears to your eyes before his untimely death. Not to mention the violent way he plays the guitar rousing a great reaction from the crowd. It’s not only a memorable performance, it shows how versatile he was as a musician.

“Girl U Want” – Devo cover from “Outshined” single

For the b-side on the “Outshined” single, Soundgarden covered this frantic Devo track. They suck all the bouncy energy and fun vibe out of it and turn it into a sludge fest. Everything is slowed down and played heavily as if the guitar’s a sopping wet with mud. Their version is heavy and somewhat dark with the haunting way Cornell delivers the lyrics. It’s a far cry from Devo’s version; if it wasn’t for the guitar riff you wouldn’t even know they were the same song. They definitely stamped the song with their gritty, raw rock sound.

“Nothing Compares 2 U” – live Sinead O’Connor cover

Cornell had a knack for making his covers sound haunting and somber. So it’s surprising that he managed to make this Prince song sound even sadder. That’s not to say it isn’t lovely. The acoustic rendition is as beautiful as the original and Cornell’s gruff vocals are perfectly suited for the song. There’s even a country vibe to it at times, but it doesn’t last long. Since the instrumentation is subdued, it gives you the chance to hear his singing, which is mesmerizing. It’s enough to give you chills, especially with his untimely passing.

“Imagine” – John Lennon cover from Songbook

The thing about Cornell’s covers is they’re straightforward and simplistic, but it’s his voice that makes them outstanding. It’s no different with this John Lennon classic. This song always had a melancholic mood to it, but when Cornell sings it, it’s enough to break your heart. Here we get the best of both worlds; he gives us a taste of his gruff, powerful vocals he’s known for, but we mostly hear his softer, gentler crooning, which is beautiful. Again, he doesn’t try to make the song his own. Rather he adds his chilling vocals for an unshakeable effect.

“Waiting for the Sun” – Doors cover from Echo of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across the Path

For Soundgarden’s cover of this Doors song, things start out muted and somewhat psychedelic. Cornell sounds like he’s mumbling through the lyrics. Just when you’re ready to nod off, the band kicks into high gear and lets it rip. The distorted guitars, throbbing bass, and pounding drums add a much needed dose of adrenaline to the song. It takes a drug induced classic to something that kicks ass. Whenever you hear that brief pause before everything explodes you’re left waiting in anticipation, waiting for the sweet release. When it finally comes, it’s the most satisfying moment.

“Dear Prudence” – live Beatles cover

Cornell puts his spin on yet another Beatles hit. Cornell is known for his powerful vocals, but for this cover, we get to hear a softer side. With a gentle acoustic guitar setting the mood, Cornell croons this classic never missing a beat. He sounds downright sweet when he hits those high notes at the end of the verses. His quiet, subdued delivery makes the song beautiful. It shows Cornell’s impressive range; he had the chops to make us rock out, but his croons also bring tears to your eyes.

“Cop Killer” – live Body Count cover

Did Soundgarden really cover Body Count’s controversial 1992 song? It sounds too good to be true, but they actually did during one of their Lollapalooza sets. After an impassioned speech from Cornell about exercising your power and not letting others tell you what you can’t do, the band launches into the notorious song. Everything about the performance sounds mad as hell; Matt Cameron beats away at the drum as if trying to break them, while the guitars sound like they’re screeching on their last breath. Cornell gives it his all rallying the crowd for a call to arms. During an unforgettable break, Cornell reassures us the song’s not about killing others, it’s about fighting for your rights. He then launches into a “fuck the police” chant. It’s an exciting, heart-pounding moment that riles you up and gets you ready to fight. Too bad the performance hasn’t been cleaned up and remastered for an official release.

“Hotel California” – live Eagles cover

“Hotel California” is one of those songs everyone knows is good, but no one listens to thanks to the radio playing it to death. Cornell’s acoustic cover makes the song exciting again. It’s a simple, straightforward rendition, but as always, it’s Cornell’s vocals that take it to another level. The grittiness of his vocals makes it sound like he knows what this person’s been through. He adds this harrowing vibe to the song and makes it fresh again. His version reminds you how good the song is. He can’t outdo the original, but his version comes close.

