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Return from the dead, sort of

The 1997 death of INXS singer Michael Hutchence, 37, ended a remarkable run for one of Australia's top bands.

Or so it seemed.

In 2006, INXS is back.

Sort of.

See, INXS is back in the way that cat was back after being buried in the Pet Sematary.

It kind of looks the same. It kind of sounds the same. But it smells a little funny, and its strings are being pulled by, oh, Satan.

Speaking of whom: Now, INXS is fronted by a Canadian dude who goes by "J.D. Fortune."

He got the gig by winning a reality TV show, Rock Star: INXS.

Oh, and he's a former Elvis impersonator.

Sorry, kids. But where there's smoke, there's hellfire.

Look, I understand how tough Hutchence's death must have been on his bandmates. Plus, it's also crushing in a business sense: The handsome, charismatic singer embodied INXS' persona almost entirely.

Longtime fans can disagree all they like, but it isn't like any teen girls were lining their walls with posters of Tim Farriss.

Or Andrew Farriss.

Or Jon Farriss.

Man, that band's got a lot of Farrisses.

Sorry, I didn't mean to leave out the remaining INXSers, Gary Beers and Kirk Pengilly, but be honest: Would you have noticed if I had?

I don't mean to be cruel. INXS' skillful fusion of guitar rock with pop and disco is one reason its catalog holds up today much better than many other 1980s bands.

Its pop tunes - Need You Tonight, Devil Inside, What You Need - rocked. Its rock tunes - New Sensation, Don't Change, Listen Like Thieves - swung. And its chilled-out tunes - Original Sin, The One Thing, Never Tear Us Apart - crackled with verve and passion. Many of those songs would sound at home on the radio today.

So, yeah, I was a fan. And then Hutchence died. And I moved on.

So did INXS, just not in a particularly appealing way.

Tim Farriss told a reporter that "we worried the show would be perceived as undignified to Michael. But it was all about him in the first place. It was a way to keep his memory alive."

Maybe he actually believes that. But recruiting a replacement in American Idol fashion? Not really the finest testament.

I didn't watch a second of the show, and mind you, it was co-hosted by Brooke Burke. Now that's a sacrifice.

Anyway, here's the caveat: Creepy as I found the whole selection process, INXS circa 2006 really isn't too bad.

Fortune, born Jason Dean Bennison, has strong pipes and has impressed many INXS diehards. He does a solid job with Hutchence's vocals without coming off purely as an imitator.

The new album Switch is better than anyone could have expected. And the live show has received solid reviews.

So does that mean I'm recommending you zip over to Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall on Saturday to see INXS?

You make the call. Don't Change was a great song, but it's 24 years old. Maybe INXS has the right to change a little.

And there's nothing wrong with checking it out and making up your own mind. Maybe you'll be on the cutting edge of a New Sensation.

Rick Gershman can be reached at rgershman@sppimes.com or (813) 226-3431. His blog is at http://www.sptimes.com/blogs/tampaarts/.

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