Written on the road due to the relentless touring prompted by Business As Usual’s outrageous success in 1981, 1983 follow-up Cargo remains Men At Work’s most consistent record despite its musical diversity. Maybe even, oddly enough, because of it. Its many moods seem to mirror the endlessly fleeting scenery whizzing by the windows as the Australian rock band went country to country. To say that Cargo is more emotionally led than commercially focused is an understatement. Business As Usual is a shower and Cargo is a grower. Given enough time, the crux of its appeal is laid starkly bare: These are talented people with a down-home charm that fame has not changed. Men At Work refused to capitulate to the neutering panic of sophomore album syndrome. Instead, Cargo is—ironically—business as usual: Our instruments are our tools. Let’s get back to work with them. Opener and first single “Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive” personifies the strangeness of people with a pinball wizardry that was commonplace to the preceding decade. From that point on, however, Cargo suddenly and convincingly established Men At Work as something much more than Australia’s answer to The Police or Huey Lewis & The News. Vocalist Colin Hay’s lyricism still subsists on a similar diet of peculiarly jaunty storytelling and, yes, there is the sudden appearance of Greg Ham’s saxophone (which blares, wonderfully out of nowhere, on second single and international hit “Overkill”). Cargo, though, is decidedly not about mightily tantric minimalism or gleeful yuppie odes to fat-cat conformity. This is ’80s New Wave pop through the wide eyes of an Australian band that cut their teeth on the local pub circuit, struck it unexpectedly big with their debut, and, unlike many of their contemporaries, never forgot the common aroma of beer-staled carpet, unattended cigarettes, and hooting halitosis that perfumed the rooms that made them. The album’s third single and biggest critical hit, “It’s a Mistake,” is not so much an attempt to retell the legend of Business As Usual’s eternal anthem “Down Under,” but to continue its legacy in terms of sentiment. The everyperson energy of fourth and final single “High Wire,” especially, could’ve been organically conceived and joyously rehearsed in a parking lot just hours before stepping onstage to a crowd of 30 people. Which is not to say Cargo or Men At Work on the whole lack sophistication. They demonstrably do not, as on the spectacularly musical momentum of “I Can See It In Your Eyes” from Business As Usual and “No Restrictions,” whose title and themes are cleverly exemplified by Ham’s frequent, untethered and even artfully intrusive flute work. Cargo is not a hit machine. Nor is it trying to be. There is a working-class gratitude to “I Like To,” an endearing modesty to “Blue For You.” All throughout, there is a humble insistence on still making celebratory sing-alongs out of seemingly humdrum situations (“Upstairs In My House,” which, even more endearingly, highlights some of Hay’s most impassioned singing) and “No Sign Of Yesterday,” which pays a strangely grounded homage to the Eagles’ “Hotel California”—both structurally and thematically. The only difference is a concern for the future rather than the present, making it a somewhat prophetic song in a sad but true way. Following the release of Cargo, the band was never quite able to re-conjure the commercially contextual magic that boosted them to the top of the charts around the world (again). When Hay sings, “And you better put something away for your old age/So settle down, settle down my boy, settle down” on “Settle Down My Boy,” one gets the feeling Men At Work never considered themselves magical in the slightest. The band’s own name was never truer than on Cargo: They were just humbly making music with the tools they had and the lives they lived—and listeners everywhere found a magic in this.

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