Minus the Bear represents rock that borrows much from funk, but more direct examples of funkfied rock was all the rage in the ’80s. Before The Power Station and a lesser extent Living Color would take funk rock to the masses, INXS made a valiant attempt to get the ball rolling with The Swing. Like ripples in an explosion, funk spread from R&B to pop and finally rock. The mid ’80s saw funk at it’s peak in R&B, pop and finally rock. INXS may have been one of the first proponents of a trend that stayed in the mainstream until grunge would press the reset button.
The close knit sextet lead by Micheal Hutchens quickly became one my favorite bands. They emerged as first a quirky new wave act hardened by the tough bar scene in their native Sydney to become one of the decade’s biggest stadium rock acts. The evolution from underground act to global rock stars was interesting, mostly because some the band took some unexpected risks along the way.
One of those risks was their fourth album The Swing. After winning over America with Shaboo Shaba and gaining instant notoriety for the video for “The One Thing” on MTV, INXS followed up that album with a bold gamble on the funk.
Produced in part by Nile Rodgers, The Swing combined some of the anthemic melodies and rhythms of Shaboo Shaboa, but with a bit of funk. The choppy bass-lines stopped short of the usual slap-bass employed in pop-rock and sounded more inline with dance music. It also had the vibe of a studio performance vs. the loose energy of a live performance that had marked nearly every INXS album to date.
Despite Nile Rodger’s involvement, The Swing retained enough of what made INXS musically distinctive to appeal to old fans, thanks to contributions by Nick Launay. The new muscular rhythm oriented sound meant that the Jim Morrison persona that Hutchens had been cultivating took a short break.
The Swing was the first INXS CD I owned that was not an import. By 1984 they were officially distributed in the United States. Like many CD’s from this era, The Swing had a sometimes harsh metallic sound – made more pronounced by the mechanized nature of the production. The LP only sounded slightly better . Sound quality issues (real or perceived) were remedied with remastered versions in 2002 and 2015.
There were at least four singles from the album (and more videos), but in the United States “Original Sin” became their biggest hit to date, spurring the band to near superstar status. The singles were almost evenly divided between the hard funk of tracks like “I Send A Message” or “Dancing on the Jetty” to the more traditional power rock of “Burn for You”.
The most interesting tracks were never singles and offered a reprieve from the hard driving rhythms that dominated the album. The new wave like “Johnsons Aeroplane”, with it’s symphonic intro and swinging bass that could have come off of Shaboo Shaboa.
Unlike many rock songs from the era, the saxophone is used sparingly. It effectively softened things up by offering a contrast to the otherwise harsh bombastic nature of the overall production (in fairness to INXS, Kirk Pengily, one of the band’s original members had been playing the sax from Shaboo Shaboa on wards, well before it became fashionable to use them in rock songs).
The hard funk of The Swing made it appealing to dance rock album, but in the end it was only a stopgap for the band’s rise to fame in America. With the release of Listen Like Thieves, the whole Jim Morrison persona was polished up with a set of songs that were more appropriate to the spirit of the band’s arena rock aspirations. The Swing remains the band’s most daring album and is a testament to its diversity.