“Thank You” – Sly and the Family Stone cover from John Peel BBC Session 

Soundgarden gets funky for this cover. With a thick bass groove that sounds like it’s summoning Flea, the band lays down a heavy dose of funk mixing it with their heavy, dirty sound. The result is a stellar cover that more people should be talking about. As soon as that opening riff hits and Cornell lets out that wild scream you can’t help but nod your head with an intense feeling of “hell yes!” The band leaves their unmistakable mark on the song, but they manage to keep the soul of the original. And just when you thought the song couldn’t get any sicker, bassist Hiro Yamamoto gives us a hot solo. It’s not only Soundgarden’s best cover, it’s one of the best cover songs out there.

“I Will Always Love You” – live Whitney Houston

You wouldn’t expect a rocker like Chris Cornell to cover this Whitney Houston classic. Performed during a 2012 concert, his version is stripped back with only him and his acoustic guitar. He doesn’t try any fancy tricks with it or even try to make it his own. He just sings it straight. It’s his honest, passionate delivery that makes it so great. Even though the poor audio quality of the Youtube videos, you can hear how amazing he sounds. He holds those soaring notes with ease and his vocals are just as powerful as Houston’s. Though you would expect the cover to make you sad after his death, in a weird way it’s reassuring as if it’s a message to fans and family. His love will always be with us through the music.

Thank you for the wonderful music, Chris Cornell. You won’t be forgotten.

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York Soundtrack

Release Year: 1992

Rating: 7/10

Believe it or not, Christmas is only a week away. Though the holiday is meant to bring cheer and joy, sometimes the days leading up to Christmas are more exciting than the holiday itself. Drinking hot cocoa, listening to Christmas music, seeing pretty lights strung up everywhere, and, of course, Christmas specials. Every year without fail, I watch the first two Home Alone movies. Yes, I can practically quote both movies. It’s a holiday tradition and I love wearing a holiday shirt, sitting next to the tree, and watching Kevin McCallister take down some bumbling criminals. Even though I’ve seen the movies more times than I can count, I never thought about their soundtracks. There’s four in the series: an original score for each movie, a soundtrack for the second, and the last one a re-release of the Home Alone 2 soundtrack. This year, I thought it’d be fun to give the Home Alone 2 soundtrack a spin and see what it’s about.

The soundtrack is mix of traditional holiday songs with some modern (at the time) interpretations. What I like most about the soundtrack is how it has songs taken straight from the movie. You’ll hear Bobby Helm’s rendition of “Jingle Bell Rock,” which is my favorite version solely because of this movie. Played during the scene where Kevin loses his shorts in the pool, I always end the song with him exclaiming “Yikes!” in my mind. The album also features Jonny Mathis singing “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas,” which always makes me think of Tim Curry’s smug smile when he learns of Kevin’s credit card fraud. There’s also Alan Jackson’s version of “Holly Jolly Christmas,” which I don’t remember from the movie at all. It’s a pretty standard cover with a lot of country twang; nothing too spectacular.

But for traditionalists, there are also the classical holiday songs, many of which were also included in the movie. There’s “My Christmas Tree,” which you may remember from the beginning of the movie. Personally, I found this song boring without Kevin attacking Buzz in the middle of it. If anything it serves its nostalgic purpose. There’s also “Somewhere In my Memory” sung by Beth Midler, better known as the song that plays throughout the first two films. Again, not really my type of Christmas music. It’s pretty, but also sappy and too slow.

One of the best, but admittedly odd additions is “Cool Jerk” by The Capitols. But that’s not a Christmas song, you say. Home Alone fixes this by mixing in bits from the movie, mainly Uncle Frank singing in the shower. While listening to the song, you’ll hear Uncle Frank say “You’re cooking Frankie!” and of course the hilarious line “Get out of here you little pervert before I slap you silly!” Being one of the best scenes in the movie, there’s no question this is one my favorites on the album. But the best song on the album is TLC’s “Sleigh Ride.” This has always been one of my favorite Christmas songs and I was surprised to learn it was on this soundtrack. Something about it is cool and makes you want to dance. Left Eye’s raps are funny and sick, filled with her offbeat humor and awesome flow.

The album ends with two more sappy, slow holiday songs: “Christmas Star” and “Come All Ye Faithful.” I’ve never been a fan of these big, over the top, drawn out Christmas songs better suited for church. I find them boring and sometimes they’re just sad. They’re pretty, but not something I really want to sit through. The same goes for the more upbeat, but annoying “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas.” It’s a beautiful score, but not very fun and jolly, which is how I prefer my holiday music. Plus, hearing a choir shriek “Merry Christmas” at the top of their lungs gets old really fast.

