Graded on a Curve:
Men at Work,
Business as Usual

Celebrating Colin Hay, born on this day in 1953.Ed.

Say what you will about the Australian new wave outfit Men at Work—not only did they make the most famous sandwich in the history of rock’n’roll they made it out of vegemite to boot, which an Aussie fella in a restaurant not long ago told me is completely inedible and to be to be avoided at all costs unless you want your taste buds to sue for divorce.

Men at Work produced songs that were as unprepossessing as their name, were frequently jabbed at for sounding too much like the Police, and enjoyed their 15 minutes of fame at the dawn of the eighties. And if I have a mild case of affection for Men at Work while despising the Police it’s because Men at Work aren’t remotely as pretentious as the Police, although being less pretentious than the Police is child’s play. Or maybe I like them because their lead singer has a lazy eye, which made watching their videos on MTV more interesting.

Anyway, Men at Work’s 1982 LP Business as Usual went monolithic and brought in enough moolah to open a kangaroo ranch or two. And this despite the band’s tame and yes even docile exterior, about which no one has ever cried, “Men at Work got my baby!” No, Men at Work did not truck in fury and revolt but simply did their job of producing likeable songs that you can pet without losing your hand. And I for one am glad they did so, because despite being as non-threatening as your average koala, Business as Usual contains some songs I really like even if I am not likely to ever fight about them.

Let me correct that. I will fight for “Down Under,” which boasts a spritely flute, a catchy beat, and some of the weirdest lyrics you’ll ever hear. Why it oozes existential dis-ease, does “Down Under,” what with old lazy eye, or Colin Hay to you, tossing off such great lines as, “Traveling in a fried-out Kombi/On a hippie trail, head full of zombie/I met a strange lady, she made me nervous/She took me in and gave me breakfast.” I’ve spent hours mulling over these lyrics, and things only get weirder as the song goes on—we follow Hay to an opium den in Bombay, watch him get offered a vegemite sandwich by a circus strong man in Brussels, and all this time thunder is roiling and poor Hay is being told to run for cover.

If the rest of the songs on Business as Usual don’t quite measure up to “Down Under” they do have their charms, from Hay’s invitation to “jump off the Eiffel Tower” in the horn happy “Underground” to the free-bopping chorus of the very nice Chuck Berry-inversion that is “Be Good, Johnny,” about a good kid who is sick and tired of being called a good kid but has no intention of rebelling or anything stupid like that. “Touching the Untouchables” boasts some cool horn twists and one funky rhythm and concerns some homeless old coot who tells his young listeners to “disrespect the respectables,” which is swell life advice if I’ve ever heard it.

Big MTV hit “Who Can It Be Now” features one of the most recognizable horn riffs in rock’n’roll, and if it has never done much for me that isn’t to say you won’t think it’s peachy keen. I’m more enamored of the broken-hearted “I Can See It in Your Eyes,” which features some friendly guitar wank and never fails to make me mildly sad. If there’s one thing to be said about Men at Work, it’s that they specialize in mildly. Take the talking robot in the throbbing new wave groove (think Devo lite) that is “Helpless Automaton.” He may have machinery in his pocket, and he may be making a love ultimatum, but when push comes to shove he doesn’t sound as worked up as all that.

Men at Work never managed to follow up on the dent they made on the pop charts with Business as Usual. Not that this is so surprising. It’s not as easy to reproduce the merely competent as it sounds. But that’s being unfair. On “Down Under” the born to be mild gang touched the fiery globe of greatness, and it most likely burned their fingers. That said, I’ll take Men at Work over the Police any day. The pompatus of that Sting person never fails to grate on my nerves.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • B C

    ‘Overkill’ is the jam on this one.
    “I can’t get to sleep
    I think about the implication”

  • Aadam

    flaunts some cool horn turns. Do My Homework For Me Cheap and one astounding beat and concerns some destitute old fogy who tells his young audience members.

    • Michael Crowley

      This post is so tasty! I would love to write a short story about this food! And you know how?! I will use this professional personal statement writers ! They rally know how to do it! Enjoy

  • Alistair

    I’m from Australia, and I just wanted to say that land down under is the closest thing to a national anthem that there is down here. You’ll be hard pressed to find a single person over the age of 20 who doesn’t know all of the lyrics.

  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text