Wednesday 14 October 2015

"Listen Like Thieves" by INXS, at 30

“Listen Like Thieves”, released on the 14th October 1985, was the fifth studio album from INXS and is widely considered as being the international breakthrough for the band.  It spent two weeks at number 1 on the Australian Kent Music Report Albums Chart, peaked at number 11 on the US Billboard 200, 24 on the Canadian RPM 100 Albums and 46 on the UK charts.

To help celebrate its 30th birthday, here's a little retrospective of the album...
During 1984, INXS toured non-stop across Europe, the UK, the US and Australia on the back of their album “The Swing”.  By that December, it was double platinum making it, at the time, one of the five biggest domestic albums in Australian music history and, buoyed up by this, the members of INXS wanted to improve their worldwide impact.

In  March 1985, they returned to Rhinoceros Studios in Sydney to plan their next album with new producer Chris Thomas, who’d previously worked with The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Sex Pistols (on “Never Mind The Bollocks”), The Pretenders, Elton John and Roxy Music.  The powerful producer was just what they needed.  As Richard Clapton, acclaimed Australian songwriter and producer, said, “Chris was one of the most talented, most eccentric and demanding people you'd ever want to meet.  From the moment you walked into the control room, there was no doubt you were in the presence of greatness. INXS met their match...he was the only producer they've ever had who told them what they needed to hear.”  This chimed well with the band, as Michael Hutchence later recounted, “This is what we've been trying to do one way or another for a few years now, that is to make an album that is purely just form and function of the songs. It has no artistic pretentions.”
Album liner image
from left - Jon Farris (drums), Tim Farris (guitar), Michael Hutchence (vocals), Kirk Pengilly (guitar/sax), Garry Gary Beers (bass), Andrew Farris (keyboards/guitar)
Track Listing
1: What You Need
2: Listen Like Thieves (G. Beers/A. Farris/J. Farris/T. Farris/M. Hutchence/K. Pengilly)
3: Kiss The Dirt (Falling Down The Mountain)
4: Shine Like It Does
5: Good + Bad Times (M. Hutchence/K. Pengilly)
6: Biting Bullets (M. Hutchence/K. Pengilly)
7: This Time (A. Farris)
8: Three Sisters (instrumental) (T. Farris)
9: Same Direction
10: One x One
11: Red Red Sun (A. Farris/J. Farris)
unless noted otherwise, all songs by A. Farris/M. Hutchence

This was the first album to feature songs written by a combination of band members and although this practise would continue, Andrew Farris and Michael Hutchence became the primary songwriters from “Kick” onwards.  It was also the first of three albums the group made with Chris Thomas at the helm (along with the aforementioned "Kick" and "X").

The recording process went well, with Thomas tightening up on the genre hopping of previous albums and sharpening the funk aspect.  By the time they had 10 completed songs, he hit them with the statement that the album wasn’t good enough and was missing the “killer” track.

Andrew Farris brought in a demo tape of a funk song he’d been working on called “Funk Song No.13”.  As Chris Thomas said, it “was just this riff - dink, dink, dink-a-dink - and it was great.  I thought, ‘I could listen to that groove for ten minutes!’  I said, ‘Let’s work with that.’”

Andrew Farris: “We had set out to take the funk dabblings [from] ‘The Swing’ and write a dance track with attitude. Michael had a rough lyric idea in mind. I had already been fooling around with the [chords] and most of the track was played live in the studio.  It’s another example of a huge hit that essentially took no time at all.  Michael’s lyrics were simple and direct…

Hey you, won't you listen
This is not the end of it all
Don't you see there is a rhythm
I'll take you where you
Really need to be

…and he sang them like he believed it.  Plenty of in-your-face guitar, a stompin' rhythm track, and the use of an acid keyboard bass line gave us a song from outer space compared to other folks in 1985. We had our first Top 5 hit in North America.”

“What You Need” was the lead-off track for the album and the first single to be released from it in Australia and New Zealand.  It was the second single release in the USA and Europe and was the band’s first American Top Ten hit, peaking at number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.  The single was a top 20 hit in Canada, reached number 2 in Australia but only managed number 51 in the UK.

Whilst the band was recording the album, WEA (their label) released a limited edition 12” vinyl (and cassette) EP called Dekadance, featuring remixes from the albums “The Swing” and “Shabooh Shoobah”.

