CD Review of Are You Lookin’ at Me? by Colin Hay

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Are You Lookin’ at Me?
starstarstarstarno star Label: Compass/Lazy Eye
Released: 2007
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When Colin Hay signed to Compass Records, he found himself on the receiving end of an idea: as a way of reintroducing yourself to a world that almost exclusively knows you as the frontman of Men at Work, why not have your label debut be a collection of your best solo work combined with new renderings of old Men at Work songs? It was a reasonable idea, as far as Hay was concerned; he’d switched up the arrangements of the old songs already, so that was easy enough, and he was all too aware that his solo career to date had gone mostly unnoticed, so why not revisit some of his favorite moments from the past several years? While the end result, Man at Work, did a reasonable job of reintroduction, it’s probable that the inclusion of his song, “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You,” on the soundtrack of Zach Braff’s film, “Garden State,” did even more.

Finally, Hay’s first new studio album for Compass has emerged after almost four years of waiting, and if Are You Lookin’ at Me? isn’t the best record of his solo career, it at least further confirms that he’s a songwriter who’s full of top-notch material…whether the masses want to embrace it or not.

The title track opens the proceedings and offers an autobiographical sketch of Hay’s life to date, with Hay basically just speaking his piece over an interesting mix of guitars and keyboards. Lines about famed Manchester footballers George Best and Denis Law (accidentally misspelled as “Dennis” in the lyrics) remind us that the man who sang so convincingly about life “down under” was actually born and raised in the UK – Scotland, to be precise – only moving to Australia in his early teens. Later in the song, Hay references his success as a member of Men at Work:

When I flew across the ocean, I was number one
People gave me everything, and I didn’t need a gun
Walking down that avenue, I never felt so alive
People calling out my name, and I’d only just arrived

He even remains optimistic when commenting on how things didn’t necessarily carry on at the same level of success, musing proudly, “I had myself a moment, my day out in the sun / It’s an unfinished story, but it’s more than just begun.”

Given the fun Hay enjoys having at his own expense – in addition to that album title, his label’s called Lazy Eye – it’s occasionally a bit surprising how serious he tends to get with his lyrics, as in the palpable sadness of “Up in Smoke” (“Now all I have is sorrow, for in time, we all go up in smoke”), or as on “Lonely Without You,” where he offers a touching farewell to a lost love (“I tell my friends that I’m real busy / I drink ‘til I feel dizzy / Then I wake up and remember you are gone”). Fortunately, he counters the latter by following it with the jaunty “What Would Bob Do?” and its infectious chorus. Equally irresistible is “Lose to Win,” which borrows much of its feel from the Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon” and even features a kazoo solo. Hay’s guitar work on the album really stands out on a few songs, particularly on “This Time I Got You,” which finds him doing his best Mark Knopfler impression, and on the aforementioned “Lonely without You,” where he provides a chiming, uplifting riff during the chorus that, despite the sad lyrics, keeps the song from ever sinking into depression.

The album closes with the sadly ironic “I Wish I Was Still Drinking,” which actually serves to provide far too many reasons that one might wish to continue imbibing. Going after television evangelists might be passé, but it’s always fun to take a shot at George W. Bush (“I wouldn’t have to answer for the promises I broke / Like the President today, or when he drank and snorted coke”). The harshest verses of the song, however, are the ones which, unfortunately, aren’t limited to any specific era:

I wish I was still drinking, then I’d have no fear
I’d tell you how to fix the world, then have another beer
I wouldn’t have to feel the pain that’s in a mother’s eyes
I’d drink ‘til I believed the sound of my own drunken lies

I wish I was still drinking, then I wouldn’t have to hear
The sound of rapid gunfire, exploding in my ear
I’d drink through the nightmares of friends crying out for help
I’d drink through everything I’ve seen or heard or felt

In closing, it’s worth noting that I’m not a fan of offering lengthy lyrical quotes within music reviews; it smacks of lazy writing and an attempt to fill out a designated word count. In this case, however, I choose to do so because…well, basically, Colin Hay’s a hell of a lyricist, and I’m glad to do anything I can to help raise the man’s profile.

Are You Lookin’ at Me? is only the latest of many gems in his back catalog; we can only hope that it provides him with the solo success that’s been denied him for far too long.

~Will Harris