By 1995, Australian rock band INXS had landed seven consecutive albums in their home country’s Top 10 but were a few years past their global crossover peak. That fall, frontman Michael Hutchence — like much of England — became obsessed a new band: Black Grape, a chart-topping comeback project for Happy Mondays’ Shaun Ryder. Hutchence lived in a peaceful, upscale neighborhood, and soon his famous neighbors came to recognize the sound of the group’s debut, It’s Great When You’re Straight. . . Yeah.
“Bono told me they could always hear him cranking Black Grape coming up the hill,” recalls producer Danny Saber, who broke through with Black Grape and went on to work with artists like the Rolling Stones, Public Enemy and U2. “They knew it was him from three miles away.”
When Hutchence began work on a solo album, he phoned Saber and Gang of Four’s Andy Gill, and the three created the self-titled Michael Hutchence. The record was almost ready in 1997, but in November the singer passed away in a Sydney hotel room. It was eventually released in 1999.
“It was pretty much done when he died,” says Saber. “It just needed to be mixed. It took about a year before I could even listen to it or think about it.”
The following decade, Saber began to revisit another of Hutchence’s final recordings: a demo called “Friction” from one of their previous writing sessions. “It was a fully formed song and it was all laid out,” says Saber. “I just came back and tried to make it into something. Sonically, I know Michael would have loved it.”
The previously unreleased song can be streamed here and downloaded with the purchase of Astrella’s Michael Hutchence musical T-shirt. Astrella — founded by the daughter of folk singer Donovan — sells clothing that contains album art and a small QR code. If you scan the QR code with your phone, you’re then able to listen to the pictured LP.
“These days, you’ve gotta find an angle,” says Saber, who is currently playing with the band House of Dolls and directing a documentary about a group of musicians visiting Cuba. He hopes that the song will lead to a renewed interested in Hutchence’s work.
“When it comes to being a frontman, there was nobody better at it than him,” Saber continues. “When I was working on his solo record, I met Jagger through him and I met Bono through him. The fact that I was working with Michael gave me so much credibility with them. They all watched him, especially Bono. He sort of got written off into this tabloid-y guy, and it’s not quite right.”