On 19th May, INXS picked up seven awards at the 1984 Countdown Music And Video Awards ceremony and also performed “Burn For You”.  In July, as part of the Oz For Africa concert (in conjunction with Live Aid) they performed five songs and the BBC broadcast two of them, “What You Need” and “Don’t Change”.
from left - Hutchence with Richard Lowenstein, Dekadance EP cover, album in cassette form
After a South American tour in August 1985, the band performed in Melbourne at a concert for Prince Charles and Princess Diana, later released on video as “Rocking The Royals”.  From November through to February 1986, they toured North America, Europe and New Zealand (as Andrew Farris later said, “we toured this album relentlessly for 14 months.”)  During a two-month break following this, Michael Hutchence took a lead role in Richard Lowenstein’s second feature film “Dogs in Space” and sang the beautiful  “Rooms for the Memory”, written by Ollie Olsen, which entered the charts.  Unfortunately, the movie (which I liked and which did well criticially) wasn’t a commercial success.

In May, the band toured (as the wonderfully named “If You Got It, Shake It World Tour”) for six months in the United States, Europe and Australia.  They were the support band for Queen at their “Live at Wembley ‘86” show on 12th July (which I had a chance to attend but didn’t - argh!) and Musician magazine, at the time, called INXS “the best live band in the world.”
The album yielded four singles:
This Time”, backed with “Sweet as Sin” and released in September 1985
What You Need”, backed with “I'm Over You” and released in December 1985
Listen Like Thieves”, backed with “Different World” and released in April 1986
Kiss the Dirt (Falling Down the Mountain)”, backed with “Six Knots” and released in August 1986
(“Different World” appeared on the “Crocodile Dundee” soundtrack)

The four singles also had accompanying videos:
This Time” was directed by Peter Sinclair and produced by Godley & Crème
Kiss the Dirt (Falling Down the Mountain)” was directed by Alex Proyas and produced by Andrew McPhail.  The video was shot on a salt lake in South Australia. Proyas would go on to direct “The Crow” and “I, Robot”.
What You Need” and “Listen Like Thieves”, were directed and produced by Richard Lowenstein.  He had directed his first ever music video in June 1984 for the band's “Burn For You” (which won the Countdown Music and Video Awards for Best Promotional Video), following it up in October with “All The Voices” (using footage from his first feature film “Strikebound”) and “Dancing On The Jetty”.  He would go on to establish a long term relationship with the band until Hutchence’s death and his work on the “Kick” videos was excellent.

“Listen Like Thieves” was heavily (to put it politely) influenced by John Carpenter’s “Escape From New York” and featured a lot of the cast of “Dogs In Space”, as well as animation from Lynn-Maree Milburn.
video stills from "What You Need"
For “What You Need”, Andrew Farris said, “The video was mostly done with still photography edited together, a motor drive on the camera giving the visual sequence its strange film texture. Lynn-Maree Milburn added the animation.  We were not only fooling with the music but fooling with visual mediums as well and it was working.”  At the Countdown Music and Video Awards in 1985, Lowenstein shared the award for Best Video for “What You Need” with Lyn-Maree Milburn.

Although the album was a commerical success, it had a mixed critical reception.  Rolling Stone magazine wrote that “INXS rocks with passion and seals the deal with a backbeat that’ll blackmail your feet” and felt the band were “going for the jugular - or is that the groin?”.  AllMusic noted that the album completed the bands “transition into an excellent rock & roll singles band”, Australian musicologist Ian McFarlane wrote that it had “a much harder sound than heard on previous INXS records, but somehow it lacked the pop smarts that had made The Swing so appealing.”  In the UK, the NME called the band ‘INX-cusable” and the review declared the album to be a “complete and utter turkey.”

Personally, I think it’s a great album, wonderfully bridging the artistry of the earlier works and paving the way for the assured sound of the mighty “Kick”, which would appear two years later.

Happy 30th, “Listen Like Thieves”, I think you still sound fresh and exciting!

* Interview quotes taken from "Story To Story" and liner notes from the US import "Shine Like It Does: The Anthology 1979-1997"


  1. I think that its one their best albums, I like it more that Kick, its more raw, and there is heavy guitars and drums in it like "Red red sun" , "Good time bad times" "Kiss the dirt", it has a hard rock feel in some tunes, strong rock and roll album !

    1. I'd agree about it being one of their best but "Kick" still just pips it for me :)