Michael Hutchence’s final INXS album

Jon O'Brien 6 April 2022

25 years after its release, we take a look back at the final album Michael Hutchence recorded with INXS before his tragic death

INXS’s tenth studio effort, Elegantly Wasted, was supposed to revive a band that had previously been burned out by the rock and roll treadmill. Instead, and due to the most tragic of circumstances, it proved to be a self-penned epitaph.  

Just seven months after the LP’s release, and on the eve of a 13-date Australian tour to promote it, frontman Michael Hutchence was found hanged in his Sydney hotel room: a coroner’s report later confirmed he’d committed suicide, although speculation persists that misadventure and even murder was the true cause.

By this point Hutchence had become far more renowned for his turbulent personal life than his musical achievements. And a memorable The Big Breakfast appearance in 1994 in which he and then-married presenter Paula Yates outrageously flirted with each other on a cow-print king size bed was undoubtedly the catalyst.

As their love story hurtled towards its tragic conclusion, Hutchence and Yates repeatedly provided the tabloids with front-page headlines. The former pleaded guilty to assaulting a paparazzi photographer who’d followed their trail, the latter got involved in an increasingly bitter battle with ex-husband Bob Geldof over custody of their three daughters, and then both parties were arrested after a nanny allegedly discovered traces of opium under their bed.  

"As their love story hurtled towards its tragic conclusion, Hutchence and Yates repeatedly provided the tabloids with front-page headlines"

Yet Hutchence’s problems truly began in 1992 when he fractured his skull in an altercation with a Copenhagen taxi driver. The resulting loss of his taste and smell senses sparked both an ongoing battle with depression and an out-of-character aggressive streak. Bassist Garry Gary Beers later claimed that he’d been threatened with a knife during the recording of 1993’s Full Moon, Dirty Hearts.

It's little surprise, therefore, that the six-piece felt like they needed a break from each other, something which just happened to coincide with their departure from Atlantic Records too. But as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and by 1996, Hutchence was itching to get back with the rest of the group he’d been a part of for nearly two decades. He even postponed work on his self-titled solo debut (which eventually saw the light of day in 1999) as a sign of his commitment.

INXS certainly weren’t short of lyrical inspiration. In the three years since they last assembled in the studio, multi-instrumentalist Kirk Pengilly had divorced singer wife Deni Hines, the Farriss brotherskeyboardist Andrew, guitarist Tim and drummer Jonhad lost their mother, and Hutchence, on top of all the other major life changes, had become a father to a daughter named Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily.

You might, therefore, have expected Elegantly Wasted to be a rather sombre affair. However, apart from the gospel-tinged balladry of “Searching,” previewed as a first taster of the album at the 1996 ARIA Awards, it’s actually an energetic listen which at times recalls the stadium-sized funk-rock of their 1989 blockbuster Kick.

There’s even a cheeky swagger to the likes of “Show Me (Cherry Baby),” the opening number apparently dedicated to a late singer Hutchence once mentored, and the title track reportedly written after a wild night out with close friend Bono. Rumour has it that in its chorus of “I am elegantly wasted,” the vocalist sneakily added the line “I am better than Oasis,” a nod to the on-stage spat at the BRIT Awards in which Noel Gallagher described Hutchence as a “has-been.”

Liam also gets it in the neck on “Don’t Lose Your Head,” another strident rock anthem which appeared in the most mid-‘90s of action movies, Face/Off: star Nicolas Cage actually showed up at one of the group’s final US gigs. And while Hutchence’s howling vocals were often compared to Mick Jagger, he also appears to be playfully channelling David Bowie on the similarly rousing “I’m Just A Man.”

According to Canadian producer Bruce Fairbairn, whose past credits included Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet and Aerosmith’s Get A Grip, Hutchence was in fine form while recording the album. The Canadian, who would also sadly die two years later, told Sound on Sound in 1997, “Michael had 90 per cent of his lyrics completed before I got involved, and for him it was really a good experience… I think it gave him the luxury of really concentrating on his performances without being pressured to go down to the wire.”

"And while Hutchence’s howling vocals were often compared to Mick Jagger, he also appears to be playfully channelling David Bowie"

And Hutchence himself appeared to be excited about INXS’ return to the fray, telling The Album Network, “A lot of [our contemporaries] like U2, The Cure and Massive Attack seem to be cross-pollinating genres of music – this is definitely a good time to be recording music as the horizons are once again widening!”

INXS certainly did their best to get the word out there, appearing on high-profile shows such as Late Show with David Letterman and embarking on a globe-trotting trek that took in everywhere from Scotland to South Africa. But the record failed to reverse their commercial fortunes, stalling just outside the US Top 40 and only scraping inside the UK Top 20. And the constraints of the band’s live commitmentsGeldof had taken legal action to prevent Yates travelling to Australia with their daughters and Tiger Lilywas said to have affected Hutchence’s state of mind in his final hours.

As a result, Elegantly Wasted has become more notable for its proximity to that fateful day on November 22, 1997 than its actual music. However, with a re-energised Hutchence and several tracks worthy of joining their canon, it deserves to be considered as more than a tragic footnote.

Read more: Flume: Records that changed my life

Read more: 5 New records you need to listen to

Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter