There are those who will say INXS at least damaged — if not downright ruined — their credibility last year by doing the reality television show “Rock Star: INXS.”
On the program, 15 contestants competed each week to become the new lead singer of the long-running Australian band.
Many felt the show was an insult to the group’s late singer, Michael Hutchence, who died by apparent suicide in 1997, and a desperate move to restart the career of a group that sold 30 million albums worldwide.
But J.D. Fortune, who was selected by INXS to be the band’s new singer, has a different view of the whole venture. He believes it was a highly courageous move by INXS to seek out a new singer in such a public way.
“I mean, if this didn’t work, their career would have been over,” Fortune says.
The fact is, INXS, whose first CD with Fortune as lead singer, “Switch,” was released in November, had been trying to find a new singer for years.
The band members — keyboardist/ guitarist Andrew Farriss, drummer Jon Farriss, guitarist Tim Farriss, bassist Garry Gary Beers and saxophonist/ guitarist Kirk Pengilly — first teamed up with Terence Trent D’Arby, in 1999, but that partnership quickly fell apart.
Then in May 2000, INXS and Jon Stevens, former frontman of Noiseworks, a popular Australian band, signed on. He toured with INXS in 2001 and 2002, including a show at the Valley’s Celebrity Theatre, but attempts at songwriting with Stevens never jelled and INXS ended up back at square one.
Then the band hatched the idea of the reality show and approached Mark Burnett (creator of “Survivor” and “The Apprentice”), who then put it together.
Fortune’s sudden ascension into the rock music spotlight actually would make for a good movie script. Now 32, the resident of Nova Scotia, Canada, once performed as an Elvis Presley impersonator, but by the time “Rock Star: INXS” came along, was out of music, homeless and living out of his car.
“I invested in a business where I was living out of the back of the store,” Fortune explains. “I had some differences with my partner, and basically when I left I had to put a lot of stuff into storage and put what I could into my car.”
Winning on the show was one thing, but Fortune said the real work of being in INXS didn’t begin until after he was chosen as the new singer.
The day after the finale of the show, Fortune was in the studio, beginning what became a grueling five-week sprint to finish “Switch” in time for a pre-Christmas season release.
“Switch” retains many of the musical signatures that made INXS albums such as “Listen Like Thieves,” “Kick” and “X” huge hits. New up-tempo songs such as “Devil’s Party,” “Pretty Vegas” and “Perfect Strangers” are funky rockers built around danceable beats, hooky, tightly intertwined guitar lines and Fortune’s supple vocals.
Overall “Switch” may not quite match the best INXS discs, but it’s a solid effort that suggests the reborn group may have some creative fuel left.
In concert, Fortune says the band plays more than 25 songs, half a dozen of which will come from “Switch.”
As for taking over for Hutchence, who was one of rock’s most charismatic frontmen, Fortune says he has only recently begun to fathom the task he faces.
“It didn’t really sink in until after the record had been released and I started thinking, I just kind of fell into this,” Fortune says. “(Hutchence) has been one of my idols for a long time, and getting to be onstage with those guys who grew up with him, it sort of made me feel a little more comfortable about what I’m doing. At the same time, I’m just trying to fill my own shoes because nobody’s ever going to replace Michael. It’s just impossible. I’m just hoping to bring my pure and honest self to the stage and hopefully attract people that way.”
- ALAN SCULLEY