They were one of Australia’s biggest bands of all time. Rock royalty in the 1980s and 1990s churning out hit after hit. While many before them had achieved success back in the UK, few had managed to break it into the charts across the Pacific. But all that changed with a bunch of mates and four simple letters… INXS!
And to excess is what they lived up to in all aspects of their lives. Now almost twenty years since the death of their frontman, Michael Hutchence, who it was ruled had committed suicide through a mixture of alcohol and drugs, a new miniseries, Never Tear Us Apart, has aired in Australia detailing the untold story of the almighty highs and the dismal lows of the worldwide sensation.
Opening at the height of their popularity, a sold out tour at Wembley, and using a combination of archive footage and live action, the miniseries is the ultimate rags-to-riches story. Told through flashbacks spurned from one-on-one interviews with, what we assume, is the remaining band members (it is never clearly shown when the interview is taking place or for what purpose), the series jumps through time following the band.
Though the series plays a bit with dramatic license, such as showing the INXS band forming in Perth when really it was Sydney, it’s a good reflection on the life and times of that era in Australian music. From showing the boys in their formative years back in the mid 70s, their time as the predominantly cover-playing Aussie pub band, the Farriss Brothers, through to their first world tour, first number 1 outside Australia (“Original Sin” in France) and the hard rocking times at the top of the world. Through it all they don’t pass over the reality of the boys and the INXS lifestyle – there is a reason the series has warnings for language, drug use, sex scenes and nudity – they don’t glamourise it either. Though only briefly touched on, they effectively show the toll that life on the road take on loved ones left behind.
What you get is a series of snapshots of the life and times of the band. While effective in moving the story along, it just brushes the surface of their story. You have the feeling of not being told the whole story, but a more sanitised version that dangles a carrot in front of you then snatches it away as soon as you’re hooked, leaving you desperately wanting more.
This in turn leaves very little room for characterisation and without some kind of knowledge of the band and their history, you would find it difficult knowing who was who and their significance in the story. This is a real shame considering the cast is made up of some of the best and brightest Aussie talent currently out there (Damon Herriman, All Saints, Water Rats, Vegas, Justified; Luke Arnold, Winners & Losers; Hugh Sheridan, Packed to the Rafters; Andrew Ryan, Tomorrow When The War Began, Underbelly; Alex William, Underground: The Julian Assange Story, The Reckoning). The fact that they’re really reduced to playing caricatures of their characters is such a waste of the talent available.
Unsurprisingly, it is Herriman, Arnold and Ryan as the standouts in Part One. Herriman’s manager Chris Murphy is probably the most rounded character in the series. You see his drive and determination to make the band the biggest in the world and how he will stop at nothing to achieve this. The series showcases the sacrifices he made, the games he played and his sheer brilliance at knowing what kind of music the world wanted at that time and how to tap into that perfectly.
Arnold is almost the spitting image of Hutchence. From his hip thrusts, his pout and swagger and the way he just oozes sex appeal and badboy vibes… like Hutchence, he has every single person eating out of the palm of his hand. However, you never get a glimpse at what he feels or thinks about the whole experience. Apart from the brief flashback to the two scenes from his adolescence, you don’t get to know the real Michael.
Ryan is great as the conscientious, hard-working Andrew Farriss. Like Murphy, Andrew Farriss is more three dimensional than the other characters. We get to experience his worry about the band, his attempts to look at things rationally and to cover all bases. He is shown as being the only one of the band not to get swept up in the hysteria and momentum of cracking it into the big time. His stress and realisation that it will never stop, that they have to continually keep topping their last success lays the groundwork for future tension between him and the band that is sure to come up in the concluding chapter.
On the whole, Part One was an entertaining look into the rise of one of Australia’s best-loved bands. It was great hearing sound bites of their hits throughout the episode, such as “Original Sin”, “What You Need”, “The One Thing” and “Don’t Change”. However, I was left wanting more. I did like the hauntingly premonitory ending of Hutchence declaring that his goal in life is “to die laughing”.
INXS: Never Tear Us Apart concludes next Sunday night on Channel 7. There are currently no airdates for screenings outside of Australia.
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