Every week a Biff Bam Pop! writer shares an album they love and why they love it.
I came of age in the 1990s. I was thirteen years old when the decade began, and I spent my high school years immersing myself in all the music I could get my hands on. I bought cassettes and CDs every chance I had, spending all my disposable income on music. My love of prog rock and songwriters like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen developed during that time; I remember being made fun of by a “friend” for going to see concerts from both Cohen and Paul McCartney, as if admiring the music by each of them was some sort of crime.
I skipped school the day U2 released the first single from Achtung, Baby!, and didn’t quite know what to make of “The Fly” when I taped it off 97.7 HITZ FM, and then watched the video on MuchMusic, Canada’s version of MTV. I was there for grunge and saw Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Soundgarden at their peaks.
I packed a lot of music into my teens, but I still managed to miss some important albums when they came out. It was hard not to be swayed by reviews in Rolling Stone or what radio was or wasn’t playing, especially rock radio, which was where I was discovering so much music. So, I had Pocketful of Kyptonite in my collection, but missed out on The Downward Spiral. These days, I only have one of those in my collection, on deluxe vinyl, and I’m pretty sure you can guess which one it is. I hope you can’t be wrong.
Sometimes, I just felt as though I’d outgrown an artist as well. When INXS released their mega-massive 1987 breakthrough album KICK, it was everywhere. It had so many singles that were always on the radio, the band was unavoidable. I had the cassette before I was a teen, and I listened to it nonstop. For whatever reason, though, when the band released their follow-up, 1990’s X, I didn’t buy the album. Maybe I didn’t think I had to; ”Suicide Blonde” was unavoidable, as was ”Disappear” when it was released as a single. Or maybe I’d just felt as though I’d moved on from INXS, on to bigger and better bands like Yes and Led Zeppelin.
All this to say, when the band released 1992’s Welcome To Wherever You Are, I couldn’t have cared less. I was long gone and into other bands; meanwhile, the album didn’t do nearly as well as the previous two, and if you were listening exclusively to rock radio at the time as I was, you hardly heard much from it (though to be fair, ”Not Enough Time” was popular on alternative radio, and its video did get played). For all intents and purposes, though, this was the end of that window of time when INXS were everywhere. Welcome To Wherever You Are didn’t come close to matching the success of KICK or X, and its quick follow-up, 1993’s Full Moon, Dirty Hearts did even worse commercially.
I didn’t discover Welcome To Wherever You Are until just a few years ago, when my friend Josh purchased the vinyl and sent me his download code, which I redeemed, figuring, why the hell not? Little did I know that when I’d finally listen to INXS’ eighth studio album nearly thirty years after its release, that I’d discover an album I’d wind up going back to again and again. That’s the beauty of music, isn’t it? You may miss out on something when it arrives, but when you find it, it’s new to you.
What do I love about Welcome To Wherever You Are so much that I wanted to write about it? First of all, I’ve got to say I love how the album just flows together. Sequencing is such an important part of the listening experience to me, something that’s lost today in a world when we can easily and exactly pick and choose how we listen to music. A great album feels like an engaging journey, taking you through peaks and valleys, flowing together seamlessly. KICK absolutely has that, but in a drastically different way than Welcome To Wherever You Are does. KICK was full of hit single after hit single, and it felt like it was designed to just never let up. It was hook after hook after hook. Welcome To Wherever You Are is a more subtle affair, starting the album off with the sitars and mystical sounding “Questions”; the song lasts just a little over two minutes before kicking into “Heaven Sent”, perhaps the most accessible, familiar-sounding song on the album. In theory, it should be played on classic rock to this day, but instead you’ll have to put on the album to hear just how good a track it is.
You might know “Not Enough Time” and ”Beautiful Girl”, both of which were released as singles and did reasonably well, with the former managing to hit #28 on the Billboard Top 100, which wasn’t a bad showing. That song is the fifth track on Welcome To Wherever You Are, so unlike KICK or even X, which packed an opening one-two punch of ”Suicide Blonde” and ”Disappear”, this album didn’t put its singles in convenient places. Instead, you get to hear album tracks such as ”Communication” with its immersive delights of strange dialogue and gorgeous piano parts. The production on that song, along with the album as a whole, is so layered, I’d love to hear a surround sound mix that really puts you inbetween the instruments.
The rhythm section of bassist Gary Gary Beers and drummer Jon Farriss are absolutely killer throughout the entire album, though I’d say they shine most brightly on “Not Enough Time”, a song that any band would love to have in their repertoire. It’s no doubt the most stirring moment on Welcome To Wherever You Are, especially when the orchestra arrives towards the end and takes it to another level. That orchestra is also the hook on ”Baby Don’t Cry”, which gives it a distinctly psychedelic, Sgt. Pepper flare to these ears.
Welcome To Wherever You Are came out on August 3rd, 1992. The date is worth noting because when I’ve talked to friends about the album, we often suggest that this is INXS’ own Achtung, Baby!, a push forward from their expected sound that they’d delivered on their previous two albums. That seminal U2 album was released in November 1991, when INXS had already set the wheels of Welcome To Wherever You Are in motion, entering the studio following their massive tour in support of X. Achtung, Baby! was unavoidable, though, and the band had a relationship with U2, so I’m sure they’d heard it and it wouldn’t surprise me to think it played an influence on their direction, especially with Welcome To Wherever You Are concluding on a downbeat note with ”Strange Desire”, similar to how Achtung, Baby! ends with “Love Is Blindness”.
Welcome To Wherever You Are is a more rock affair than KICK or X, with its guitar sounds rawer than the previous albums; surrounded by the layers of other instrumentation I mentioned above, I’d say that this album feels less of a moment than the ones that came in 1987 and 1990, which is perhaps why I’ve gravitated to it so much in the last few years – Welcome To Wherever You Are sounds timeless to my ears. It doesn’t take me back to a moment; instead, I’m enjoying it in the here and now.
INXS never reached the commercial heights they had between 1987-1991, but when ”Elegantly Wasted” came out in 1997, it seemed that maybe they were due for a resurgence. Of course, we’ll never really known, as Michael Hutchence sadly died in the fall of that year. While various singers would come and go from the band after that with varying degrees of success, I think we’d all agree it was never going to be the same. However, INXS has a catalogue worth delving into, with Welcome To Wherever You Are a shining example of just how good the band was, especially when they went outside their obvious comfort zone to create something unique. Some thirty years later, Welcome To Wherever You Are holds up and then some, and is well worth tracking down and listening to yourself.