The success of Australian rock band INXS was tragically clouded by the suicide of their magnetic frontman, Michael Hutchence. Before his passing, the band spent 20 years creating a sound that combined new wave, rock, and funk, releasing 1986’s ‘What You Need’ to substantial commercial success. But the sad fact remains that their spell together as a band has often been associated with Hutchence’s darkest moment.
That they had a hit that referenced suicide in the title was an unfortunate coincidence, and the lyrics to 1990’s ‘Suicide Blonde’ have often been wrongly accused of having a thematic darkness that foreshadowed Hutchence’s death: “Don’t you know what you’re doing / You’ve got a death wish / Suicide blonde,” the lyrics read.
Written by INXS’ primary songwriters Andrew Fariss and Hutchence, the song was actually inspired by Kylie Minogue, Hutchence’s girlfriend at the time. Minogue had told him she was planning to style her hair a “suicide blonde” and debuted this new look alongside Hutchence at the premiere of The Delinquents. It wasn’t the first time Minogue had a hand in an uncharacteristically dark Aussie rock track, and it was Hutchence who first introduced her to Nick Cave for 1995’s ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’.
After the release of 1987’s Kick, INXS reached a newfound level of stardom, supporting the album with a massive tour in 1988 and 1989. But getting the band back into the studio to make a follow-up was a challenge, given Hutchence had just kicked off a side project, Max Q, with his old friends.
INXS’ label, Atlantic, indulged Hutchence, releasing the album in 1989. But they were keen to get INXS prepped for a new release. Kick producer Chris Thomas was brought back into the fold and encouraged Farriss and Hutchence to play to their songwriting strengths as they had done on X. Fariss had suggested to Hutchence that they use the sound of a blues harp on this album, having heard blues musician Charlie Musselwhite play around Australia. On ‘Suicide Blonde’, they used samples of his on the track, and his harmonica was also a feature on ‘On My Way’ and ‘Who Pays The Price’.
‘Suicide Blonde’ was their first single from the album and became a huge hit. X, on the whole, however, marked a concerted dip in sales as they pushed in a slightly different musical direction. Although the song’s uneasy title might not have helped, it was a concert favourite, and the band continued to perform it following Hutchence’s death – because it had no inherent link to suicide other than its name.
Tragically, though, it was the last song Hutchence ever performed live. The crowd pleaser was the closing song at the last INXS show before his death, a concert in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, on September 27th, 1997.