Monday, October 7, 2013

Awesome 80's Video #3: "Overkill" by Men at Work

I told Colin my favorite Men at Work song is "Overkill," and he said, 'That's the thinking man's favorite Men at Work song." Thank you--that's me. 
I did have my difficulties dealing with Colin's lazy eye. That goddamn eyeball.
--Mark Goodman in "VJ"

If you think about it, isn’t Men at Work one of the weirdest breakout acts of the 1980s? They had the exotic Aussie thing going as a band, but they weren’t exactly a bunch of Mel Gibsons. They “blew up” with "Who Can It Be Now?", a song I still enjoy today, and really that whole “Business as Usual” album was huge. So how do they follow it up? With a re-release of what became their biggest and most enduring hit, “Down Under.” But even that was pretty damn close to a novelty song (though rhyming “my language” with “vegemite sandwich” was just great regardless), and the video was played for laughs. Still, they were a big deal at the eighties-ish peak of the eighties.

The album “Cargo” comes next, and then things get really interesting if you track the videos. How does Men at Work perpetuate the hit machine? With “Overkill,” the offbeat, moody subject of this post, followed by “It’s a Mistake,” an anti-war song with a spoofy video, and a horror parody called “Dr. Hekyll and Mr. Jive.” Yeah, these guys didn’t exactly aim for U2-like “meaning” in their music.

But they are quite entertaining, and I love “Overkill.” For a while, the VEVO version wasn't available, and the only copy on YouTube was a bootleg-looking clip with time code on the screen. Somehow that only  enhanced the oddball feel of the video, and I kind of regret the superior "official" version supplanting it (I don't want to link to VEVO stuff, but it's easy enough to find if you want to see this for yourself).

In "Overkill," the dark (but dappled with neon) 1980s-style visuals and night scenes blend with the insomniac lyrics to suggest paranoia and anxiety. Numerous close-ups emphasize Colin Hay’s funky eye thing, either to heighten the tension or to mess with Mark Goodman.. It all adds up to what I consider one of the most atmospheric songs/videos of the eighties and an underrated gem. I love the patented Men at Work sax riffs and the cool guitar break before the last verse. After the rush of that exhilarating final verse, though, the song ends quietly on an unsettling note. Ghosts appear and fade away…

BUT I have to confess something: This video is never as moody and atmospheric as I want it to be. Take another look at that last shot. The song is unsettling—at least to me—but it looks like daylight has arrived and things are gonna be OK. It looks like...peace…contentment, even. Boo!

There aren't quite as many of those “roaming at night” shots as I had remembered seeing as a kid, and one of the better ones is weakened somewhat by the fact that Hay is looking at a storefront that promises souvlaki. Souvlaki? Nothing against the dish, but it’s not the most noirish of foods.

Worse, there’s a shot of Hay sitting at his pad, alone, watching telly on his couch…in socks. Really, going barefoot would have been better because those socks he’s wearing are about s UN-rock and roll as you can get. The only way this scene can be redeemed is if he is watching “Faces of Death III” on that TV set.

Then there’s that last verse, the intense one I love so much, when Hay kicks his vocals up a notch or two. Well, he also starts literalizing the lyrics. "I can't get to sleep," he wails, so we see him in bed. “I’m diving in too deep,” he adds, and then he actually dives into his mattress. On one hand, this adds to that feverish, manic tension of the song. On the other hand, well, it’s goofy as hell.

So which is it? Is “Overkill” classic eighties MTV noir? Or is it another borderline comedy piece? I do wish it were more the former. You know what, though? I seriously wonder if the comedy value of their videos (and this one really isn’t that funny, nor is it supposed to be, I presume, even though I'm poking a little fun at it) diminished the respect they received as musicians.

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