If anything, this soundtrack is a blast of nostalgia. Most of the songs I had a hard time thinking about them outside the movie. There are some genuinely good Christmas tunes here, but I found most to be boring, bland, and too slow. If I saw this soundtrack, I would buy just because I love the movie so much. I mean, I have a Home Alone 2 board game I have yet to play. But it’s not something I would put on while trimming the tree. The original scores for both films are much better being both joyful and beautiful. You want a good Christmas album? Look elsewhere. You want an injection of nostalgia? This is the record to pick up.

Playlist: Rock Duets

Sometimes a duet is the best thing in the world. Other times, it’s a disaster. But it always leaves memorable stories. There’s something about two huge musicians getting together to create music that’s thrilling and exciting. Pop music is full of countless duets, but they don’t seem as popular for rock music. They certainly exist; they’re just not as abundant as they are in pop music. So let’s look at some of the most notable and popular duets in rock music. For the purpose of this playlist, a duet is a song where both artists have an equal amount of time on the track.

“Close My Eyes Forever” – Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne

This is probably the most famous rock duet. The song, which apparently came about as an accident according to Sharon Osbourne, was the third single for Lita Ford’s self-titled debut album. With sappy lyrics and a blazing guitar solo, it’s no different from the many power ballads of the era. Ozzy’s haunting vocals do add an eerie touch to the song, but it’s still pretty cheesy. Though I love Osbourne, I never liked this song. It’s too slow for my tastes and is just corny. Then again, I’d be hard press to find one power ballad from the 80s I actually like. Still, this single stands out as one of the most notable duets in rock music.

“Love Interruption” – Jack White and Ruby Amanfu

The music world went a little nuts when Jack White announced a solo album only a year after the White Stripes ended. The debut single “Love Interruption” wasn’t what people expected. There were no roaring riffs and White screaming over screeching guitars. Instead, the song is mellow, subdued, and a bit cynical. Though White could’ve easily carried the song himself, the addition of Amanfu’s smoky vocals adds an understated sensuality to the song. Something about her voice adds a raspy, soulful nature that would’ve been missing otherwise. I actually think it’s one of the strongest tracks from Blunderbuss and serves as a reminder love isn’t always pretty.

“Dancing in the Street” – Mick Jagger and David Bowie

Two of music’s iconic artists, what could go wrong? To be fair, the cover itself isn’t that bad. There’s nothing particularly special about it, but it’s fun at least. Yet, the music video will go down in infamy. It’s unbelievably bad. Jagger exaggerates everything from his facial expressions to his seizure inducing dance moves. Bowie remains cool though it looked like he left the house in some wild pajamas. And don’t forget the scene where Jagger chugs down a soda while Bowie sings. It’s probably one of the worst videos of the 80s. Hell, even Family Guy said it was the gayest music video in history. Thinking about it, there are moments where the two singers get a little too close for comfort.

“State of Shock” – Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger

Mick Jagger shows up again for a better collaboration with Michael Jackson. Recorded for The Jackson’s album Victory, the song is a raucous and kind of spastic team up with the rocker. The song was originally meant to be a duet with Freddie Mercury for the Thriller album, but scheduling conflicts kept the two from working together. Jagger was called instead and it ended up being his biggest hit away from The Rolling Stones. It’s one of those unexpected hits from Jackson’s catalog, but it’s one of the finest examples of pop and rock colliding. Later on, Jackson said he Jagger sang off key, while Jagger called Jackson “lightweight.” Anyone else think the Freddie Mercury version would’ve been epic?

“Good Times” – INXS and Jimmy Barnes

When two talented vocalists come together, they often try to outshine each other. That’s not the case here. For their contribution to The Lost Boys soundtrack, INXS teamed up with singer/songwriter Jimmy Barnes on this cover of The Easybeats song. Michael Hutchences’ smoldering vocals pair exceptionally well with Barnes’ bluesy, rock-tinged voice. They actually work together to give listeners a thrilling experience. The two sharing vocal duties along with the high energy music supporting them, it’s everything you want a good rock rolling song to be. It has a similar good time vibe as Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll.” Listening to Barnes’ vocals, you have to admit it’s reminiscent of rockers, like Robert Plant.

