KICK – 30TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION
INXS were riding high as the calendar got deeper and deeper into
1987. The alt-rocking Australian sextet had truly come into their own following the wider international penetration of 1985’s Listen Like Thieves. They were also burgeoning MTV darlings, mainly thanks to the magnetic presence of poster-boy frontman Michael Hutchence.
That said, the band had enough musical acumen to override their video-centric image, best exemplified by the churning, layered groove of Thieves’ big hit, “What You Need,” itself born of the interlocked songwriting axis of lyricist/vocalist Hutchence and keyboardist/guitarist Andrew Farriss.
The band’s October 1987 effort, Kick, sealed the aural deal, ultimately going six-times platinum and serving up four Top 10 hits on the U.S. charts. And now, Kick is being properly feted in a four-disc 30th anniversary box set. In addition to the remastered main album on
Disc 1, Discs 2 and 3 offer 27 fascinating demos, alternate mixes, and B-sides. But the true kicker of Kick is clearly Disc 4, a Blu-ray with a Dolby Atmos mix of the album (and eight iconic promo videos) as shepherded by Giles Martin and Sam Okell. You can also experience it via Dolby Truehd 7.1, which I did at home (though I did get the full Atmos treatment at a separate locale’s listening session).
We’ll explore Kick’s impact in the Atmos stratosphere in a moment. But first, it should be noted the linchpin for Kick’s super sonic results was producer Chris Thomas, who cut his teeth helming a number of key tracks on The Beatles’ 1968 magnum one-for-all opus, The White Album— albeit without a listed credit at the time, but nonetheless undertaken with producer George Martin’s full blessing. Thomas further honed his craft behind the board for the likes of Badfinger, Sex Pistols, and Human League, a production potpourri that actually best readied him to be the prime choice to harness the late-’80s intersection between INXS’S pop chops and their underlying punk spunk.
With Thomas’ levelheaded production as their stencil, Martin and Okell opened up Kick in ways I’ve never heard before—and, frankly, did not expect. Perhaps due to his overall glamorous image and tragic passing in 1997, Hutchence gets overlooked as a singer, but his intriguing vocal choices are often front and center here, and/or rightly spread all around you as necessary. With Atmos’ inherent clarity, you can better hear how Hutchence selectively tempers his deliberate beat-for-beat three-syllable enunciation of the key title word of the refrain of “New Sensation”— “sen-say-shun”—ever-so-slightly differently with each pass, while his best work is found in the pleading inflectional shifts from verse to verse in “Never Tear Us Apart” (as well as his layered chorus response lines in the rear channels) and the warped, warbling free-flow rhymes of “Mediate.”
The band’s intuitive instrumental prowess is also well highlighted. Tim Farriss’ sharp lead guitar riffs on “Need You Tonight” come at you in diagonal call-and-response stabs, initiating their parrying in the front right and following with assertive return thrusting in the rear left. Kirk Pengilly’s closing sax solo on “Mediate” is deftly centered but not mix-dominant. Garry Gary Beers’ sub-channel-loving lowend bass complements the vocal plunges of “Devil Inside” and supplements Jon Farriss’ sharp, ping-ponged front-to-back percussion, while brother Tim’s chiming guitar leads envelop the proceedings just right. Even the opening rear-channel shakers on “Guns in the Sky” are the very definition of the word crisp— and that’s the crux of the sound of Kick right there. Martin and Okell’s Atmos mix is akin to pumping fresh air into a room, clearing away any residual muddle to reveal just how clear and vibrant everything has always been at the album’s core.
Given how wholly crystal-clear and immersive this new Kick mix is, I would absolutely love to hear Martin and Okell tackle other key INXS tracks in this fashion, such as the riff-driven seductive chugfest “The One Thing” from 1982’s Shabooh Shoobah, the somewhat funkified “Original Sin” and “I Send a Message” tandem from 1984’s Nick Launay/nile Rodgers–produced The Swing, the aforementioned “What You Need” and title track from 1985’s Kick template precursor, Listen Like Thieves, the ever-skittery “Suicide Blonde” from 1990’s X, and the touching ballad “Not Enough Time” from 1992’s Welcome to Wherever You Are. Come to think of it, M&O could do a full-on surround update of 2002’s The Best of INXS to cover all the bases.
Incidentally, I asked Martin about the possibility when I saw him in the Hi Res Audio Pavilion at CES 2018, and after his initial, silent Cheshire grin, he said, “Wouldn’t that be great fun?” ( Perfect moments, impossible to refuse. . .)
Sometimes you kick, sometimes you get kicked. But when it comes to the Dolby Atmos mix of Kick, your ears are the ultimate winners of receiving the brunt of the album’s elegiac full-channel boot— every single one of us, the audiophile inside.