Men At Work – Cargo

CBS/Columbia CK 38660

Men at Work stand as the first band I ever saw live,
back when I was a wee lad in 1982. They played the Santa Barbara County Bowl with Mental As Anything opening (how’s that for an ’80s flashback?). It’s probably where I smelled pot the first time. It was certainly my first tour T-shirt (longsleeve baseball-style, as was the fashion). And Cargo has been in my collection since it came out. But I hadn’t listened to it for a long time until I got the CD (and not the remastered version, which I’m still looking for).
Far from being Police-copyists and a dated embarrassment, I think the album still holds up well. This was the early ’80s, so the drums are not Gotterdamerung-volume. Apart from a few twee synth sounds here and there, the band is tight (they’re like a poppy King Crimson on “I Like To,”? an otherwise throwaway song that turns into an angular jam). Best of all is Colin Hay’s lyrics and general songwriting. Yes, he wrote a song about a Vegemite sandwich, but most of this album is sunshine-dappled angst. I think there’s a total of one song that could be considered a love song”””Blue For You”?””and that ends with intimations of suicide (“I could take a big jump!”?). But mostly there’s this: “Blood on the pillow on my bed / Explains the pain that’s in my head.”? (“High Wire”?). Or songs about nuclear war (“It’s a Mistake”?), angst-fueled insomnia (“Overkill”? a great song that was always too dark to have been a single), directionlessness (“No Restrictions”?), or post-breakup depression (the also fabulous and justifiably long “No Sign of Yesterday”?). Great guitars solos on all these, and I’m not a guitar solo guy. They’re minimal but refined.
The other thing I enjoyed: the air between the instruments. There’s been so much muddy production recently that the sound of this album suddenly stood out as enjoyably crisp. I never followed Men at Work after the core group split (and “Two Hearts”? is just a jumble of sequenced noise), but I’d like to believe Colin Hay is still writing some good tunes. (Decide for yourself.)

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One thought to “Men At Work – Cargo”

  1. Hi there it was great to read your review on an album that influenced me with my music so much in so many ways. I was just 3 years old when I first heard it and I was taken by the picture sleeve that Ron Strykert painted since I was a kid. I have the original design which looks slightly different along with the acetate from the mastering plant!
    So yeah after many years of being a big fan I finally made contact with Ron (Strykert) who is very lovely and we talk quite a bit. He has a myspace page if there are any men at work fans out there wanna know what happened to him..
    A great album and it will stay with me forever.

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