Album Reviews

Colin Hay

Artist:     Colin Hay

Album:     Fierce Mercy

Label:     Compass Records

Release Date:     3.03.2017

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I’ve been a fan of Colin Hay since I was 11 years old, when my grandmother gave me my vinyl copy of Business As Usual for Christmas. “Who Can It Be Now” and especially “Land Down Under” formed an important part of my preteen musical consciousness. I still have that copy of Business As Usual. Thanks, Grandma.

The ’80s have been much maligned as a decade of godawful haircuts and pop schlock, but artists like Mr. Hay prove that there was true talent amid the muck. “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” from the film Garden State helped reconnect listeners with Hay’s formidable skills as a singer-songwriter, and NPR has featured him live and in studio helping to revitalize his career as a solo artist. With a charming Scottish brogue and masterful storytelling, he continues to regale audiences worldwide. His latest release Fierce Mercy shows him in fine form with 13 “lucky” tracks on the deluxe edition.

Recorded in Los Angeles and Nashville and mixed by Vance Powell (Chris Stapleton, Jack White) and Gordon Hammond (Buddy Miller, Don Williams), Fierce Mercy explores themes of loves and loss, mortality, and even the odd UFO sighting, but always with the singular perspective and insightful wit that defines Hay’s work. Animated by its pensive, honest, and impassioned lyrics, and by a deeply-felt sense of urgency, especially in the song “The Last to Know,” which introduces the album’s title concept of “fierce mercy.”

“When you’re in your 20s, you think you’ve got all the time in the world,” Hay said. “You get older, and you go through a quickening. Everything seems to get faster.”

He compares this to the messages mankind is getting on a global level: “With the changing weather patterns, or the polar ice caps melting, we’re getting all of these warnings, and a lot of them are incredibly fierce. But they still feel somewhat merciful—they’re not destroying us totally. We’re all being told, ‘Listen, you can still maybe address this, and it won’t get to the point where I have to take you all out. You’ve still got a shot.’”

The first tune, “Come Tumblin’ Down,” features twangy guitar, accordion, and banjo, giving the track an Americana feel. The title is the chorus line and will stick in your mind, proving Hay is still a master at infectious pop-hooks. Rendered tender with strings, “Frozen Fields of Snow” is a bittersweet tale of a war veteran returning to his childhood home after outliving the members of his troubled family. Some of the songs are deeply personal: “She Was the Love of Mine,” is an elegy for the singer’s mother, who died three years ago. “I’m Walking Here” takes Dustin Hoffman’s famous line from Midnight Cowboy and builds a song out of it with rapping by Joe Lopez.

Ten of the album’s 13 tracks were collaborations with Michael Georgiades, who contributed to Hay’s previous albums. “Michael Georgiades is my secret weapon, but I guess now with this album it’s not a secret anymore,” Hay jokes.

Hay’s impact stretches far and wide. He is publicly cited as an influence by artists as diverse as James Hetfield of Metallica and Jeremiah Fraites of the Lumineers. A new documentary film about his career, Waiting For My Real Life, shows that he is still as relevant as ever. Fans of Colin Hay’s carefully crafted pop-rock should greatly enjoy Fierce Mercy.

—Mike Cobb

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