How the ‘Mystify’ soundtrack gives Michael Hutchence his voice back
The first thing to note about the soundtrack to Richard Lowenstein’s Michael Hutchence documentary Mystify is that it’s not really a soundtrack at all.
The two are different beasts.
The film is an elegantly shot story of Hutchence’s sad life – dysfunctional childhood, finding a band of brothers in INXS, and discovering that the vacuum in his life was not filled by global superstardom or close relationships with women.
He tries to recreate himself as an underground cult figure, begins to suffocate as he turns into tabloid fodder, and undergoes a major personality change after the taxi accident in Paris.
When it actually arrives, the trainwreck ending is expected but emotionally devastating in its loneliness and tragedy.
Mystify – A Music Journey With Michael Hutchence (Petrol/Universal) on the other hand, sets out to celebrate the singer and songwriter, the sexy and ultra-confident frontman epitomised at INXS’s triumphant slaying of a crowd of 72,000 at London’s Wembley Stadium and whose prowess as a vocalist grows as the band’s music style became more diverse.
Chris Murphy, INXS’s svengali and global strategist, stresses, “I don’t want to harp on about the sad aspects of his life.
“I want people, especially young people, to go ‘My God, that guy’s a rock star legend’, charisma coming out of his backside’.”
He says the common response from the album’s pre-release listening parties was: “I knew Michael was a good singer but I didn’t know he was one of the greats”.
Far from being a safe cobbling together of 12 INXS hits, A Music Journey is an entirely new body of work.
It is made up of stuff discovered in boxes of forgotten cassettes – demos, outtakes, studio monitor grabs, live cuts and interviews.
Initially, the album was supposed to have been produced by Petrol Records’ music director, London-based Giles Martin, son of the Beatles’ late producer Sir George Martin.
But Martin was too bogged down with finishing the Rocketman soundtrack, so the task fell to Murphy who also heads Petrol Records.
He teamed up with Mark Edwards, one-time frontman with ‘80s band The Runners who had helped Petrol put together a documentary on Cuban’s banned electro-rap scene and which was nominated for a Grammy.
A Music Journey was originally set up as a vinyl album, that ebbed and flowed, over four sides.
Explains, Murphy, “Vinyl and cassettes have become important formats.
“It must be remembered that there are music fans in their 20s and 30s who haven’t seen a vinyl record, much less experienced its warmth, and its concept of a journey.”
Murphy‘s blueprint for A Music Journey was the 1968’s 30-million-selling landmark album In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by US band Iron Butterfly. The title track ran for over 17 minutes and took up the entire Side B.
The first single off A Music Journey, a recently-rediscovered cover of Eric Burdon & War’s 1970 hit ‘Spill The Wine’, first cut by Hutchence for a little-known movie, was given a sexy Cuban/Jamaican groove to sum up his appeal.
A song about orgasm and alluding to the woman’s G-spot, it was quickly banned by the BBC in England.
Current single ‘Please (You Got That…)’ is a previously unreleased Ray Charles duet and comes with in-studio banter as the Hutch teaches “Mr. Charles” the song.
It s expected to deepen Hutchence’s relationship with the African American community, which began when INXS were the first white rock band to draw black crowds in North America; they brought in Nile Rogers to produce ‘Original Sin’ and ‘Need You Tonight’ entered the black charts.
On this new record, ‘Original Sin’ gets a sexier and risky Jamaican feel.
On ‘Baby Don’t Cry’ INXS are erased out and replaced by a 40-piece orchestra.
The guitar and drums on ‘Kiss The Dirt (Falling Down The Mountain)’ are mixed right up, with a main component of the riff pulled out.
‘Need You Tonight’, now discovered in the streaming era by kids in Asia and South America, was originally to be represented on the album by an Arcade Fire mashup.
But it was dropped in favour of a French girl- pop version because “it’s sex on a stick”.
Nothing is represented from Hutchence’s underground electro project Max Q. Murphy says he couldn’t track down who currently owns its rights.
He says that while some INXS fans might be annoyed by some treatments he insists Hutchence would approve.
Firstly their musical tastes were aligned, first in their love for Massive Attack and the realisation what a game-changer that band was going to be.
Later on Hutchence “backed me 100%” when INXS took an unknown Sinead O’Connor on a UK tour, and then John Lydon and reggae band Steel Pulse on US arena dates.
“The American record company wanted to turn INXS into the next Bon Jovi and they initially banned me from releasing the (1983 dance remix) Dekadance EP. After it sold 80,000 copies it was ‘Can we do some more?’”
In any case, there were visitations from Hutchence’s ghost during the sessions to keep the project on track.
“It’s true, I got a call one night from Mark Edwards, very upset, ‘Man, there’s fucking ghosts flying around the room!’.
“Mark is very spiritual and sensitive, and he feels everything.
“I’d ask Mark a couple of times, why did you go down that (treatment) path rather than that one.
“He’d say, Every time I’m stuck I get on my hands and knees, and I pray to Michael and God.
“Michael tells me exactly what he wants.”
Murphy, who also reports past visitations from the singer, admits that Hutchence dying two years after he quit as band manager led to him carrying guilt for years.
“Maybe he could have reached me that night and he’d still be alive.
“He reached out to other people but without success.
“He died the loneliest death, and just before a tour that wasn’t sold out and should never have been booked.”
After coverage of the funeral, we hear a Hutchence sound grab from an interview, “It’s all about the music”, leaving A Music Journey to end on a highly poignant note.