It’s seems silly to have to mention Men at Work every time you talk about Colin Hay. I mean, the Australian singer/songwriter has released a string of fantastic solo albums full of diverse colors and incredible depth. Yet, nothing Hay has done has even come close to the dizzying heights of his former band, who were the darlings of early MTV and sold 6 million copies of their debut, Business as Usual, in the United States alone.
If you haven’t been following Hay’s career, you’re in for a real treat. His latest album, Fierce Mercy, is an excellent place to get re-acquainted with this criminally-underrated artist.
Much of his 13th solo outing centers on love and loss. He still possesses that signature, soaring voice. Although it’s weathered a bit, he actually uses it to his advantage on “A Thousand Million Reasons”; his slightly gruff delivery is in contrast to the gentle, piano-led melody. Hay’s albums have always leaned toward acoustic instrumentation, but on Fierce Mercy, there’s an added element of Americana – the accordion on the aforementioned “A Thousand Million Reasons,” or the pedal steel of “Blue Bay Moon.”
While most of the tracks have an understated quality, Hay shows that he can still write a good rocker in the opening “Come Tumblin’ Down.” “Secret Love” is an interesting tune – the arrangement recalls the production of Phil Spector on songs like “Be My Baby,” along with baritone guitar, which sounds like Duane Eddy. The track builds to this string-laden finale with Hay’s voice cutting through.
Age plays a role in “I’m Gonna Get You Stoned,” where he discovers that the girl in question was “born today in the year of ’97,” while she asks about what it was like “back in my day.”
Several songs deal with loss. “Two Friends” talks of a pair of acquaintances that Hay lost a week apart, as he sings “carry on, my brothers.” Then, there’s the poignant “She Was the Love of Mine,” a delicately, loving tribute to the passing of Hay’s mother.
Sure, there’s nothing here that rivals the pop effervescence of “Down Under” or “Who Can It Be Now,” but that’s no longer Hay’s aim. Where Fierce Mercy succeeds is in its warmth and humanity – these songs are relatable, especially to those who have experienced heartbreaking loss. Yet, despite some of the bleak subject matter, Hay’s voice is ever-reassuring – like a ray of sunshine peeking through the clouds. –Tony Peters