35 Years Ago: INXS Continues Hot Streak With ‘New Sensation’
Kick would be the second of three straight INXS albums produced by Chris Thomas. More importantly, it was the second to drill in on the emerging collaborative genius of Michael Hutchence and Andrew Farriss.
Before, the Australian band had used a hodgepodge of producers including Nile Rodgers ("Original Sin") and shared composing credits with all of the other respective members. But 1985's Listen Like Thieves – and the breakout U.S. Top 5 smash "What You Need," in particular – had arrived like the proverbial lightbulb over INXS' head.
"Even before I'd started writing for Kick, I knew the audience was there for it," Farriss said in the liner notes to 2001's Shine Like It Does: The Anthology. "I said to them, 'If you trust Michael and I to write the whole of the next record, it will be massive. We know what we're doing.'"
He and Hutchence were quickly developing a close-knit writing relationship that played off each other's respective strengths. INXS' improving commercial fortunes were a key indicator.
"We would get together and he'd say, 'What do you got?' I said, 'Well, I have a listen to this,'" Farriss told The Tennessean in 2022. "In the old days, it was a cassette, or I might have an acoustic guitar or play on a piano. He goes, 'I love that. So just give me something to take away, and I'll bring a lyric back for you' – and that's often the way we worked."
Watch INXS' 'New Sensation' Video
The creative arc for "New Sensation" would be far different. They wrestled with a bluesier demo during writing sessions before INXS' third album, Shabooh Shoobah, before ultimately setting it aside. Farriss would later admit the track was "from outer space compared to what was happening in 1982."
This kind of push and pull was key to their creative dynamic. "Andrew is quite the purist; anything new, he's very suspicious of," Hutchence told the Tampa Bay Times in 1997. "I'm a 'now ... right now ... this second' person. It's not next week, and yesterday actually doesn't exist. So between those two extremes, I guess we get a style where we kind of write songs at totally cross purposes."
Instead, INXS kept building their brand while "New Sensation" languished. They started with the gutsy decision to leave the group's native country.
"We actually sat down around a table in '82 with [original manager] Chris [Murphy] and said, 'Do we want to be a band that's going to just play the pub circuit in Australia and take that as far as it goes – or do we want to start trying to break into the international market?'" Kirk Pengilly told Rolling Stone in 1988. "So the thing we tried, which really no other Australian band had tried, was we started working overseas before we were big in Australia."
Shabooh Shoobah and 1984's The Swing hung around the Billboard Top 50 mark, setting the stage for Listen Like Thieves to become a double-platinum smash. As they completed 1987's Kick, "New Sensation" finally found a home on the track listing. Credit goes in part to the confidence INXS had gained in the interim.
"I think what makes the Kick album so dynamic," Farriss said in the Shine Like It Does liner notes, "is that we weren't so much interested in what everybody else was doing as we were on what we wanted to do."
Watch INXS Perform 'New Sensation' in Concert
INXS nailed the take, and – in keeping with the general vibe of these sessions – Hutchence added a sun-streaked narrative. "I felt that a lot of the lyrics on the Kick album were very positive lyrics," Farriss told Songfacts in 2020. "When I listen to that album, a lot of the lyrics are about celebrating life, and I find them particularly positive."
The timing was finally right. "New Sensation" became the third single from Kick in early 1988, continuing a series of career-making Top 5 successes: "Need You Tonight" topped the Billboard charts, the follow-up "Devil Inside" reached No. 2 and "New Sensation" peaked at No. 3.
Only later did Shabooh Shoobah producer Mark Opitz learn how long they'd been sitting on this huge single. "He nearly fainted," Farriss told The Tennessean.
"He said, 'Do you mean to tell me that when I was producing such-and-such record, you already had that music?'" Farriss added. "But when we were putting the Kick album together, Michael and I knew. We both said, 'This piece of music is important. It suits what we're trying to do with 'Need You Tonight,' 'What You Need,' all this sort of funk-rock stuff.' And 'New Sensation' has a blues angle to it, as well. It just works. And Michael's lyrics? Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant."
All was forgiven: Opitz returned to co-produce 1992's Welcome to Wherever You Are and 1993's Full Moon, Dirty Hearts.