Most helpful positive review
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Highly recommended collection of a talented band
on 27 February 2009
I owned Men at Work's first two albums, `Business as Usual' (`BAU') and `Cargo', back in the 80s. After going on a long musical journey over the last 20-odd years, I was curious to hear their stuff again, and remembering the song titles, settled on this collection.
It's still difficult to be out and about much without hearing `Down Under' somewhere, but this band were far from one-hit wonders.
It's easy to dismiss them, and to be honest I felt slightly worried about writing a positive review alongside my usual praise for way-out psychedelia and world music, but in the case of MAW, their good all-round-musicianship took in styles not just from rock, but also reggae, jazz, and calypso (and more regrettably, when hearing the results, country). Colin Hay's characterful vocals and wide-ranging songwriting add genuine quality and emotion to the better material.
In addition an unfussy, clear production means their first two albums stand the test of time.
True, the band always trod a fine line between originality and duffness, and this means that their songs are either very good or pretty dire.
But there're still 11 good tracks on here, which makes for one very good quality album.
Note that when it arrived my version only contained one disc, with all the tracks listed here on `Disc 1'. But it doesn't matter as, with the exception of `Helpless Automaton', which I recall was terrible but wanted to hear again for a laugh, there's nothing on the reported 2nd disc to be bothered about.
Here, in the order they appeared on the original first two albums, are my selection. After `Cargo' the band's material lost its depth and the production took on a more polished US-rock type feel - it's telling that there's only 4 tracks (none of which I'd recommend) on this 19-track compilation that fall outside those first two albums - there are a full 9 from `BAU'. Talking of which...
`Who Can it be Now''s saxophone riff and low-key backing underpin this portrait of a paranoid recluse.
`Down Under' still had the power to make me laugh - greater exposure to travelling Aussies has given me a greater insight as to why it works so well.
The upbeat `Be Good Johnny' is about a creative young boy being pressured to be normal in a sports-mad society and whilst repetitive it stays the right side of annoying - for me anyway.
`Touching the Untouchables', after a rousing intro, settles into a gritty number about a tramp overlooked by society
`Catch a Star''s middle-eight was a major reason I bought this compilation. The sparse production and lilting guitar create a wide expanse across which Hay provides one of his best vocal performances.
`Down by the Sea' is a 6-minute atmospheric number which is hard to pull off even by a band that hasn't become famous via a `comedy' song, but again the production, saxophone playing and well-worked arrangements, along with Hay's other best vocal performance, managed to make it a fitting way to close the original album.
As for the songs from `Cargo':
`Overkill', finds Hay worrying about Armageddon, and creates a suitably tense feeling with its plaintive saxophone work and gritty underlying rhythm.
After a wonderfully ambient opening, `Upstairs in my House' bounces into your ears and provides one of the band's most uplifting moments. Though less cynical, it reminds me of `Pleasant Valley Sunday' in its depiction of everyday life.
`No Sign of Yesterday' is `Cargo's shorter version of `Down by the Sea', and although it doesn't reach the heights of that track, it's still atmospheric and thoughtful.
`It's a Mistake' is another war-themed number, though more mocking in tone in comparison with `Overkill'.
`Blue for You' - despite the lyrics' flirtations with depression and suicide, musically this is an uplifting calypso/reggae style number. From the way it goes straight into the vocals, to its literally off-beat ending, this track is a really nice piece of work.