Wednesday, 1 April 2009

1983 Men At Work: Down Under

In a world pre Kylie and pre Home and Away, Australian artists were rare visitors to the UK charts. By and large the most exposure folk in the UK had of the country was Rolf Harris, Edna Everage and that dour 'Neighbours as filmed by Ingmar Bergman' soap opera 'The Sullivans', a show that cast a long shadow over many a lunchtime in my younger days. Granted, the likes of The Seekers and Olivia Newton John had hit number one, but it was slim pickings.

'Down Under' celebrates it's Australian-ess on its sleeve as bold as sparkly neon, and it does so without resorting to cheapjack clich├ęs and gimmicks - there are no kangaroos, no didgeridoos and no wobble boards.

Rather, it runs on a good natured reggae backbeat with a counterpoint lone flute carrying the main tune like a birdsong. In fact, one of the things that strikes most about the song is just how much is going on behind the scenes. Guitars and percussion are constantly doing bits of business, syncopating and subtly shifting keys in a manner that Brian Eno would nod his head in approval at, yet all the while it never loses sight of the funky reggae beat at its backbone

Loosely telling the tale of an Aussie tourist seeing the world, 'Down Under' walks a fine/dangerous line between out and out novelty and genuine humour. The fact that it resolutely avoids the corn is testament to the quality of the writing which body swerves a predictable 'Carry On Oz' approach and is as humorous now as it was then; only the most terminally miserable could resist cracking a smile at lines like:

"Buying bread from a man in Brussels
He was six foot four and full of muscles
I said, do you speak-a my language?

He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich"

and this before a certain Jean Claude Van Damme had even made his first film.

Ultimately, 'Down Under' was and remains a joy. Hitting number one in a cold January, it was a shot of early summer sun in song and, after two weeks of Mr Collins, it must have seemed like someone had opened a window.

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