Man @ Work
Artistically if not commercially, Colin Hay has long tested the “Best New Artist Grammy® curse” theory, which holds that those who win the award soon go away never to return. True, his former band Men At Work is often given as an example, and his unintentionally ironic statement from the Grammy® podium (“We are the Men…and we’ll be back again.”) is frequently replayed on ’80s Where Are They Now type specials. But Hay is actually an illustration of how someone can keep being a success creatively long after he falls off the charts.
Man @ Work, released in part to tie in with Hay’s current spot in Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band (not too bad, is it?), reviews his career to date. From Men At Work’s inescapable Business As Usual debut in 1981 to the year 2000 and beyond, Hay was and is a better songwriter than he’s been given credit for, and time has hardly dulled his skills.
The songs from Hay’s solo career here should act as a calling card for those skills, the performances only suffering when compared to his all-acoustic Going Somewhere, which gave Hay’s songs an added layer of wistfulness. The beautifully sad anthem for those who cannot seize the day, “Waiting For My Real Life To Begin,” appears here in its Going Somewhere version as a sample of that album’s charm. By contrast, the overly smooth, yet less relaxed, new recording of “Looking For Jack” here occasionally sounds something like a lounge act.
From the Men At Work catalog, “Be Good Johnny” and especially “It’s A Mistake” are perfectly standard renditions of good old songs which don’t do much to shake the dust off them. As always, the best new versions of a song are those which diverge most from the originals: Two new recordings of “Down Under” are included; neither is the classic the original was, but the second, recorded with Hay’s wife Cecilia Noël and her band the Wild Clams, finds more new life in it. Actually it does a little more than that, it wholly justifies the movie Kangaroo Jack (on which soundtrack it first appeared) in one stroke — so you know that’s gotta be one powerful recording. The acoustic “Who Can It Be Now?,” is even more captivating. Filtering out the saxophone hook — which, through overplay, has grown obnoxious to my ears– it cranks up the quirky paranoiac mood of the original. The driven ballad “Overkill” also appears in a similarly haunting, acoustic version.
Of the previously unreleased material, my favorite is the reggaefied “To Have And To Hold,” which dates from 2000 and features some notable work from Jimmy Earl on bass.
This should be a greatest hits, if even half of Hay’s greatest songs had indeed been hits. Let’s cut to the chase. You need at least one Colin Hay CD in your collection, and the only question you have to ask yourself is whether you prefer him to rock “unplugged” or making fully produced and polished pop. If the former, then seek out Going Somewhere at once. If the latter, Man @ Work is the album for you.
Either way, you win.
Colin Hay: http://www.hayhead.com/