I have been listening lately to a lot of Colin Hay’s recordings. The former Men At Work lead singer continued as a singer/songwriter after that 80s band retired. He went rather unnoticed, at least by me, until turning up on the soundtrack of the tv series Scrubs and, more significantly, the soundtrack to the cute little film Garden State (a film made by a Scrubs-member).
Most of Colin Hay’s solo albums are, in a word, innocuous. That’s not exactly high praise, but it really fits most of his work: personal songs, sung with sincerity, but not really meant to rattle anyone’s cages (other than presumably his own as he wrote them). Still he has a fine voice (I’m a sucker for Australian inflections, be them from Colin Hay or from the woman who plays Aeryn Sun on Farscape), and many of his albums are stripped down acoustic affairs which is often what I want playing in the background as I work.
But my endorsement of his music is secondary to my wanting to mention that I’ve also been going back to listen to the original Men At Work material, to see if it holds up. And in a word, it does. In two words, it does kinda.
The same vibe which caused Men At Work to spring forth in the 80s with songs of societies-gone-mad is now vibrating anew in the low 00s. The songs of Men At Work are again relevant today as they were in the 80s, due largely to the global threat that the current US administration has either responded to or elevated for their own purposes (I suspect the latter). Who could have imagined that years of peace under Clinton would cause a band’s work to become less relevant — and that a would-be emperor would bring it back into style?
One song in particular, has been in heavy rotation in my apartment: Overkill.
I can’t get to sleep
I think about the implications
Of diving in too deep
And possibly the complications
Especially at night
I worry over situations
I know will be alright
Perahaps it’s just my imagination
Day after day it reappears
Night after night my heartbeat, shows the fear
Ghosts appear and fade away
Alone between the sheets
Only brings exasperation
It’s time to walk the streets
Smell the desperation
At least there’s pretty lights
And though there’s little variation
It nullifies the night
Though this particular Colin Hay-penned tune is probably about a personal situation rather than a fear of global war, the strong anti-nuke, anti-war themes which appear in the Men At Work albums infects this song by association, and certainly the fright level this song considers is spot-on. The Men At Work material has a more forceful edge than Colin Hay’s solo work (as a point of contrast, one of Hay’s solo songs has lyrics about how he enjoys making tea).
So I’ve been checking out the earlier albums, and I say they hold up, kinda. The “kinda” is that the production style of the 80s – particularly what sounds to me like synthesized drums of some kind (?) – does not serve Men At Work in the same way that it serves new wave groups from the 80s. Men at Work was a pop/rock band, and the production needed a more authentic sound. So I was not too happy with the “Contraband: Best Of” CD that I picked up used for 9 bucks.
But I was very much impressed by their live CD, Brazil. The song Overkill actually leads off this live album (after a brief instrumental fanfare), and the whole of the recording never lets down. I picked up my copy of Brazil for about $8 used.
Thirdly, Colin Hay released one solo album in which he re-does Men at Work songs, and I’ve only given it a casual listen but it hasn’t caught my attention. This one is also easy to find used because evidently people don’t think it is too good.
So I’d like to endorse the live album “Brazil” for anyone who may want to take my advice about revisiting Colin Hay and his Men at Work. And for his solo work, check out Going Somewhere. BTW his albums are impossible to find new in stores; you’ll need to order online from Amazon.