“Hunger Strike” – Temple of the Dog

Temple of the Dog started as a way for Chris Cornell and members of Pearl Jam to deal with the death of Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood. Their debut album did exceptionally well with this song being their biggest hit single. The track features Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder on vocal duties. When two of grunge’s most notable and talented vocalists get together for a song, you know it’s going to be good. And that’s exactly what you get with this powerful, emotionally driven tune. Both artists get time to share their unique vocal styles, Vedder being gruff and raspy and Cornell’s higher range. It results in a song that’s beautiful and haunting.

“Stand by Your Man” – Wendy O. Williams and Lemmy Kilmister

Ever wonder what it would sound like if two punks ripped apart the Tammy Wynette classic “Stand By your Man?” That’s what Wendy O. Williams and Lemmy Kilmister for a single in 1982. The song is almost unrecognizable with gritty, blazing guitars making a ruckus while the two scream out the lyrics over the noise. Oddly enough, it works. It’s one of those weird covers you would never expect two rock legends to even consider. They breathe new sinister life into the country classic that makes you want to head bang. O. Williams and Kilmister teamed up again for “Jailbait,” which appeared on the Plasmatics album Kommander of Kaos. Listening to these two, it’s clear they were truly one of a kind.

“I Ain’t No Nice Guy” – Motorhead and Ozzy Osbourne

When two of hard rock’s most iconic and legendary figures team up, you expect something epic beyond belief. That’s not the result of this duet featuring Lemmy Kilmister and the Prince of Darkness. Rather than getting together for a kickass track that would melt your face off, the two sing a ballad instead. It’s a slow, somber song made for radio airplay. It actually became a huge hit for Motorhead’s tenth album March or Die. It’s a decent song and features a slow burning solo from guitar hero Slash, but it won’t hit that sweet spot for most metalheads. It’s just so unexpected for the rockers. What’s even more surprising is seeing Ozzy with a five o’clock shadow in the video. Yikes.

“A Tout Le Monde” – Megadeth and Christina Scabbia

This song originally appeared on Megadeth’s sixth album Youthanasia and quickly became a staple for the band. At the time of its release, it garnered controversy for its music video. MTV banned it claiming it promoted suicide, which Dave Mustaine was quick to dismiss. The band re-recorded the song in 2007 for the album United Abominations with Christina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil. Aside from some slight alterations, like a faster pace, there;s not much difference aside from Scabbia singing an entire verse showing off her vocal chops. The song keeps its sentimentality intact along with its hard hitting sound and slightly aggressive mood. Many may prefer the original, but this re-recording is a great blend of old school and new school.

“Walk This Way” – Run DMC and Aerosmith

These days the world of rock and rap often combine for both awesome and questionable results. But back in the 80s, the two were seen as exclusive genres that should never cross paths. Run DMC and Aerosmith broke that barrier with this duet. When it was released in 1986 it blew everyone’s collective minds. Not only did Run DMC cover this classic rock track, they even got Steven Tyler and Joe Perry to join them. The song is still amazing to this day and remains one of the best mash-ups ever. It, of course, would go on to inspire other rock/rap collabs, such as Jay-z and Linkin Park (remember when that was a thing?)

“The One You Love to Hate” – Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson

Two heavy metal giants, both who are considered the best vocalists in the genre, team up for this roaring track. Recorded for Halford’s debut album Ressurection, the song features Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson on vocals. You’d expect to be beyond amazing and the most bad ass thing you’ve ever heard. In reality, it’s okay. It feels more like a Dickinson track since his voice overpowers everything and Halford is stuck on back up duty. It’s a pretty standard metal song with soaring vocals, blazing guitars and a lot of aggression. It’s not bad; just not very remarkable.

“Don’t Fear the Reaper” – HIM and Sanna-June Hyde

On HIM’s debut album, the band provided a haunting rendition of the Blue Oyster Cult classic. This version brings out all the darkness and grim view that’s implied in the lyrics. And frontman Ville Valo’s baritone vocals provide are a perfect match. Adding some brightness to the track is Finnish actor Sanna-June Hyde. She provided guest vocals for this track and “For You” early in her career. She’s not necessarily the best singer but her voice surprisingly well with Valo’s. There’s also something eerie about their voices. Still one of the best covers of this song.

