There are songs – the conventions of beginning, middle and end; verse-chorus-verse, with a bridge or 12-bar break thrown in for good measure – and then there are riffs. ‘Need You Tonight’ – that’s definitely a riff. A big, ballsy, blousy motif, unencumbered by subtlety.
Which isn’t in itself a bad thing; for as long as rock and pop have been with us (and even longer if you include musical antecedents), there’s been the tendency to circumvent the layering of sonic components so that the riff functions as some kind of substitute. A stock replacement for ephemera such as melody, rhythm, interplay or whatever. Think Eddie Cochran’s ‘C’mon Everybody’. ‘Oh Well’ by Fleetwood Mac. Entire swathes of the Marc Bolan back catalogue.
The point being that riff-centric tracks aren’t by nature any less valid than other forms of songcraft we could mention – just as it isn’t the guitar that makes ‘Need You Tonight’ morbidly fascinating. That’ll be the action up top. Specifically, the lyrics, and the manner in which they’re delivered.
For Michael, it transpires, is feeling that little bit frisky. The song’s intention may well have been a cultivation of the steamy and the sultry, but instead Hutchence comes across as priapic. There’s no subtext behind the vocal; simply a declaration that the lead singer of INXS is going to do a sex on you. Imminently. Whether welcome or not. He’s the Antipodean Uncle Monty, and it’s your turn to be Marwood; he means to have you, even if it must be burglary…
… which is a paragraph you could argue as unfair. That I’m getting song and the lead singer’s reputation all mixed up, just because he had an eye for the ladies (and successfully seduced a married woman, live on breakfast TV… and still has those never-proven and almost certainly untrue auto-erotic asphyxiation rumours attached to his untimely death). And were we discussing any other INXS track you’d possibly have a point. But we’re not; what you hear is what you get, and by transposing such a single-minded vocal framework across that thrusting, mono-textural riff, it underlines just how glassy-eyed and uninteresting this record is, its slick musicality fostering a sterility you’re only going to escape via sexual frustration or devotion to Fifty Shades Of Grey.
In other words, it can be quite frightening how unsexy sexiness can be without nuance.