INXS Singer Hutchence a Reluctant Soap Star

April 11 [12:00 EST] -- While most rock stars don't look forward to the media crush surrounding a new album release, the diversion is likely a godsend for INXS singer Michael Hutchence.

Hutchence, his mate British TV VJ Paula Yates and her estranged husband, Boomtown Rat-turned-famine fighter Sir Bob Geldof, have been rivaling Michael Jackson and Oasis when it comes to coverage from England's Fleet Street tabs.

Case in point, this past weekend while on a Canadian press tour, Australia-based INXS were politely queried on writing and recording their new album, "Elegantly Wasted," set for release this week. But across the Atlantic, yesterday's Sunday Mirror carried yet another report on the status of last fall's drug allegations against Hutchence and Yates leveled by a former employee.

The past two years have been a soap opera rivaling anything on the English telly: drugs, sex and rock n' roll combined with varying doses of family values, mystery threats and accusations

of manipulation.

In 1994, Yates and Geldof, together 18 years and the parents of three daughters -- were the media's perfect couple. That ended when Yates, the star of a popular TV show that included a segment that saw celebrities interviewed in bed, hosted Hutchence in that setting, sparks flew and in short order she was photographed checking out of a hotel with the Australian singer. It became bigger news when Hutchence punched the photographer. Yates left Geldof, Hutchence walked out of a five-year relationship with model Helena Christensen. Just a few short months later, Yates announced she was having Hutchence's baby.

The tabs had a field day. Yates was the villainess who deserted her family for sex icon Hutchence. They printed allegations she had taken fertility drugs to trap the singer, reported on her financial problems and accused her of being more interested in her breast implants than her children.

Yates dropping a bag of groceries was already front

page fodder, but the Fleet Street frenzy escalated considerably last October as an anonymous tip saw the police dispatched to the couple's estate while Yates and Hutchence were away in Australia with their two month-old daughter, Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily. The authorities seized a substance reported to be opium and eventually arrested the couple, who were further vilified when it was revealed that Yates' 13 year old daughter had seen explicit pictures of Yates and Hutchence in action stashed in the same place as the opium.

Meanwhile activist Geldof, dubbed "Saint Bob" by the papers, campaigned to much sympathy advocating fathers¹ rights fueled by Yates's talk of moving the children to Australia. The British press ignored Hutchence¹s efforts to spotlight human rights violations in Indonesia but were again front and center last month when Yates threw a brick through Geldof's window.

At the time of the drugs seizure, incriminating statements were given by the children's

nanny and Yates' press agent to the police. The latter told the Daily Mirror she had first-hand evidence of Paula buying the drug from pop star-turned nightclub-owner Steve Strange. Yesterday the Sunday Mirror reported that the statements were being withdrawn. The paper also said the Crown Prosecution Service is "set to announce" that Yates and Hutchence won't be formally charged.

Hutchence can only hope this chapter's closure will signal a tapering off of his starring role in the continuing saga dubbed "The Bob and Paula Show" and shine the light on their 10th studio album, their first since 1994, this one recorded last Spring in Vancouver with producer Bruce Fairbairn.

Meanwhile, INXS played three songs live on on the Canadian MuchMusic network in Toronto on the weekend. Yates and Heavenly Hirani were in the front row but the band managed to keep the focus on the music. The band will make a few select television appearances in the near future, including MTV, David Letterman

and Rosie O'Donnell. They'll also perform a handful of concerts including April 17 at Irving Plaza in New York and stops in Boston, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, Minneapolis, Los Angeles San Francisco.

Get the grist from Hutchence firsthand when Inxs chats live on AOL in MTV's Arena Wednesday, April 16 at7 p.m. AOL users type keyword: MTVArena.