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Michael Hutchence 

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Michael Hutchence
Michael Hutchence
(V2)

Whether his name is enough to sell the posthumous solo debut of former INXS leader Michael Hutchence is a question that should be easy to answer. The magnetism that made him one of the most dynamic singers of the '80s is still evident here, but it's not clear there's a hit as charged as, say, INXS's "New Sensation" -- particularly considering Hutchence is an old sensation at a time when this year's model has become this moment's thrill.

Nevertheless, there is enough good material here to warrant a listen, perhaps even shed a tear. More than two years after Hutchence hung himself in a sexually fraught suicide comes the solo debut of one of the most erotic, exciting singers of the '80s. Produced by Gang of Four leader Andy Gill (Hutchence was enthralled by that group's guitar sound) and refined by Black Grape's Danny Saber, this curious, occasionally exciting collection showcases the more vulnerable side of Hutchence, best-known for such defiant, proud rock tunes as "The One Thing," "What You Need," and "New Sensation." Tunes such as the soul-tinged "Get on the Inside" and the edgy, hard-rocking "A Straight Line" contrast with the cool, paradoxically self-revealing "All I'm Saying," the oddly metered "Don't Save Me From Myself," and the spectral, beautiful "Strip Away."

Such lyrical coexistence suggests Hutchence was far from a spent force, even as it indicates the kind of demons that were dogging him. Studded with guest appearances from the likes of Bono (whose vocals, dubbed over Hutchence's, "complete" the eerily prescient "Slide Away") and various high-end session people, this autobiographical album resonates beyond its sad, faintly kinky pedigree. Crafted from a collection Hutchence had been working on since 1995, it's an assured, polished album. Apparently, Hutchence had been working on it even as INXS was crafting its swan song, the underrated (and beautifully titled) 1997 album Elegantly Wasted. One wonders what the demos were like; the power shines through despite the polish Gill and Saber apply. Given the public's ghoulish appetite for celebrity, it wouldn't be surprising if those demos -- and the interim tracks Gill and Saber worked over -- turned up in a bootleg. -- Carlo Wolff

More by Carlo Wolff

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