Album Review: Colin Hay – “Gathering Mercury” – (Compass)
By Jim Simpson
Forever known as the lead singer-songwriter of the iconic ’80s band Men At Work, Colin Hay has been cranking out solo records for nearly a quarter century. Gathering Mercury is arguably his best work. Tragically, though, the album was inspired and written after the death of Hay’s father. “Dear Father” features one of the most poignant and heart-wrenching lyrics on the album: “Dear father I never got to say goodbye/I was singing on the River Clyde and I didn’t know.” On the night his father died, Hay was playing a show on a ferryboat on said river in Glasgow just 20 streets away from where his father was born.
Gathering Mercury is certainly not a somber album; on the contrary, it is entirely hopeful, thoughtfully introspective without being navel-gazingly self-centered, admirably mature and uplifting. Hay’s voice, too, has held up extremely well over the years; he’s even retained that signature vibrato in the higher registers, noticeable especially during the dancehall-tinged “Far From Home.”
Hay is obviously, like most among his generation (including this reviewer), influenced by the Beatles. “Family Man” and “Gathering Mercury” are comparable to the best songwriting of Paul McCartney and George Harrison, respectively, and Hay’s guitar skills on the latter are second to none. The man is simply an extremely talented and underrated songwriter/musician.
The ten songs on the album are imbued with a sense of wonder about the nature of mortality (“I’m invisible, cast me to the wind/I’m invincible no more, no more”), the uncertain yet exciting mysteries of the afterlife (“Until I cross over/One life is all I can see”) as well as a reverence for place — in this case, his hometown of Glasgow in “Where The Sky Is Blue” — and the simple beauty of a “Simple Song”.
The CD includes bonus “stripped mixes” of four of the featured songs which are identical to the main selections, minus the rhythm tracks. A more interesting idea would have been demo or solo acoustic versions.
Hay has also appeared in numerous feature films, as well as a very memorable episode of “Scrubs” featuring an acoustic performance of “Overkill” from Men At Work’s sophomore album, Cargo. Actor/director Zach Braff has also released a video of the opening track on Gathering Mercury, “Send Somebody.” Watch it here.
Hay has surrounded himself with some talented musicians including Michael Georgiades on guitars (who also wrote one of the songs), Jeff Babko on piano and organ, and Cecilia Noel on backing vocals (she also co-wrote the title track with Hay). In addition, Hay plays a mean harmonium.
This is one we highly recommend.