Men At Work

Columbia Records, 1983

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I think the first time I seriously experienced "sophomore slump" was in 1984, when I purchased the second Men At Work album Cargo. Like thousands of other fans, I had gotten hooked on the quirkiness of "Down Under," "Be Good Johnny" and "Who Can It Be Now," and was anxiously awaiting (undoubtedly with borrowed money from my parents) the day when Cargo hit the shelves.

But after I had torn off the shrinkwrap and listened to the whole disc, I remember walking away from the album a tad disappointed. Sure, the lead-off single "Overkill" was decent, if not as powerful as the singles from Business As Usual.

In truth, Colin Hay and crew were learning how tough it can be to follow up a debut smash - especially when those songs were the ones which the band had plenty of time to craft and shape into something wonderful. Cargo sounds rushed at many points in the album, and though it does have some great moments on it, one wonders what could have been had the band received more time to work on it.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The lead-off track "Dr. Heckyll And Mister Jive" is the first obvious warning sign. Almost sounding forced into cutesy territory, this whole song doesn't work from the get-go. Lyrically inept and musically weak, this is not the way to kick off an album. (Scarier still is that there was once a video for this song. Thinking back to over 17 years ago, I do remember Hay looking relatively bored.)

The two well-known tracks, "Overkill" and "It's A Mistake," are still remembered for good reason, as they are undoubtedly the best tracks on Cargo. The former almost being a diatribe about paranoia, the latter an anti-Cold War treatise, each one has its own unique charms in both structure and lyric, and sound surprisingly fresh even today, nearly 20 years since they were released.

Yet there are some hidden gems on Cargo. "Blue For You" is a lightly-peppered reggae beat which may be a little light on the lyrical content but is a pleasant listen nonetheless. "No Sign Of Yesterday" has hints of "Down By The Sea" in its basic structure, but is powerful enough to stand firmly on its own and prove its own mettle. Same goes for the disc's closer "No Restrictions," an energetic number which sometimes feels like both the band and the listener are racing towards the end of the album.

Yet for all these strengths, it is the weaknesses on Cargo that stand out. "Settle Down My Boy" almost feels like a sequel to "Be Good Johnny," but has none of the quirkiness and charm of the original, sounding almost like a parental lecture -- something I was actively trying to avoid when I was 13, thank you very much. "I Like To" tries to nail down the inspired silliness of "Helpless Automaton" and fails miserably, while "High Wire" falls flat despite Hay's attempt to make this track into something special.

No matter what Men At Work could have put out, it would be compared to Business As Usual due to the unexpected success of that first album. While this might not be fair to Cargo -- indeed, the band does experiment more here than they did on their debut -- it does happen nonetheless. Truth be told, had Cargo been released as the debut, chances are Men At Work would never have reached the level of success they did enjoy. The long-time fans will still find things to enjoy on Cargo, but the rest of us can get by with any number of 80s hits collections to harvest the solid tracks from.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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