A chronological discussion of the making
Following the release of INXS' Greatest Hits in 1994, Michael began initial writing for his first solo record. During the next year he continued to write and also began recording some songs for the project. He also kept himself in the public eye with a series of movie soundtrack appearances, including "The Passenger" for Batman Forever and "Spill The Wine" for Barb Wire, and a very public break-up with supermodel Helena Christensen.
In August 1995, Michael spoke for the first time about the hush-hush solo project, saying "I have been trying out various things… [and] have been spending a lot of time in Cuba. I have a great deal of respect for Cuban culture. I have learned a lot from it." It was also revealed that he had recorded half an album's worth of material with electronic genius Tim Simenon ("Bomb the Bass"). Simenon, along with Gavin Friday, had been instrumental in creating the lush computer-generated soundscape in Michael's haunting version of "The Passenger."
Two months later, Michael revealed in an exclusive cover story with Vox magazine that he was now working closely with Andy Gill, ex-guitarist with Gang Of Four, further expanding his musical range. The two were writing and recording together at Michael's home on the French Riviera. "It has to be great," he said, in London for the VOX photo session. "That's the terrible, exhilarating thing. I'm attempting to block out everything that's happened in the last six months." (Media attention on his relationship with television personality Paula Yates was slowly beginning to take its toll mentally and physically.)
In February 1996, Michael announced that he had also begun working with Black Grape collaborator Danny Saber in addition to Gill. Joked Hutchence, "The solo record is shaping up real well. I gotta figure out when to put it out because I'm also doing an INXS record for next March. All I did last year was write songs. I got cabin fever. The new stuff is pure genius, better than anything that Noel Gallagher could touch."
With the new INXS album taking center stage, Michael abandoned his solo project for the rest of 1996 and dove into the recording of Elegantly Wasted. In an October interview with Q, Michael said, "I started last summer with Tim Simenon and his posse because I wanted an electronic approach. I got a lot out of Tim. He was blotting paper for me: I didn't have constraints from band members wanting to contribute their parts." When asked about Andy Gill, he said, "I met up with Andy and asked him how he got those guitar sounds that work very well with electronics. He came to the studio and we wrote six or seven songs. I'd done three or four with Tim, but I only kept one, which also had a lot of guitars, and I love it. Not dissing Tim, as we had good sounds and ideas, but I needed to write one-on-one with a guitarist in a more meat and potatoes way. Danny Saber from Black Grape also joined us and Joe Strummer did some shouting."
The bulk of 1997 was spent touring and promoting Elegantly Wasted, and little work on Michael's solo record took place. In the last months of the year, paparazzi and media attention on Michael and Paula became nearly unbearable, with reports of an impending marriage in January making headlines. Unfortunately, the pressure ultimately was too great, and following an allegedly heated phone exchange with Paula's ex, Bob Geldof, Michael committed suicide on November 22, 1997.
Andy Gill broke his silence in December with a BBC interview discussing Michael's unreleased labor of love. " There's a deeper, richer kind of feel, kind of cinematic...wide quality to it. It isn't kind of very up pop songs," Gill told the news service. "It's more mid-tempo and there's a sort of darker feel to it. Lyrically it's fairly autobiographical, but it isn't a bunch of pop songs. It is kind of a mature record." An article in The Sun shed further light on the project. Apparently, shortly before his death Michael recorded several songs attacking nemesis Bob Geldof. On one of the songs, "Put The Pieces Back Together," Hutchence accuses Geldof of trying to sabotage his relationship with Yates. Each verse ends with the singer chanting "sue me, sue me, sue me." According to Gill, "There are eight or nine finished tracks of the album and Paula certainly wants it released. She loved it. These songs were from Michael's heart and explain just how he was feeling, especially towards Geldof. Bob was the one person who consistently upset Michael." On another track, "Don't Save Me From Myself," Hutchence sings of his desperation about the problems in his life. It goes, "I'm not keeping time, Get me out of here, Holding up my crime, Ready for what's sent me... Separate love from possession." Gill is quoted as saying: "The two songs have the same message. It is Michael explaining how frustrated he is, being unable to live his own life."