“Under Pressure” – Queen and David Bowie

The thought of Queen and David Bowie doing a song together sounds like a dream. This amazing collaboration resulted in one of the best songs of the 80s. It’s an undeniable classic; pairing Bowie’s mellow vocals with Freddie Mercury’s dramatic bravado leads to a beautiful sonic experience. And try not to get chills during the bridge when Mercury pleads “Why can’t we give love/give love/give love?” The song became a huge hit for both artists and remains their most notable. Of course, the riff would be stolen by Vanilla Ice in the 90s, who claimed it wasn’t the same song.

Which is your favorite rock duet? Which ones did I miss? Let me know in the comments!

Songs of Faith and Devotion – Depeche Mode

Release Year: 1993

Rating: 8/10

If you’ve been following the blog long enough, you know I’ve had a bad relationship with this album. Although it was a critically acclaimed follow up to Violator, I could never get into it. After repeated listens I thought it was boring, save for a handful of songs. While looking through my albums, I came across this one and thought maybe I was being too harsh. Maybe I wasn’t ready for it at the time. It did take me years to fully appreciate albums like The Cure’s Pornography. So I decided to give it one more and shot. Turns out I was wrong about this record.

What initially turned me off to this album was how it didn’t sound like the Depeche Mode I was used to. Where was the thrilling synth? Where were the danceable, yet sexy songs? They don’t completely abandon their electronic side, but they favor a rock oriented sound here. This is best heard on the opening track “I Feel You.” It’s the most straightforward rock song in their catalog. It has this great, sexy bluesy riff that wails while Dave Gahan coos “I feeeeeeeeel you/your sun it shines.” The music keeps building getting more intricate as the song goes on. Even though it’s pretty sensual, it still shows a harsher direction not previously found in their music.

I liked “Walking In my Shoes,” which starts with a jangly piano leading to hushed electronic sounding beats. Similar to the previous song, the music here sets up a darker landscape for the album. That says a lot for a band whose music is peppered with grim themes. This song also starts the numerous religious references on the album, which return on the next track “Condemnation.” I’m still not crazy about this song. I can appreciate it, especially since it sounds more like a gospel track, which was unique for the band at the time. It also boasts a great vocal performance from Gahan who sounds anguished and near tears while singing. There’s a lot of heartache and emotion behind it, which can be said for all the songs here. While I like the idea, I just don’t like the style.

What I found most interesting about the album is how morose and hopeless it sounds. Depeche Mode has never been shy with exploring dark feelings, but there’s usually some upbeat song to break up the mood. “Rush” is the closest it gets to something upbeat and danceable on this record. The rest of the tracks seem mired in misery. Even when addressing topics like love and needing someone else it sounds desperate, such as on “One Caress,” an excellent solo moment from Martin Gore. When listening to this album, you feel this sense of impending doom.

This morose mood continues on tracks “Higher Love” and “Mercy In You” where Gahan sounds like a vampire wanting to feed on the mercy in someone. Another stand out track, “In Your Room” is pretty sensual thanks to the intricate, lush music, but it still has dark connotations with references to slaves and being held captive by a lover. Though it’s more rock oriented, like most of the songs here, the sexy mood, intricate music, and Gahan’s powerful vocals make this a classic Depeche Mode track. It’s one I’ve always enjoyed from the album.

Judas” is notable for beginning with bagpipes to set a heavenly atmosphere. Gore’s on vocals here, so as usual, he has a way of making things sound creepy even if it’s not intentional. But for some reason, the song doesn’t hit the sweet spot like other Gore tracks. “One Caress,” which features his on vocals is actually the better of the two ballads. It begins with a riff that sounds like the opening of “Never Tear Us Apart.” This song stands out for the string composition. It adds this stark, dramatic vibe to the music. Though the song is about how good the touch of a loved one is, it still sounds unsettling with the music growing more and more intense. He’s sounds so desperate for it, it’s like he’s on edge and he’ll do anything to get that one caress. It’s a similar eerie vibe that worked for “I Want You Now.”

Unlike most of their past releases, this one is really slow, cathartic, and dark. Their music has always been moody and gloomy, but this one is downright heartbreaking. Considering the inner turmoil of the band and Gahan’s heroin problem, it makes sense why so many of the songs are gut wrenching. Some of the songs seem like they’re about Gahan. “Get Right With Me” starts out dark and creepy, but throws listeners for a loop with a random record scratch. It’s kind of off putting since it doesn’t fit the song, but it doesn’t last very long. The lyrics seem to talk about someone laying down what it’s going to take to get back in someone’s good graces: “Friends, if you’ve lost your way/ you will find it again.” This could be a reference to Gahan losing his way via drugs and Gore remaining hopeful he’ll get clean.It was a tough album to make according to the band and it shows in these songs.

