Shabooh Shoobah
Atco, 1982

Though INXS had been moving toward a watery and bland pop mix before singer Michael Hutchence’s unfortunate death in 1997, during the past decade the remaining members of the band have dragged whatever legacy INXS once had through the dirt, participating in a reality television show to find Hutchence’s replacement. (The band is set to add insult to injury, supposedly recording an album in “tribute” to Hutchence with such duds as Brandon Flowers (The Killers), Rob Thomas (Matchbox Twenty) and Patrick Monahan (Trains) taking turns tainting the singer’s work.) As such, whole generations are unaware of the superb combo of post-punk funk and precision pop the Australian six-piece band once made, and only know them as the sad shell of a band willing to take Dave Navarro’s advice.

But those who do know the band for their music largely remember INXS for their biggest hits that came in the ’90s. The trio of albums at the core of the band’s discography are not to be overlooked: 1985’s breakthrough Listen Like Thieves, the lean grooves of 1984’s The Swing, and this one, the band’s third album from 1982, Shabooh Shoobah.

After two prior albums, on Shabooh Shoobah INXS finally found the right formula of Roxy Music–like stutter and new wave bounce. “The One Thing,” one of the finest sides the band ever cut, opens the album with bubbly synths, sharp guitar riffs and roaring sax blurts. Here, Hutchence finds the voice that had been escaping him, shifting between cooed rasps and breathy bouts where he belts out the song’s refrain. “To Look at You” is minimal by comparison, but some cracking snare beats and a couple synth lines are all the accompaniment Hutchence needs for his vocal, restrained here to seemingly match the dilemma of the song’s protagonist. “Spy of Love” is similarly sparse, with bent synths and intermittent guitar shards comprising the bulk of the backing.

“Here Comes,” though is set to a bounding tempo that laces outback pop tones with Hutchence’s slithery delivery. It sounds lean by today’s standard, but isn’t wanting for it. “Black and White,” meanwhile, shows Hutchence finding his voice as a lyricist. “One day, my life is out the door. Next day, you show me what it’s for” doesn’t seem like a great revelation, but it’s the kind of hook that once alluded him.

On “Golden Playpen” the band fills out its sound with acoustic guitar strums and a bevy of synth whines. The song has a primitive vibe, Hutchence echoing the jungled beats with couplets about getting drunk and tossing and turning. On “Jan’s Song,” Kirk Pengily’s sax becomes more prevalent, giving off a low-rent Joe Jackson sensation, but when Hutchence sings, “Jan’s friends they’re marching in the streets. The anger in their hearts provides a steady beat,” it somehow seems provocative. “Old World, New World” is vaguely meaningful in the same manner, with the departed singer telling us, “I know nothing, but I’ll keep listening.”

The album finishes as strongly as it began with “Don’t Change.” Here following a majestic intro of synths and guitars, the song sprints out of the gate with renewed gusto. Hutchence seems hellbent on preserving the moment as he commands, “Don’t change for you, don’t change a thing for me.” It’s a song that’s at once full of promise and lament for what will no doubt happen in the immediate future (like the change that would eventually diminish the charm of this album and the other records mentioned). Things would never be the same, but then that’s why we have records to remember them by.
Stephen Slaybaugh