"Listen Like Thieves" would be the breakthrough album in the United States for the six member band from Australia called Inxs. Prior to this album, Inxs had already established a solid following in their home country of Australia. This would be the album where Inxs would begin to transition to the sound that would define the band in the late 1980s and 1990s. While many people are only familiar with their Top 10 hit "What You Need", there is a lot more that this album has to offer.
One fact that I find amazing about Inxs is that this six member band stuck together from their formation in the late 1970s through Michael Hutchence's untimely death in 1997. During this period, the band would release 10 studio albums, 1 Greatest Hits album, and 1 Live album. This has allowed the band to meld together and grow professionally. Much of this is due to the fact that three band members are brothers: Andrew Farriss (Keyboards), Jon Farriss (Drums), and Tim Farriss (Guitar). The other three members also stuck tightly with the band the whole way. These members include: Michael Hutchence (Lead Vocals), Garry Gary Beers (Bass), and Kirk Pengilly (Guitar and Sax). Hutchence - known for his long hair and theatrical performances in concert often gets the most publicity. But the remaining five members all make major contributions from a musicianship standpoint. In addition, Hutchence is not just eye candy - he plays a key role in the songwriting. It is worth noting for "Listen Like Thieves" that the majority of the songs are written by Hutchence and Andrew Farriss.
I think Inxs' musical style can be considered an offshoot of the Punk and New-Wave movements of the late 1970s and early 1980s I look at "Listen Like Thieves as a transition album - this is where they would migrate from the Punk/New Wave influence of their early work and begin to move toward a more mainstream Pop/Rock sound. At the same time, Inxs wasn't afraid to try new things and experiment with different sounds. While this experimentation is done very well on, I find three other factors that make this album sound so good. 1) The guitar work is as strong as I have seen (this album some of Tim and Kirk's best work); 2) The infusion of Kirk's saxophone into this punk/new-wave influenced sound; and 3) Hutchence's powerful vocals really elevate the sound of the band.
Here is a song by song breakdown of the tracks:
"What You Need": Back in 1985,when I heard this song, I wasn't too impressed. However on Inxs' "Live Baby Live" album, the live version really impressed me. Now when I go back and listen to the studio version I have a new appreciation for this song. While Hutchence does his usual good job on vocals, I think this is a song where the other members of the band really pick it up. While Kirk's saxophone and Tim's guitar are right on the money - I ultimately think it's Jon Farriss' drumming that give this song an "edge".
"Listen Like Thieves": This song is credited to all members of the band - and you can truly hear all of the contributions of each member of the band from an instrumentation standpoint. However the beat of this song almost is the perfect showcase for Hutchence's gregarious style.
"Kiss the Dirt (Falling Down the Mountain)": The opening tracks have a very classic guitar sound, but the song transitions into a Synth-Pop sound. This song is a perfect example of Inxs bridging the Synth-Pop sound back to some classic guitar sound. There is some very creative keyboard work by Andrew.
"Shine Like It Does": This song might not be known in the U.S., but this is a classic among Inxs fans. While this isn't a very sophisticated sound by Inxs, it will be Hutchence's vocals that will boldly deliver the lyrics perfectly.
"Good & Bad Times": The end of "Shine Like it Does" will segue into this song. This song is more reminiscent of the sound from "Shabooh Shoobah". Again while Hutchence is very good - here is another example where the other members of the band really step up. There are also some terrific guitar chords by Tim and Kirk - and ultimately Kirk's sax solo midway through the song will shine.
"Biting Bullets": On this song, this has a definite Punk/New Wave feel to it. Inxs has a lot of their trademark balance of guitar and keyboards in perfect working form. Hutchence is able to pull off the Punk/New Wave vocals flawlessly.
"This Time": This is another song known by Inxs fans. The story of this song is Hutchence. This song demonstrates why it may be almost impossible to ever find another vocalist close to him. The guitar work is outstanding again, but give credit to a keyboard solo by Andrew Farriss.
"Three Sisters": This is a terrific instrumental piece written by Andrew. His keyboard and synthesizer work takes center stage.
"Same Direction": This is the best track on the album - and perhaps their most underrated. The near one minute intro is outstanding. This is a song that will have you clapping throughout the whole song. Tim and Kirk really jam on the guitars on this song. Hutchence doesn't miss a beat with his vocals.
"One X One": Kirk's horn work will open up this song and give this song a real "alley cat" feel to it.
"Red Red Sun": This is another hard rocking song with some terrific Tim and Kirk guitar work. This song does a great job at showing the blend of some Classic Rock sound with the New Wave roots.
The liner notes include all of the lyrics as well as production credits and acknowledgements. As mentioned above, this album offers so much more than "What You Need". Overall, this album shows how Inxs positioned themselves for superstardom with their follow-on album "Kick". "Listen Like Thieves" is highly recommended.