Russell Crowe… Mel Gibson… The BeeGees… All quintessential Aussies. Not one for them born in Australia. But while we’re happy to claim them as our own (until they become ranting anti-Semite misogynists), I think they all spent enough of their formative years here that the Aussie pride is warranted. But one person not born here is even more responsible for spreading Aussie-ness than all of these combined. That man is Scotsman Colin Hay, via his band Men at Work, and their album Business as Usual.
Before we get to THE quintessential Aussie song and hit from this record, it opens with another song that is almost as ubiquitous, Who Can it Be Now? This sax lead, over produced three minutes and 21 seconds is somehow perfectly representative of its time and countless bands of the day, while being a song that only this band could make.
I’ve heard Men at Work’s hits countless times over my lifetime, but hearing I Can See it In Your Eyes here for the first time ever made me hear an influence, or at least a comparison that I can’t believe I haven’t thought of before… Men at Work are not a million miles away from The Police. The intricate drumming, the reggae infused bass even when the song is reggae free. Even Hay’s voice has a similar tone to that of Sting. And as someone who doesn’t like The Police, this comparison confuses me, because I love the general feel of Business as Usual.
Then it’s straight into THE quintessential Aussie song and hit from this record, Down Under. This could easily have been written off as a novelty hit. And I think for many years, it kind of was. But ignore the cheesy video they made for it, and the way-too-Aussie slang that has all but died off in 2016, and it’s an example of melody and pop song writing at its best.
The sax is back for Underground and the result is a song that would be perfect in the opening credits of an 80s movie like Back to the Future. But not the actual Back to the Future. I mean a cheap knock off, made quickly by a rival studio trying to cash in on the popularity of Back to the Future.
With Be Good Johnny, I’m surprised to see that the three biggest (well, to me) Men at Work songs all come from one album. It’s another song where the production makes it oh so 80s, but it’s the kind of era specific sound that makes me nostalgic for the sound, not eager to write it off as a decade of mistakes.
The Police vibe comes back in full force the reggae/ska of Catch a Star and it’s a good breath catcher as things wind down. Not that the preceding songs have been some break neck assault of punk rock tempos and aggression, but Catch a Star is still a welcome step back from the general sound of most of Business as Usual. A step that goes even further back with the reflective, meditation that is Down By the Sea.
In the end, Business as Usual didn’t enlighten me to some totally new or surprising sound that the hit singles were exceptions to. But at the same time, it didn’t deliver a record of variations on that familiar, hit song theme. Those hits represent this record well, while not being an exact blueprint of it. Just like the rest of the songs widen the scope of those hits, without being in contrast to them.