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Aussie alt-rock vets INXS lumber on with new blood

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There are those who say Australian rock band INXS at least damaged — if not downright ruined — their credibility last year by doing the reality television show Rock Star: INXS, where 15 contestants competed to become the new lead singer of the veteran band.

Many felt the show was an insult to the group's late singer, Michael Hutchence, who died in 1997, and a desperate move to restart the career of the band. But J.D. Fortune, who was selected to be the new singer, believes it was a highly courageous move by INXS to seek out a new frontman in such a public way.

"If this didn't work, their career would have been over," Fortune says. "That's another check for them because it's a risk."

Before recording Switch with Fortune, INXS had tried two singers, Terence Trent D'Arby and Jon Stevens, but neither panned out. Then band members — keyboardist/guitarist Andrew Farriss, drummer Jon Farriss, guitarist Tim Farriss, bassist Garry Gary Beers, and saxophonist/guitarist Kirk Pengilly — hatched the idea of the reality show and approached Mark Burnett (creator of Survivor and The Apprentice).

Fortune's sudden ascension into the rock music spotlight actually would make for a pretty good movie script in itself. The resident of Nova Scotia once performed as an Elvis Presley imitator, but by the time of Rock Star: INXS, was out of music and living out of his car.

"I invested in a business where I was living in the store," Fortune explains. "I had some differences with my partner. When I left I had to put a lot of stuff into storage and put what I could into my car."

On Switch, the new INXS retains many of the musical signatures that made such earlier albums as Listen Like Thieves, Kick, and X huge hits. Uptempo songs, such as "Devil's Party," "Pretty Vegas" (the CD's first single), and "Perfect Strangers" are funky-ish rockers built around danceable beats, hooky, tightly intertwined guitar lines and Fortune's supple vocals. These tracks are balanced by several silky ballads like "Afterglow" and "Remember, Who's Your Man."

Overall, Switch may not quite match the best INXS albums, but it's solid enough to suggest the reborn group may have some creative fuel left. Fans can now judge the new INXS in person as the group is on tour. Fortune says the band plans to play upwards of 25 songs, a half-dozen of which will come from Switch.

As for replacing Hutchence, Fortune says the task ahead of him didn't immediately register.

"It didn't really sink in until after the record had been released and I started thinking, I just kind of fell into this," says the new frontman, who considers Hutchence one of his idols. "I'm just trying to fill my own shoes because nobody's ever going to replace Michael. It's just impossible. I'm just hoping to bring my pure and honest self to the stage and hopefully attract people that way."

INXS share the stage with As Fast As on Sat. Nov. 18 at the House Of Blues in Myrtle Beach (4640 Highway 17, 843-913-3740), Showtime is 9 p.m. Tickets are $49.50. Check www.hob.com and www.inxs.com for more.

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