Men At Work

Columbia / Legacy Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Back in the early '80s, I think that Men At Work was the first rock group I ever got seriously into. That was the summer the airwaves were flooded with "Down Under," "Who Can It Be Now?" and "Be Good Johnny". When I received a stereo that I won in a contest with the Cub Scouts, the first albums I bought were Business As Usual and their then-new release Cargo.

But just as suddenly as Colin Hay and crew hit the top, they spiraled to the bottom. After a lengthy hiatus, the band (minus some of their key members) released their final album, Two Hearts, which was a major disappointment to me.

Now, 11 years after that album, Hay and former bandmate Greg Ham return with Brazil, Men At Work's first live album. And while the full original band is still missed and the voices sound older, the songs remain a guilty pleasure for me.

Recorded in Brazil during Men At Work's 1996 tour, Brazil takes a good portion of the catalog that even the "passing fancy" fans would recognize and powers right through them, keeping the overall sound of the songs intact. While they might not have the polish that their studio counterparts do, the execution of the songs is close enough to the real thing for the older fans.

Hay's voice isn't strong enough to hold some of the notes that he used to belt out, but it still sounds very much the same. Ham's multi-instrument work is simply incredible; when you realize he played saxophone, flute, keyboards, guitar and harmonica - my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 and sang "Helpless Automaton" - you realize what a key member of Men At Work he was back in their glory days, and his contributions are that much more special now.

And while the backing band (guitarist Simon Hosford, bssist Stephen Hadley and drummer John Watson) do a fine job, the sad fact is the sound does lose something without the original band being together. (One wonders if there was still bad blood between the band members - the same that caused Jerry Speiser and John Rees to leave in 1984.)

When it comes to the hits, Brazil succeeds. Cuts like "Overkill," "Who Can It Be Now?", "Everything I Need," "It's A Mistake" and "Be Good Johnny" all still shine, even if some of the stuff (like the bridge "rap" on "Be Good Johnny") is a tad cornball. (For sheer cornball, check out "Dr. Heckyll & Mr. Jive," the only song of theirs I honestly could never stand.) The smash hit "Down Under" is here as well, though I would question if they really needed to stretch out the lead section of the song.

Curiously, many of the tracks on Brazil are ones that only the fans would know - the same ones (like me) who damn near wore out their copies of the albums. Of these tracks, "Underground" and "Down By The Sea" are excellent, and "Helpless Automaton" (always a favorite of mine) is one that absolutely must be heard. Others, like "Catch A Star" and "Touching The Untouchables," just don't go anywhere. Still, they could have done worse - such as "Settle Down, My Boy" or "Highwire".

The one new studio track (featuring Tony Floyd on drums), "The Longest Night," is evidence enough that Men At Work are still a powerful band who can write decent pop-based music. It might be a far cry from their glory days, but it still holds its own weight among the hits.

So, the question must be asked: Will anyone still care about Men At Work and Brazil? That has yet to be seen, but it should stir up some interest with the same people who bought the albums back in the '80s. I'll be honest, it's been a long, long time since I pulled any of these out of the Pierce Archives and gave them a spin. However, Brazil has made me curious about them again, and I'll probably be checking my beat-to-hell copies out again very soon. I would tend to think that this disc would have the same effect on people my age.

Brazil is by no means a retro-packaging of a band well past its glory days. Hay, Ham and crew still have enough freshness and energy in their sound to convince anyone that they're planning on hanging around for a while. And even through the few potholes on this disc, my thought is: "Welcome back!"

Rating: B-

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia / Legacy Records, and is used for informational purposes only.