* * 1/2 INXS. "Kick." Atco. Australia's INXS is the band that aims to put the rock back into dance-rock and the rhythm back into rhythm guitar. Especially with this album: Producer Chris Thomas (of Pretenders fame), working with the group for the second time in a row, must've sent the keyboard player out to the movies during most of the sessions for "Kick." It's a guitar album that means to establish INXS once and for all as a rock 'n' roll band.
The move is a smart one that finally gives the outfit a much-needed sense of direction. The songs that combine INXS' new-found power-chord "kick" with the dance rhythms that have been the hallmark of its hit singles are the ones that shine with power and originality.
The single, "Need You Tonight," is a minor funk classic, largely because of the slinkiness of its simple, contrasting guitar styles and the low-key way in which singer Michael Hutchence plays out his effortless sex appeal: "You're my kind," he breathes huskily, while a million kindred-spirited girls no doubt swoon in unison.
In truth, though, the band members' adeptness at constructing spare instrumental tracks helps mask a basic lack of fundamental song skills; when there is a terrific hook here ("The Loved One"), it's usually unhooked from the rest of the song, floating alone. And when the funky rhythm guitar and dance beat disappear, watch out for falling monotony.
The lyrics are best left unexamined, despite occasional political overtones ("Guns in the Sky," "Meditate") thrown in to break up the monotony of the oh-baby love songs. Needless to add, there's certainly nothing half as provocative as the 1984 interracial-love hit "Original Sin," the bright and shining moment when INXS seemed like it might have something to say. INXS seems a band of latent intelligence, but for now, the feet will still find much more to be moved by than the head.