INXS • Listen Like Thieves

Atlantic/Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-041
Single LP
1986/2013

Music

Sound

INXS • X

Atlantic/Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-042
Single LP
1990/2013

Music

Sound

by Eric Hetherington | April 22, 2014

NXS’s fifth and seventh albums, Listen Like Thieves and X, catch the band at their commercial and musical zenith. The Australian band formed in the late 1970s and steadily increased its audience into the early '80s by supporting artists like Adam and the Ants and the Go-Go's. The New Wave influence is clearly heard on Listen Like Thieves, but three things made the band stand out from the crowd. First, they were not afraid to highlight and use the saxophone as a major instrument. Second, their use of keyboards was integrated with traditional rock instruments and was not overly relied upon (as with Depeche Mode) or used mostly for atmospherics (e.g., Pornography-era The Cure). Finally, their forceful rhythm section lent many of their songs to the dance floor.

Having broken into the American market with Listen Like Thieves (the single "What You Need" was a top-five record), their sixth album, Kick (which Mobile Fidelity has also reissued), was a major success, with four top-ten singles and multi-platinum sales in the US and UK. X, named to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of the band’s debut album, was not as successful as its predecessor, but it continued the funkier pop direction that began with Kick.

Listen Like Thieves is a near-perfect slice of 1986. The New Wave sound is present, but the production expands it and makes it more forceful than with the earlier records. In search of authenticity or DIY aesthetics, too many bands at the time had lead singers whose vocal talent lagged behind the songwriting, but Michael Hutchence’s assured vocals strengthen the songs and added to the popularity of the band beyond many of its contemporaries. Having not listened to this album in years, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the record stands the test of time; it is a whole album rather than merely a collection of songs. New listeners too young to feel the bonds of nostalgia will enjoy this record and recognize it as a precursor to many indie-rock releases of the last decade.

X opens with the two songs it is best known for, "Suicide Blonde" and "Disappear." The edgier aspects of Listen Like Thieves, however, have been tamed. The guitars are more polite and take more of a backseat. The songs seem less adventurous, more pop-oriented and have less visceral energy. The rhythm section is still a driving force, but it seems to be on cruise control in comparison to some of the frenetic energy of the earlier release. This change can clearly be heard by comparing the earlier album’s "Kiss the Dirt (Falling Down the Mountain)" and X’s "By My Side." Both start slow and measured and build to crashing choruses, but where "Kiss the Dirt" has a sense of urgency and sensuality, the latter feels pedestrian and predictable. The production on several tracks, such as "Know the Difference," sounds dated to a distracting extent.

The Mobile Fidelity production is at its usual high standard for both the records and their gatefold sleeves. Sonic highlights include spacious instrumental separation on both records and the bass, which is reproduced with the kind of deep authority that lends this music to dancing. The vinyl is extremely quiet, and the reasonable price -- both are from MoFi's Silver Label series -- make it easy to recommend these reissues. The only other notable reissue of these albums is a CD reissue of X from Rhino that includes bonus tracks. Serious fans may want to seek that out, but I can’t imagine it outshines the Mobile Fidelity release in sound or presentation.

Listen Like Thieves’s straight-ahead rock offers a more timeless quality than X, which is at times funkier, but the funk is tempered by pop sensibilities that cause a loss of soul. X’s appeal may be wider, but it is more memorable for a couple of tracks rather than as a whole. If your path to INXS was from early-'80s New Wave, then Listen Like Thieves should join other Mobile Fidelity '80s reissues like Echo and The Bunnymen’s Heaven Up Here and Yaz’s Upstairs at Eric’s on your record shelf.

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