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ARE YOU LOOKIN AT ME? is Colin Hay's first new studio album in six years, and is a stunningly tuneful meditation on life, love, sobriety, maturity and perseverance. As a writer, he has been more masterful: finding intriguing new angles on instantly relatable scenarios, skewering and savoring in equal measure. With musical backdrops ranging from electronic textures to plaintive acoustic balladry to classic guitar driven pop, ARE YOU LOOKIN AT ME? is a welcome reintroduction to one of modern pop's most enduring and ingenious songsmiths.
Close of day, Los Angeles. Colin Hay emerges from his basement studio, where the entirety of his new album Are You Lookin' At Me? was recorded. "I like working," he says, matter-of-factly. "I love being in the studio, writing songs, and just being in that environment - and I enjoy it more and more as I become more self-reliant in the studio. There's a lot of messing around with ideas, not being really sure what the day is going to bring...being on your own, able to work through the ideas and work the machines, is quite liberating."
Are You Lookin' at Me? is Colin Hay's first studio album of new material in over five years. A tuneful, insightful meditation on life, love, sobriety, maturity and perseverance, the album finds Hay at the absolute peak of his craft. As a writer and vocalist, he has never been more masterful: finding intriguing new angles on instantly relatable scenarios, skewering and savoring in equal measure. His less acclaimed but no less formidable skills as arranger, engineer and bandleader insure that each song is supported by evocative musical backdrops ranging from electronic textures to plaintive acoustic balladry to classic guitar-driven pop. Are You Lookin' at Me? is unified by Hay's immediately identifiable voice, relentless curiosity, wonder and a decidedly uncluttered sound which has its roots in Hay's consistently busy tour schedule.
"Since my last album Company of Strangers in 2002," Hay explains, "I've been pretty much either on the road or in the studio...when I'm not on the road, I'm working on songs and trying to make them as good as possible. When I was working on these, I had my road band in mind, and in a way tried to limit the arrangements to match our live sound." Songs like the refreshing, buoyant "Lose to Win" and the disarmingly direct, horn-spiked "Pure Love" reflect this commitment to, in Hay's words, "avoid over-recording." Hay also performs regularly as a solo acoustic artist, weaving new and old songs with touchingly hilarious tales of his experiences. These solo tours have left him unafraid to strip his music to its bare essentials, such as on the bittersweet "Up In Smoke".
Throughout Are You Lookin' at Me?, Hay's perspective is one of an observer, an outsider. "A lot of people feel like outsiders: for me, it's not a problem," he reflects. "Being born in Scotland and growing up there for 14 years, I felt a particular way. Then my family moved to Australia, we were instantly in a very different place. But I quickly learned to adapt. When you look closely, you find more similarities than differences."
Hay first landed on American shores as the frontman and principal songwriter of the pop sensation Men at Work. With Hay's wry songs and burnished vocals leading the way, they were responsible for a series of massive hits, such as "Down Under," "Who Can It Be Now?" and "Overkill," that defined pop music of the early eighties. Men at Work were also one of the first pop icons of the video era, with Hay's distinct visage gracing a number of intriguing, humorous videos that aired endlessly in the early days of MTV. He stared down at the world from the most extreme heights of pop stardom, and yet stardom is not something he yearns for today. "When you have commercial success, it takes a while for the effects of that to leave you. But after a while you stop asking `Is that gonna get on the radio?' over and over. Now I just want to try to write cool songs that people will get something out of - the rest really doesn't matter."
As the eighties gave way to the nineties, Hay continued to write and perform, parlaying his gifts as a performer and storyteller into such varied enterprises as a narrative television special and a one-man stage show entitled Colin Hay: Man at Work. His music made the migration from commercial radio to the world of film and television, gaining prominent placements in the hit television show Scrubs and the acclaimed film Garden State. "Having my music out there like that opened up a new younger audience to me," Hay explains, "which is fantastic."
The appearance of this new audience is indicative both of the timeless quality of Hay's craft and also of his honest, refreshingly slanted perspective - both of which are readily apparent on Are You Lookin' at Me?. Musically, what gives the album coherence is Hay's clear-headed willingness to let the songs shine through, his warmly conversational singing, and the steady presence of Hay's wife, vocalist and songwriter Cecilia Noel, whose strong but subtle contributions are felt throughout. "Cecilia has a certain color to her voice," Hay explains, "and it gives the album continuity."
Nowhere is Hay's gift for touching, relatable songwriting more immediate than the title track of Are You Lookin' at Me?, which opens the album. What at first seems an autobiographical litany unfolds, over the course of four minutes, into a gripping reflection on dreams, aging, and maturity. "Yes," Hay admits, "it's my story. But it could be anyone's story." Beginning with a litany of childhood fantasy (first cowboys, then rock'n'roll), it follows Hay through the whirlwind of his success and the subsequent hard truths that emerged because of it. "Basically, if you hang on to one idea too long, it will kill you...you can't be a cowboy or a rock star forever - well, you can, but it's not as glamorous as people make it out to be...the dream of living some kind of pastoral existence in whatever way shape or form it is gets shot down all of the time. You have to roll with the punches. You have learn to weave and move out of the way..."
Few have endured and survived the way Hay has, from an unimaginable pinnacle of success to forging new roads as a working artist and songsmith. Avoiding the pitfalls that have claimed so many of his peers (drugs, depression, delusion), he continues to ply his craft. The rewards, he knows now, are greater than something as fleeting as fame and notoriety. Are You Lookin' at Me? is the next chapter in a story that is still unfolding - on his terms. "I feel really great about this record," Hay reflects, "because I feel close to it. I don't listen to it and think `Oh, that's not me' or `I'm trying to do something weird here.' That's what's different...I have a great band and a great group of people to work with. It's fun now. But not in a light way - it's got some weight to it. But," he says smiling, "it's not like I have to please anybody. Well, maybe my wife."
Another good album from Colin Hay. Songs like I Wish I Was Still Drinking and Lose To Win show that a lot thought goes into his songwriting.Published 2 months ago by KSArnold
I was so delighted to find this little gem on Amazon, what a treat after living through the 1980s with Men at Work as the soundtrack to that decade. Read morePublished 10 months ago by default_character
I heard Colin Hay do a guest stint on the Sklarbro Country podcast last year. I had forgotten all about Men at Work, and here was Colin Hay singing as though he'd never missed a... Read morePublished on May 9, 2013 by anonymous
This is the one! Simple! Relax!
Are you looking at me? Rock blues mix true to him, I know he likes this one best.
I don't like his other works, personal pref...
wow! Colin Hay-who we all know from MEN AT WORK fame has spent the last few years making some well crafted songs..and really hasnt had the recognition deserved.. Read morePublished on September 2, 2009 by ac
I bought this CD for my wife and have been unable to take it out of my car's player since receiving it. Favorites include the title song; Are You Looking At Me? Read morePublished on July 26, 2009 by Dennis Turner
This is a fabulous CD. I was turned on to Colin Hay by a dear friend and never tire of this CD. It is true art and a fabulous find.Published on July 14, 2009 by Carolyn M. Bronkar
I loved this CD! He is still making great music and has a big fan base.
If you get a chance to see him at a small Bar do it you wont be disappointed!