Colin Hay started his career with fame as the frontman of Men At Work, but his solo career since the band’s dissolution has spanned thirty years. Yet with his thirteenth solo album, he’s still creating music that’s full of so much fresh feeling and life that his latest release may well be his best one to date.
If you’ve heard Hay’s music before, Fierce Mercy isn’t a stark contrast; Hay’s unique vocals are as powerful as ever and fit perfectly with the tone of the stories his music tells. It is by no means a rehash or “more of the same,” however. It is quite the contrary, expanding his pop-rock sound in a cinematic and effective way. Hay immediately conveys this with the opener, “Come Tumblin’ Down,” an energetic, accordion- and banjo-laced Americana piece that sets off the album on a high note.
“Secret Love” is an excellent follow up as a dramatic confessional of unrequited love in which the desperation is conveyed by the climbing pitch of the vocals throughout verses. The energy in the song builds as the guitar is accompanied by orchestral strings and piano, and it’s so filled with passion that it leaves your heart soaring by the end of it. The album also covers love in “The Best in Me,” exploring companionate love that brings about a positive change.
Certainly, the album’s boldest move comes in “I’m Walking Here,” a powerful song inspired by the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012 that features guest rappers Deploi and Swift in the verses amongst a backdrop of bells, guitar, organ, and synths. It strongly defies expectations, but the track feels perfectly at home as a Colin Hay song.
The album also constructs compelling narratives of its own, such as in telling the story of a soldier come home in the acoustic “Frozen Fields of Snow,” and the tale of a generational gap in “I’m Going to Get You Stoned.” These tracks are more subdued than many of the other tracks on Fierce Mercy, but are no less worth a listen, and if they haven’t caught your interest at first, they will after a listen or two.
At the core of the album is “The Last to Know,” the song that contains its titular phrase. It explores the idea of “fierce mercy,” a strong admonition coming mercifully in time to prevent a worst-case scenario. The pop-rock tune is hard to resist, and the accent of backing vocals from Cecilia Noël (Hay’s wife) and Belinda Skinner gives it an effective edge.
However, the album reaches arguably its most hard-hitting point on Fierce Mercy’s two ballads. “A Thousand Million Reasons” is a hopeful composition, relying primarily on gentle vocals backed by quiet piano, strings, and synths. On the other end of the emotional spectrum, “She Was the Love of Mine” is a poignant reflection on the life of Hay’s late mother, striking emotion from the first notes on the guitar and only hitting more powerfully as trombone and strings slowly begin to harmonize his soft, lyrical reflections.
The CD release of the album includes three additional bonus tracks (a commendable method of bonus track distribution). All three of these bonus track offerings make it worth steering toward the CD, especially for those big fans of Colin Hay’s music, but it rounds out the listening experience in general, as well as bringing the runtime from 44 minutes to 55. “I’m Inside Outside In” is a lively tune about aging and “Blue Bay Moon” is a mellow, relaxing song about a UFO sighting that’s peppered with steel guitar, while “Love Don’t Mean Enough” ends the album by considering whether love is always enough, ending with an assertion in defense of the power of love.
Whether you’ve been with Colin Hay since his days in Men At Work or you’re new to his music, Fierce Mercy is a diverse offering, with varying styles and emotion, excelling at everything it presents. He’s made fantastic albums in the past and I’m sure he will going forward as well, but Fierce Mercy is a defining album of his solo career, and certainly not one that you should miss.