You know what a “spontaneous hook” is? A totally subjective, but nevertheless relevant thing worth mentioning – well, okay, I’ve only just decided to call it that way but I do need to have a special term for that kind of thing, especially when I’m dealing with INXS albums all the time. A spontaneous hook is a hook which is only active while you’re actually hearing it, but has no staying power or memorability whatsoever. (Of course, this doesn’t apply to extreme cases when a conscious effort is being made to memorize the song – I mean, heck, after a couple hundred listens even Mariah Carey records will become memorable).
Underneath The Colours is easily the best LP to demonstrate the power of spontaneous hooks I’ve heard so far. Every song on here becomes interesting on second or third listen, and you have no right whatsoever to doubt the compositional talents or the intelligence of the composing team. But nothing actually agrees to stick in your head, not even a tiny bit, and I know I’m not alone on that issue, either, so there just must be something strange about the record. There must be something weird. Maybe it’s the lack of emotion; in fact, now that I’ve said it, I’m pretty sure this is the basic problem of the INXS, just as it used to be the basic problem of XTC in the Seventies. Underneath The Colours is a lot of fun while it’s on – it’s jumpy, bouncy, and modernistic without being too annoying in a bad Eighties way or too dependent on their influences, especially now that they have toned down the ska thing. But it’s also a cold, cold, unmoving record, an exercise in soulless formalism. Or maybe it’s just a kind of soul that I don’t ‘get’. Whatever.
With this, there’s just no emotional substance to the hooks, and since you don’t have a really colourful pattern to accompany the chords, there’s no hope to really memorize them. That’s how it looks to this particular reviewer, anyway. That said, while the album is on, it’s still a gas. You just have to get past the opener, ‘Stay Young’, which tries to get by on the force of the atmosphere alone – a ridiculous attempt, with all those breathy whispered vocals in the background and thin wimpy isolated synthesizer bleeps instead of full sonic landscapes. Even so, there’s a great guitar line almost lost in amidst all the mediocrity, which just goes to show that the INXS didn’t suck at having interesting ideas, they sucked at applying them and putting them into context.
In a certain sense, one could just argue that at this particular point Hutchence’s sense of romance vastly differed from the commonplace one. ‘Horizons’ is lyrically a love ballad, but musically just a minimalistically arranged New Wave “popper”. Maybe there are even people in this world that can be moved by the way Hutchence croaks out ‘I see the horizons of your love’, but I wouldn’t know about that anomaly. Gimme some Al Green instead, please. Or, at least, if we’re talking INXS here, something bouncier and snappier like ‘Big Go Go’. Now that’s a good song while it’s on. Raunchy, energetic, aggressive – ‘watch the world GO GO, it’ll spin ’til it stops… people gonna FLY OFF… when they turn it off’. But nothing remains once it’s over.
Probably the best hookline on the album is the chorus to ‘Fair Weather Ahead’, although the song itself is rather senseless, more like a blind lyrical imitation of Jim Morrison than anything else. Who are the ‘strange new creatures’, are wonder, and what’s their connection to fair weather? And is that hookline really good, or is it just because they repeat the chorus for so many times?
The dumbest thing of all is how everything on here sounds the same even if the songs are essentially different. There’s slow moody atmospheric stuff like ‘Horizons’ and ‘Just To Learn Again’. Or poppy upbeat stuff like ‘Big Go Go’. Or even a couple of really fast rockers like ‘Night Of Rebellion’. But the production sucks big time, with the same minimalistic grooves over and over again. Very few ska beats, like I said, mostly Police- and XTC-inspired New Wave pop rhythms, with a steady drumbeat and, say, a three- or four-note ringing guitar riff. And synthesizers, of course. All very tasteful, subtle even – but none of the musicians are virtuosos, and none of them can add any soul to the performances. And all of this is in major dire contrast to the nature of Hutchence’s lyrics, which – with a few disrespectful exceptions like ‘Fair Weather Ahead’ – are surprisingly mature and evocative.