What does it sound like?:
Michael Hutchence was the charismatic focal point of INXS. He possessed all the ‘presence’, ‘aura’ or ‘magnetism’ but still managed to be a part of a band of brothers that stuck together through thick and thin. His photogenic looks, flowing hair and ability to turn heads attracted love and devotion from a legion of fans, a string of gorgeous celebrity girlfriends and the other members of the group. He was undoubtedly a star, whose Rock Monster lifestyle and tragic early death have converted him into a legend. Mystify is a film documentary of his life (reviewed in Nights Out by Junior Wells) and now we have the pleasure of the soundtrack, sub-headed as A Musical Journey With Michael Hutchence.
The documentary is put together using mainly existing footage, including home recordings, by Richard Lowenstein. Despite having a long relationship with the band, dating back to their early videos, and the film presenting Hutchence within the INXS phenomenum, he had a problem obtaining the music. INXS refused permission. It took the intervention of Tiger Lily, Hutchence’s daughter with the equally tragic Paula Yates, to obtain nine tracks. Lowenstein showed her the film on a laptop. She was emotional watching it but impressed it was a labour of love, so she emailed the band.
The soundtrack consists of four mixes each lasting around fifteen minutes, an interesting approach that makes sense in an era when individual tracks are so readily available on streaming services. The mixes incorporate INXS and solo material, songs with The London Symphony Orchestra and dialogue from the film. The absence of any Max Q music, a collaboration with Ollie Olsen, will irk the dedicated Michael Hutchence fan. However, Ray Charles pays a visit to Hutchence’s studio bringing some welcome fairy dust. Mylène Farmer adds some Gallic feminine lust to a couple of the recordings. There is a preponderance of Funk Rock, of course, to which Hutchence’s voice is most suited. Oddly, The London Symphony Orchestra make him sound uncannily like Elton John. It’s all produced by long-serving band manager, Chris Murphy, assisted by Mark Edwards.
Trent Reznor did something similar in 1994 with the Natural Born Killers soundtrack. He had two distinct advantages when creating the thrilling, disturbing album that captured the protagonists’ insanity better than the movie itself. Firstly, his source material was much better, both in terms of the music and the excitement of the narrative. INXS rarely exceeded the level of a garage band playing a hybrid of Rock and Funk. At their very best, the single Need You Tonight, they purr lasciviously, but on Mystify it perfectly illustrates the weakness of the available resources. The song is deployed twice, both in diluted form, once as a live rendition, turned down so the listener can enjoy some film dialogue and the other as an anaemic remix. Reznor’s second advantage was that he knew his way round a mixing desk. He had the skills to fashion a mix with peaks, troughs, blending one track with another, leading to a sense of flow and drama. Mystify’s mixers can’t match those skills to anything like the same degree.
“A Musical Journey With Michael Hutchence” doesn’t effectively tell his story. There is a lack of aural intimacy in the absence of a visual spectacle. It is neither an alternative nor an enhancement to watching the film, failing to capture the essence of Michael Hutchence, the contradictions in his lifestyle or the magnitude of his loss. Mystify is, at best, a pleasant, mildly diverting listen. It’s worth hearing at least once if you have any interest in Michael Hutchence or INXS.
What does it all *mean*?
Making a silk purse from a sow’s ear remains impossible.
Goes well with…
An hour of free time.
Might suit people who like…