In January 1998, more details came to light about the still-in-waiting unreleased album. With Gill producing, Michael recorded nearly 16 tracks, including "Get On The Inside" and "A Straight Line." In all, some 25 songs were in various stages of completion, according to INXS manager Martha Troup. "He wanted it to be a big deal," Troup said. "It meant a lot to him, just like being in INXS meant a lot to him. He loved his music." The following is from an article published on the web magazine, Addicted to Noise:
(start excerpt) Gill shared production duties on some of the tracks with Danny Saber of Black Grape. Saber also recorded a handful of tracks with Hutchence in L.A. less than a week before his death. Bomb the Bass' Tim Simenon worked on early demos with the late INXS frontman in 1995, as well as lending a hand during some of the Gill sessions.
Gill said there are at least nine or 10 songs he worked on with the singer that are nearly complete and mixed and three more with vocals that have yet to be mixed. Hutchence was cagey, Gill said, but sweetly shy about asking him to be involved in the project. "He rang up and asked was I interested in doing some guitar stuff on the album," said Gill, whose cinematic wails of post-punk distortion have placed him among the influential guitarists of the early '80s.
Once Gill had agreed, he said Hutchence rang back five minutes later and asked, "Actually, would you like to write some songs with me?" The pair then spent six months, on and off, writing songs, during which time they became close, said Gill, who added that he was continually impressed by Hutchence's tireless work ethic. "In many ways we were very compatible," Gill said. "I always thought he was a brilliant singer/performer and [he] really invested a lot of himself in the record."
While Hutchence didn't necessarily address his personal problems explicitly in the lyrics, the songs -- which Gill described as "a bit darker than INXS, sort of like an interesting mix of grainy, gritty, almost industrial things with almost symphonic, orchestral sounds" -- were clearly personal, he added.
Explaining that she is in the process of going through tapes now and deciding which songs need work, Troup said one of the completed songs already sounds like a hit. "There are around 25 songs with some kind of vocal," she said. "Some are funny, some darker, some serious, but there's this one ballad, a beautiful, incredible song that is just a definite hit. It's a beautiful track you just want to hear again and again." It was unclear yet whether the album will be released, as originally intended, by early summer, Troup said.
And while family, friends, fans and the curious wait to hear what Hutchence left the world, the image of this dark-haired icon sitting on the edge of his bed, improvising, digging, reaching out for the perfect song, keeps coming back for Gill.
Hutchence would fight his way through the songs with Gill queuing the track in the background and then sitting back as the singer clamped down on his vocals. "I'd have the track going and we'd do it again and again," Gill said. "He'd do dozens of vocal takes, work on lyrics a bit ... He didn't just sing one thing and say 'that's it.' Something would work and then he'd be off again on a tangent with a different approach.
"It was difficult to keep track of it all," Gill added. "He'd really focus on it and just keep pushing it and working on it." (end excerpt)
Negociations with record companies kept the album hidden from the public for all of 1998. In November 1998, though, the first new signs of release appeared when Michael's New York lawyer Bill Leibowitz told biographer Vincent Lovegrove that, "It looks like most of the legalities have been sorted... It's a brilliant album, and is going to surprise a lot of people... It is an album from the heart and one which will show another side of Michael Hutchence."
On February 3, 1999, V2 Records released a press release announcing that Michael's album would finally be released in mid-1999. Martha Troup stated: "I am extremely happy that Michael's solo album will finally be released. The album meant a great deal to him and I personally see it as a looking glass into Michael's soul. Some of the material was recorded a matter of days before his death and the album is his final legacy to us." The announcement also mentioned that Danny Saber would mix the 13-track album himself in the coming weeks.
In May, Rolling Stone revealed that the forthcoming disc would be entitled simply Michael Hutchence and would be released in late 1999. "It's quite different [sound-wise]," says Michael Hutchence executive producer Steve Abbott. "INXS was a great democracy to a certain extent, and this is exactly how he wanted a record to be if he made a record." Abbott says Hutchence completed all the vocals for the album, which is co-produced by collaborators Saber and Gill.
On August 29, The Sunday Telegraph revealed that the cover would feature a black and white
photograph of Michael by noted celebrity photography Herb Ritts. The tracklisting is as follows: Get On
The Inside, Let Me Show You, All I'm Saying, Fear, Don't Save Me From Myself, A Straight Line, Breathe,
She Flirts For England, Put The Pieces Back Together, Flesh And Blood, Baby It's Alright, Possibilities,
and Slide Away. The world awaits Michael Hutchence's final masterpiece.
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