So, do I still hate this album? No, now I realize I wrong about it. It’s not boring and dull. While it’s still not my favorite, I realize it’s a solid, introspective entry in their catalog. The songs may be different with their rock oriented sound and heavier vibe, but they remain gripping, thoughtful, and well-crafted like their previous efforts. Even if all the songs didn’t catch my attention the overall depressing mood of the record did make me reflect on what the band was going through at the time. With the sonic shifts and darker themes, it’s one of those albums that needs time for some to fully appreciate it. And I’m glad I can view the album differently. I don’t think I can say the same for Venus Doom.

X – INXS

Release Year: 1990

Rating: 7/10

A band with a mega successful album is a gift and a curse. On one hand, album sales translate to more wealth and fame. On the other, the pressure is on to create equally good or better follow up. Even if a band does an exceptional job on their next album, both media and fans hype it to the point where it pales in comparison to their previous release. INXS most likely felt that pressure when it came time to follow up Kick. X is a solid album, but since they follow the same routine, the album ends up being flat and just decent.

The songs on this album are all pretty good, but very few manage to be memorable or gripping. The best track is the single “Suicide Blonde.” This is the sensual, hot, sex driven INXS fans got a taste of on Kick. With a stuttering harmonica open and Michael Hutchence singing about his then girlfriend Kylie Minogue, the song is another fun, steamy classic for the band. It falls in line with tracks like “Need You Tonight” and “What You Need.” The next track, “Disappear,” is another strong track with a light, upbeat feel good mood to it that instantly gets you moving. There’s something about the vibe that makes you feel like you’re walking on air. And Huthence’s “doo doos” are irresistible. It’s a song that puts you in a good mood making it a stronger track on the album.

From there, it’s standard INXS fare: upbeat songs mixed with elements of pop and rock. A few of the songs expand into different musical genres. “Faith in Each Other” is soulful with a bluesy vibe. Hutchence’s vocals are at their peak, making you wonder how INXS thought they could be successful without him. The song is slick and cool with a killer sax solo putting the mood over the top. It’s a good song about wanting to keep the peace to make things right in the world. INXS go a little harder on “Who Pays the Price.” It has a bit of funk to it with some Western flavor thanks to the harmonica. This slight change in style mixes things up but doesn’t make the song stand out all that well. It’s good, but something it doesn’t grab you right away. Rather it takes a few listens before you start to dig it.

The biggest issue with the album is most of the songs aren’t that exciting even though they’re good. “By My Side” is a great INXS ballad in the same vein as “Never Tear Us Apart.” It has a great opening piano riff followed by Hutchence’s sweet vocals. It’s another one of their slow hits that’ll drift you away to somewhere sweet and relaxing. “The Stairs” is another strong track about life in the city. Despite its big chorus and mellow groove, it doesn’t pack a punch like similar songs. The slinky “Know the Difference” takes a bit to grow on you, but is actually really good. It has a cool electric riff to open the song and Hutchence takes on a spoken word style. There’s even a funky breakdown featuring that hot sax. It’s another fun track that makes you dance, but on the first listen the song is easy to miss.

Bitter Tears” is a contender for best song on the album. It’s classic INXS all the way; catchy hook, great upbeat music, and a stellar performance from Hutchence. But since it’s buried at the back end of the album, it’s easy to ignore. Aside from this song, the rest of them have the same problem. They’re not bad, rather unremarkable. The thing that makes “Lately” memorable is the sexy, exotic music. The hook isn’t bad, but isn’t an earworm like their past songs. It’s good, but nowhere near their best. Closing tracks “On My Way” and “Hear that Sound” are like the other songs on the album: solid and nice to listen to, but ultimately forgettable.

X is a solid album for INXS, but is nowhere near what they achieved with Kick. It’s unfair to compare the two, but whereas that album was so exciting, kick ass, and memorable, this is one is just good. Most of the songs are forgettable with only one or two being stand outs. Other songs are good, but don’t grab your attention. It could be a case of the band following a safe formula and not straying far from what they’ve done before. They’re not hard hitting, catchy, sexy, or different like their past material. For this album, INXS follows a similar formula they did with Kick and only mix things up on few tracks. Unfortunately, this record doesn’t really keep your attention; you tune it out pretty quickly.