Why One INXS Member Struggled With ‘Devil Inside’
As INXS climbed to new heights of success with their 1987 album, Kick, the release of "Devil Inside" would help fortify the Australian band as reliable hitmakers across the globe.
Released In February 1988 as the second single from the group's sixth LP, "Devil Inside" not only capitalized on the massive success of Kick's first single, "Need You Tonight," it also marked a definitive turning point in the band's slow-burning rise over the past five years.
Rock artists have never shied away from their fascination with the devil, and with "Devil Inside," INXS singer Michael Hutchence said the song was meant to examine the fight between good and evil that he believed was inside everyone. "I was on a God-and-the-devil phase there," Hutchence said of the song's lyrics, which he wrote. "I suppose it's to do with the chaos of everything, you know? And we can put it into religious terms, I suppose. The devil is chaotic. So that every time you think something's right, he comes in and changes everything."
Still, as much as Hutchence valued the lyrics he wrote for INXS, he was more inclined to share the personal views behind them in interviews. “I’d rather articulate my own position on things in an interview than in a song,” he told Rolling Stone in 1988. “Because I think it can be a compromise. I’m not a great political lyricist, and I don’t claim to be. I don’t like knee-jerk politics. Anybody can read the front pages and write down, ‘It’s bad, it’s bad, it’s bad.’ This is probably the most educated, conscientious generation in history. They’re not stupid. Why tell people something they read in the newspapers last month? We don’t make any great claims to change the world, but hopefully, somewhere in our lyrics we are prodding people."
Watch INXS' 'Devil Inside' Video
INXS' rising stature with "Devil Inside" happened to coincide with the downfall of televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. A year earlier, Swaggart had accused fellow televangelist Jim Bakker of "immoral sexual behavior." But his skeletons surfaced, too, including the revelation that he had "performed voyeuristic acts" with a prostitute.
None of this was lost on Hutchence, who discussed the duplicity of televangelists in the Rolling Stone interview. It wasn't long before he began dedicating "Devil Inside" to Swaggart during the band's concerts.
"It surprises me that people are so outraged that Swaggart gets busted,” Hutchence said. “It’s incredible how people are raised above and become pious individuals and everybody looks up to them and they have complete faith. It’s wonderful to have faith, but I don’t think the Pope is any better than anyone else. By addressing the devil – and I don’t believe in the devil, it’s a metaphor – and not trying to achieve the angel, we’re all a lot better off.”
Even with the song's massive success - "Devil Inside" reached No. 2 on the Billboard chart - other INXS members weren't particularly comfortable with its subject matter. In a 2022 interview with Bart Herbison of Nashville Songwriters Association International, "Devil Inside" co-writer and INXS keyboardist Andrew Farris admitted he "used to struggle" with the sentiment behind the song.
"[Hutchence] used to love that song. And it was great live, as well," Farris said. "The crowd went bananas, you know, but it wasn't that so much as I used to struggle with the song a little bit, because I didn't write the lyric. He wrote the lyric and ... I have some beliefs about life and the afterlife. And I thought, 'Ooh, this is kinda interesting, this lyric?' But then again, I took the view of 'Well, that's art.'"
Farris noted that Hutchence was a gifted lyricist, even if he didn't fully comprehend what the late singer was going for in "Devil Inside."
"Michael had a real genius for ... putting words together," he said. "And what used to really impress me the most with the way we worked together is that he would never question what I was doing musically or be competitive. He wouldn't say, 'If I had done that, I would have done it this way,' He would just trust me implicitly. ... And then I would have the same respect for him with lyrics. So sometimes if I didn't quite understand some of the lyrics that he was writing, I just went, 'Maybe I just don't get it quite yet.'"