Colin Hay: Fierce Mercy (Compass/Lazy Eye)

colinhay-fiercemercyColin Hay
Fierce Mercy
(Compass/Lazy Eye)

“Seasons come and seasons go
Some talking in between
I’m lookin’ through the window now
At all that I have been”

One of the signature sounds of early 80s pop music was provided by Men at Work, the Australia-based, Grammy Award-winning band who gave us a string of hits including “Who Can It Be Now?” “Down Under,” and “Overkill.” Their videos on MTV featured Marty Feldman-eyed lead singer Colin Hay and introduced America to the Vegemite sandwich and a little Reagan-era paranoia. By 1985, the group disbanded, and, like many of their fans, I kept their LPs but never played them very much since time had passed and music had changed.

Then in February of 2016, a now grizzled-bearded Colin Hay appeared with the Roots on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon performing “Overkill,” his voice mature and mellowed, his manner serene. The moment was scary good. So, when I had a chance to review his latest solo effort ‘Fierce Mercy,’ I grabbed the opportunity. Unfortunately, the results of this, his 13th solo album, are mixed.

From the very first track, the jaunty, accordioned “Come Tumblin’ Down,” the album, especially on its up tempo tunes, sounds overmixed and overproduced, his voice a disturbing, breathily husky blend of Bruce Springsteen and Randy Newman, the music reminiscent of early 70s pop. When, however, the tempo slows and the instrumentation is cut back, Hay powerfully delivers on several evocative, deeply personal tunes which explore themes of love, loss, and mortality.

“Frozen Fields of Snow” recounts the story of a war veteran returning to his childhood home to find he has outlived members of his unhappy family. “She Was the Love of Mine” is a moving elegy to his mother who passed away in 2013. The haunting “Two Friends” pays tribute to two companions who died a week apart leaving Hay with twice the memories and twice the grief weighing down his heart. “I’m staring out across the canyon/Trying not to feel the space” he laments as he seeks “a brighter dawn.” And “A Thousand Million Reasons” is a love song which rises and falls with the winds of the changing seasons. It is in these slower, more melancholy moments that Hay approaches the status of troubadour, explaining away Life with intelligence, grace, and courage.

If Colin Hay could have scaled back the layers of intrusive instruments on the faster songs, I could recommend this entire album. As it is, I must use some fierce mercy and suggest fans cherry pick individual tracks.