Monday, March 2, 2009

Men At Work: Business As Usual and Cargo

They arrived without fanfare, save a few drum hits and a mysterious sax riff. One of the first bands broken by MTV, rather than the radio—perhaps there was something hypnotic in the lazy eyes common to the band members—for the next 18 months, Men At Work was all over the place.
It’s always convenient when a band’s collected works fit on both sides of a 90-minute tape—or in this case, the only works worth having. Business As Usual included three top-10 hits, followed soon enough by Cargo, which, according to an industry joke, shipped gold and returned platinum. Both albums have their embarrassing moments, overshadowed by the well-crafted pop on all sides.
If you’re in your thirties or forties, it’s virtually impossible to listen to “Who Can It Be Now?” and “Down Under” without smiling. The hits don’t stop there—“I Can See It In Your Eyes” is a great lost single, while “Down By The Sea” and “Touching The Untouchables” throw some Steely Dan into the Police mix. And that’s just the first album.
Cargo suffers in comparison with Business As Usual; the weaker songs are written by the lead guitarist around his stock Strat tones. But the goodies here include the anti-nuclear “It’s A Mistake” (as timely as today’s headlines), the deceptively sunny “Blue For You”, the epic “No Sign Of Yesterday” and the incomparable “Overkill”, which was covered by no-hit wonders Lazlo Bane in 1998, complete with hilarious audio and video cameos by Colin Hay himself.
There really is no modern comparison to Men At Work; bands like Matchbox 20 or Third Eye Blind were either too successful, not successful enough to sustain two albums, or just a bunch of faceless guys behind a self-centered frontman. But the Men have endured. Their cassettes have actually worn out from constant play, and unless you want to replace them on used vinyl, both albums have been reissued on CD with the obligatory extra B-sides and live tracks.

Men At Work Business As Usual (1982)—4
Men At Work Cargo (1983)—3

1 comment:

  1. Colin Hay is one of those artists (like Thomas Dolby) who plays small club dates in L.A. regularly and unfortunately I always seem to hear about it the next day. Well 01/29/11 he's playing in Santa Monica and this time I've got my calender marked.