INXS - Full Moon Dirty Hearts (East West Records): INXS has always been capable of coming up with both the sublime and the ridiculous. If you take selections from all their recordings to date you can compile one of the best, and one of the worst, albums in the history of rock.
The Oz quintet has a nasty propensity for producing the worst sort of tuneless rock, almost as if it can't quite leave its pub band history behind.
The opening tracks on Full Moon Dirty Hearts are typical examples. Days of Rust is a mad rush through some predictable chord changes, The Gift a tiresome grind built around an overly repetitive bass line, and Make Your Peace 's vocals are nothing short of grating (although the bass mix happens to be rather grittily sexy on this last track). Time, meanwhile, is almost a direct reprise of the nasty title track of the band's breakthrough album, Kick.
So why bother to listen on? Because, in typical INXS fashion, the band transforms itsel f on the latter tracks of the album into an inventive, well-produced, challenging funk/rock ensemble.
I'm Only Looking is a wonderfully understated piece of dance music which uses warm, muted synth sounds behind insistent funk guitar, Michael Hutchence's heavily compressed vocals, and even a bit of jazzy muted trumpet.
No doubt about it, this is first-class stuff . . . as is the subsequent cut, Please. The production here is somewhat sparer, with John Farriss' marvellously accurate drumming shining through and Hutchence sounding like Mick Jagger over some particularly effective wide-open power chords.
After a couple of flaccid, slow fillers, this infuriatingly patchy album is rounded off by The Messenger (far too much like the Rolling Stones) and Viking Juice, whose title is matched by its restless, breathless musical content.
When an album is as patchy as this, the best thing to do is make a dub and leave out the bad tracks. Luther Vandross - Never Let Me Go (EMI): Luther Vandross is one of those artists whose name everybody knows but who few (outside of US soul circles) can claim to have among their record collections. Essentially, Vandross is about professionalism, seamless production and tunes aimed fairly and squarely at more affluent African Americans.
Take Never Let Me Go, for example. Not one note is out of place, not one drum beat even a touch off the beat, not one vocal part in the slightest way inaccurate. Faultless.
The upshot is an album which sounds infinitely professional, but absolutely passionless. Vandross' more upbeat numbers are probably superior to his ballads, which are almost indistinguishable from the hundreds of other soul ballads which pass through theBillboard charts every year.
The cover of the Bee Gees' How Deep is Your Love is amusing enough, but other than that, it is all too over-produced.