Monday, 17 February 2014

INXS on TV: The Verdict

You may remember my recent post about the INXS telemovie "Never Tear Us Apart" where I speculated that it would be less about the music and more about the off-stage antics...

...it turns out I was correct.

Reading three reports on the topic this week, one each from The Sydney Morning Herald, News.com.au and The Guardian, one would think that each of the reviewers were watching a totally different program from another.

The Guardian opines that it "...takes us back the age of bare-chested rock excess, and not much more", while making the obvious point about how uncensored the show supposedly is based on the amount of groupie boob exposure it contains.

The Sydney Morning Herald claims that it was "sex drugs and rock 'n' roll with...a batch of bad wigs" and that it played out like "Home and Away [but] with better music",while News says that the show was "...true event television, powerfully and unflinchingly told". I'm sure that is correct if you like watching soapy dramas.

The sad thing about this production is that it doesn't do anything for the bands legacy. I can't help thinking that INXS will end up with a place in Australian music history like the Doors now possess in American music history: they'll pretty much be known by those with all but a passing interest as "Michael and those other blokes". They will be always regarded not as great tunesmiths, but as the pub band who made more money and scored more drugs and pussy than anybody else.

Ditto the Doors.

Their music will always be tied to its era, dated by [then] contemporary production values intended on making everything sound bigger than anything else, at the expense of restraint.

Ditto the Doors.

They will always be mentioned in the same breath as all the gratuitous debauchery and excess of the period - some of the worst elements of the time - because THAT is how the media and social commentators have seen it and called it. And what is this telemovie doing about it? Nothing - it is doing exactly the same thing: Celebrating the excess and not the reason they got to enjoy it: the music.

I can think of heaps more bands that were way more successful worldwide than INXS back in the day but they are not even regarded with anywhere near the kind of reverence they are. What about Milli Vanilli? They sold way more copies with their one album than any INXS album did. Why aren't they highly regarded anymore? Because the music was shit, and it remains so. INXS's albums may sound dated but the songs are killer. Without the music, there wouldn't be an INXS to make a telemovie about.

Having said that, the Sydney Morning Herald piece rightly says that the whole reason this program exists in the first place is down to the "enduring power of the late Michael Hutchence, the lead signer whose charisma and magnetic stage presence could blow a concert audience clean out of their seats, and whose death in 1997...remains an intriguing...part of the legend."  It's his tabloid-headline-grabbing antics the punters want to see - the music, as many viewers will see it, was a means to an end. This probably explains why it pulled in nearly 2 million domestic viewers on each respective Sunday night.

The death of Michael has been ruled suicide and NOT auto-erotic asphyxiation by the NSW State coroner - a fact that has been disputed by the late singer's family and friends. This issue wasn't tackled all that well in the film, largely because Michael died alone, the details surrounding are sketchy at best and any depiction of it would be purely speculative. It was handled tastefully, however, in my view, it did attempt to build to a climax and yet strangely failed to reach it.

So now they're proclaiming that this is the television hit of the year. It's a big call, considering we're only 6 weeks into the year. It was hugely successful in terms of ratings, substantially less so if it is measured on content. Did it match the hype? Hardly. But at least it got chins wagging, and the remaining members of INXS will get a boost to their retirement funds with back catalog sales going completely apeshit in the last few weeks.

I just hope we don't see a sequel that chronicles the aimless and pointless years in the aftermath of Michael's death, including the awkward choice of Terence Trent D'Arby as a vocalist and their credibility-destroying foray into reality television...the less said on that issue, the better.

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