Album of the Week, June 9: Shabooh Shoobah by INXS

INXSShaboohINXS formed in Perth, Australia, as the three Farriss brothers and their school chums slowly merged their separate musical projects into one band. Calling themselves INXS, the sextet moved to Sydney and began working the clubs. The lineup was strong, with each contributing distinctly to the evolving sound of the group: Farrisses Tim on guitar, Andrew on keyboards, and Jon on drums; singer Michael Hutchence, bassist Garry Gary Beers, and sax player Kirk Pengilly. Consciously striving to differentiate themselves from the pub rock scene they frequented, they used the sax and keyboard elements to explore a new wavish dance framework. They recorded two solid but unremarkable albums as they toured steadily and honed their craft. Realizing that a new song, The One Thing was something special, they paid producer Mark Opitz out of their own pockets to helm the recording. After a protracted search for a producer for the rest of their third album, they decided that Opitz’ work was strong enough to keep him on board. That decision made all the difference. Opitz had a background in hard rock, and the extra energy and muscle he brought to the production elevated Shabooh Shoobah far above its predecessors.

Title Shabooh Shoobah
Label Atco Release Date October 1982
Producer Mark Opitz
U.S. Chart  46 U.K. Chart  n/c
[US Hot 100]
  1. The One Thing [#30]
  2. To Look At You
  3. Spy of Love
  4. Soul Mistake
  5. Here Comes
  6. Black and White
  7. Golden Playpen
  8. Jan’s Song
  9. Old World New World
  10. Don’t Change [#80]

The album is lovingly sequenced, with two of the best dance rock tracks of the 80s opening and closing it. The One Thing is a sinuous, lusty groove, capitalizing on Hutchence’s vocal charisma. The band are in fine form, crafting a danceable rock track that introduced them to an international audience.

One thing that clearly improved on this outing was the variety in the songs. INXS had created a fairly distinctive sound, but the two dozen songs they had presented before this album were all fairly similar. These ten tracks may not all be standouts, but each offers something special and helps make the album a fun ride from start to finish. To Look At You is a haunting, drum driven lust song. Soul Mistake is both surging and wistful, making especially good use of Tim’s guitar. Here Comes is an urgent chant, showing off the band’s pub roots and dance ambitions in one nice package. Golden Playpen may be the closest thing to filler, hinting at Hutchence’s growing Jagger pretensions, but its fragmented lyrics and urgent beat keep things moving. Old World New World is goofy fun, lithe and slinky nonsense with earnest ambitions.

Besides the two amazing singles, three other tracks stand out. Black and White hints at the sound that would later propel the band to superstardom (if only for a year or two). The great percussion work provides hints of the outback, lifting it above the dance rock fray, and the call-and-response vocals remind us that this is a complex, talented unit. INXS were not especially political, but Jan’s Song, while a bit opaque, hints at the plight of Australia’s native aboriginal people. It’s a powerful song with some of the most coherent lyrics on the disc. The dub-style groove and stellar sax work also help the song stand out among its strong company.

Spy of Love is a great song, built up over the recording of the whole album. Tim Farriss had a nonsense lyric he sang along with the rhythm when the song was forming; those words gave the album its unusual love-it-or-hate-it title. The track shows off the best use of musical space on the album, allowing each element to shine briefly and drop back into the mix. Every player gets his moment, and the result demonstrates just how potent and cohesive INXS could be.

And then there’s that final track. Don’t Change is one of the best love songs of the 80s, a stirring, danceable joy. Andrew Farriss outdoes himself with stunning synth washes and Hutchence conveys an honest, powerful emotion. Every aspect of the song is lovingly crafted. Where Spy of Love gains its strength from minimalism Don’t Change verges on excess, holding back just enough to swell but not burst. Few bands ever get a moment this transcendant. Whoever opted to close the disc with this one was a true genius.

FURTHER LISTENING: It took two more albums before INXS finally broke into the big time. The Swing is more consistent than Shabooh Shoobah but lacks the high points of its three or four best tracks. Listen Like Thieves is a bit of a transitional mess, but it has some lovely songs and the band’s first major hit. Then came Kick. A monster best-seller, it polished the Shabooh Shoobah formula into something more accessible. I think it lacks the charm and magic, but boy did it sell; the four singles are among the band’s best songs. INXS couldn’t quite capitalize on that fame and limped along for another decade before Hutchence’s untimely death drew their success to a close. Other than Shabooh Shoobah, the best approach to the band’s work is one of their collections. If you only want the hits, 1994’s aptly-titled The Greatest Hits should do the job. For a more complete overview including album track gems like The Swing‘s Johnson’s Aeroplane, the two-disc The Years is a strong, representative collection.


About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

2 Responses to Album of the Week, June 9: Shabooh Shoobah by INXS

  1. 5thtop says:

    Good article. Shabooh is one of my favourite INXS albums and I agree completely about The One Thing and Don’t Change. My personal favourites have always been Black and White and To Look At You, the latter having that great AC/DC, four to the floor beat and another of Hutchence’s great vocals. Not sure I agree that they went downhill quite so quickly after Kick; ‘X’ was a perfectly acceptable effort after such a massive rise in profile, and I genuinely think one of their best albums was Welcome To Wherever You Are, which managed to marry the hit-machine hooks of Kick with the indie sensibility of their earlier work – it’s well worth revisiting.

  2. Thanks – glad you liked the post. Sorry if I was unclear about the later output. I meant limped along commercially. I agree that the music stayed pretty consistent. INXS can be proud of nearly 20 years of solid music.

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