Reviewed by: Geno Thackara
Is it an odd-numbered year again? Then it must be time for something new from Colin Hay. It may be common enough for past decades’ superstars to coast on old hits, but he’s never been one to settle into the same rut. There are always too many places to go and too many stories out there waiting to be shared. The singer’s quiet strengths are ably in evidence here: evocative words and ear-pleasing melodies delivered with an easy folksy charm. The musical framework is simple and familiar this time around, though not without a surprise or two either.
Hay is really due to catch a break one of these years. A couple albums ago with Gathering Mercury, he was feeling adrift with the loss of his father. The next time around, Next Year People further touched on regrets and the unfortunate randomness of life’s ups and downs. Now this latest release is shaped by his mother’s passing and thoughts of aging and mortality, among other things – and at the same time he’s always aware of how great it is to be enjoying life and making music despite it all. Like its title, Fierce Mercy shows those contradictory tones as all part of the same picture.
The jaunty “Come Tumblin’ Down” shows it right away with both the album’s most cynical lyrics and brightest, catchiest tune. In “Frozen Fields of Snow” and “She Was the Love of Mine” he verges on heartbreaking, while “A Thousand Million Reasons” is the kind of folk ballad that’s so pretty and simple it’s almost impossible to really do right. The little experiments here and there are mostly successful. A string section is put to pleasantly tasteful use in a couple tracks (even if the cinematic sweep of “Secret Love” seems like overk…. err, seems excessive), and a brief spot of reggae-tinged hip-hop at least deserves points for trying.
The world has been showing Colin Hay (and indeed all of us) some tough love, but age and/or maturity let him spin it into songs as accessible and meaningful as ever. Fierce Mercy is worldly and lived-in, that voice continues to get further seasoned in just the right ways, and the dark clouds and silver linings are always vivid throughout.