Live Baby Live (Atlantic)

By Cary Stemle

There is a common dilemma in pop music that arises when a cult band achieves mass appeal. The scene has been repeated countless times: a band starts with a loyal legion of fans, toils for years in obscurity, is a critical favorite, and finally gets a hit record. Then the stakes are raised and fans' expectations change. They like the new stuff and expect that from the band.

So it is with INXS, the quirky Australians who mix cool electronic grooves with funky rhythm and blues, After being one of rock's best-kept secrets, they hit commercial paydirt with 1987's Kick. But their next effort, X, sounded a lot like Kick and was essentially a holding pattern. Thus the dilemma.

INXS has opted to delay dealing with the conundrum by issuing Live Baby Live, a _ you guessed it _ live album that, while including a few chestnuts, relies heavily on newer material.

The songs and performances are first-rate, as you would expect, but the band takes very few chances, choosing instead to render fairly standard interpretations of their proven goods. INXS is an extremely accomplished band, and Michael Hutchence is one of the best front men in the business. Still, the album is disquieting.

You can't really blame them for playing it close to the vest, however. They've carved out a nice niche for themselves, and they justifiably want to hold on to it for a while. But all indications are that the band has reached a pinnacle and the question is whether they can remain a force in popular music.