25 Years Ago: INXS’ ‘Welcome to Wherever You Are’ Marks a Huge Career Turning Point
The '90s were not kind to INXS. After building toward out-sized fame in the preceding decade, each successive album sold less. Welcome to Wherever You Are, released on Aug. 3, 1992, would be the band's last-ever platinum-selling studio project in America. By 1997, singer Michael Hutchence was dead, the victim of an apparent suicide.
INXS actually received positive notices in the U.K. for Welcome to Wherever You Are, and the album soared to a career-best No. 1 there. But a rising tide of alternative rock and grunge was surrounding the band. Then they chose not to tour behind this project, which couldn't have helped sales either. "Not Enough Time" stalled at No. 28, becoming INXS' last Billboard Top 40 hit single.
Perhaps sensing a change in the musical climate, they'd split from Chris Thomas (who'd overseen a trio of career-making albums in Listen Like Thieves, Kick and X) in favor of Mark Opitz, producer of their rangy, more direct third album Shabooh Shoobah. He led them toward a rawer sound, even as they dabbled with orchestral backing ("Baby Don't Cry" and "Men and Women"), heavily distorted vocals ("Heaven Sent") and unusual instrumentation ("Questions").
The focus throughout was on making a concerted effort to rough up the proceedings. "Originally I wrote ["Heaven Sent"] as a 3/4 ballad," keyboardist Andrew Farriss later said. "The band heard it and rocked it up to make it the recording it became. The vocal effect helped give the track some extra attitude." They collaborated with a 60-piece band on "Baby Don't Cry," but "it was all done live by the way," Hutchence said back then, "with us and the orchestra in the studio at the same time. It was a lot of fun.”
Nevertheless, even as a No. 16 hit on the Billboard album chart, Welcome to Wherever You Are tended to be viewed as a throwback to an earlier era, and INXS suddenly an instant relic. They lost momentum very quickly. It didn't help that the band's label failed to properly promote the album, or that they were beset by individual distractions.
Guitarist Tim Farris was often absent, as he battled exostosis, a bone disorder. That left multi-instrumentalist Kirk Pengilly to fill in, but he was also dealing with a broken relationship. Both Andrew Farris and bassist Garry Gary Beers were new fathers. (Farris' "Baby Don't Cry" and "Beautiful Girl" emerged from a period in which he noted "how wonderful it is to have something else in your life besides yourself to worry about and think about.") Jon Farris was preparing for marriage.
Watch INXS Perform 'Baby Don't Cry'
"The album is very much Andrew, Michael and myself," Opitz said in INXS: Story to Story. "We didn't have everyone's minds on the job, because some of them were going through significant things in their personal lives."
So, it's perhaps no surprise that INXS couldn't even agree on the title to Welcome to Wherever You Are. "It was really quite innocent: 'Be happy with whatever you are, whoever you are, wherever you are,'" Pengilly later argued. Tim Farris, on the other hand, said: "It should have been something more positive."
In the end, they only played a single 1992 headlining performance at the benefit Concert for Life at Sydney's Centennial Park. INXS returned in 1993 with Full Moon, Dirty Hearts, but the album struggled to No. 53 on the Billboard chart. They would release just one more album in Hutchence's lifetime.
As their fame dissipated, INXS turned to other pursuits. Andrew Farriss began producing albums; his brother Tim Farriss dabbled in the then-new technology of CD-ROMs. Hutchence did some film work, and performed with the London Symphony Orchestra. Running parallel to that, however, was the singer's passionate but doomed relationship with TV personality Paula Yates. Hutchence was also struggling with depression in the period before his unexpected, scandal-riddled death.
A comment Michael Hutchence made at the time about "Men and Women," the closing track on Welcome to Wherever You Are, would prove to be sadly prescient. "It's a sad song in a way, about the – I don't know, just the sexual wars that go on all the time, which I don’t understand," Hutchence said. "That is perverted to me – the situation between men and women."
INXS Albums Ranked in Order of Awesomeness