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Main Category: Pop Rock
Also applicable: Hard Rock
Starting Period: The Punk/New Wave Years
Also active in: The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day



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Year Of Release: 1978

This album sounds good, but kinda ordinary, until you ask yourself a fun classifying question: is this punk, or is this hard rock? And then you'll be stumped. On one hand, Midnight Oil burst out on the scene with a fiery, pulsating lump of protest emotions (even if this is still nowhere near the level of political consciousness that would be achieved on their following records) that has nothing to do whatsoever with Seventies' hard rock's usual preoccupations with carnality, booze and goofy evil posturing. On the other hand, if there's one thing that sets Midnight Oil apart from the usual wave of late Seventies newcomers, it's technique. These guys sure respect musicianship, and not only do both the main guitarist (Martin Rotsey) and the bass player (Andrew James) have terrific chops, they even have a keyboard player in the band... and do an eight-minute song. How punk is that?

In other words, Midnight Oil is not only very solid and self-assured, it's also innovative. (That's a plus). And it's not only innovative, it's also very solid and self assured. I have no idea why most people dismiss this debut record with a "decent, but only a taster of things to come" conviction. Six of the seven songs on here kick my ass all the way to Victoria Bay. Sharp, ideally produced, riff-heavy, hook-filled, intelligently-lyricized rockers that all have something to say. Maybe it's the vocalist problem or something, but if you have problems with Peter Garrett, try listening to some Birthday Party-era Nick Cave and Mr Garrett will seem like the beautiful proverbial Australian God of the Wilderness to you.

'Powderworks' opens the album on a great note, and right from like the third second or so Rotsey is already spilling his fluent trilling chops all over the place while Andrew James takes off on bass. The stop-and-start main verse melody is straight up and lifted from the Who's 'The Real Me', of course, but let that worry you none because it's only one part of the song. Other parts include violent soloing, catchy refrains, well, everything you want from a great rocker. And fuck all the Seventies' mid-tempo stuff - these guys are fast, not as blindingly fast as the Ramones, for sure, but fast enough to get you going and retain precise technical mastership at the same time (well, it wasn't quite Metallica time yet).

The band's only love song, 'Head Over Heels', follows, and it's equally great, driven by a wonderful radio-ready anthemic riff (actually, there's more than one riff out there, to be fair), and featuring one of the album's best hooks when Garrett wails 'I think I like the sound we're chasiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing/I'm giving it all and you're reciprocatiiiiiiiiiing' - think about it, that's a trick worthy of the Beach Boys, except that none of the Beach Boys ever dreamt of harmonizing in an ugly Aussie whine, but that's the uniqueness of Mr Garrett for you. 'Dust' is slower, moodier, and slightly more paranoid than usual, with Garrett wailing away to a superb looping bassline that rises and falls for just enough seconds to help you experience a minor musical climax every time it shifts direction. (Well, maybe not quite, but that's the way I see it). A classy number, and I even dig the way he bleats out 'take me awa-a-a-a-ay!'

You have a problem with the fabulous pop-rocker 'Used And Abused'? I sure don't. First there's this chuggin' toe-tappin' rhythm, then there's this "typical little man delivery" from Garrett as he narrates how the police kicked the shit out of him for taking part in a demonstration, then you have a funny 'no no' chorus with a solid key change, and then a little bit of demonic soloing from Rotsey, and that's just the first forty seconds. 'Surfing With A Spoon' is a perfect loser anthem if there ever was one - 'working in the city from 9 to 5/Traffic on the highway gonna blow my mind/Surfing with a spoon all the rest of the time', with an epic organ-and-jangly guitar introduction and a great drive throughout the main body of the song. And finally, 'Run By Night' is easily the best Midnight Oil song of the Seventies. Pure perfection from beginning to end. Driving memorable riffs, catchy vocal melody, emotionally resonant lyrics (this time dedicated to the perils of boozing), what else would you want? Aaah, that song COOKS. 'We all run by night, we all run by night' - gotta love it when the melody makes this abrupt shift and all the soaring power chords are suddenly transformed into this concentrated riff blast.

Of course, they just had to blow this thing by making the last song almost unlistenable. 'Nothing Gained Nothing Lost' has its moments - most particularly, the moment when the quiet subtle introduction is suddenly replaced by a wild blast from Rotsey's six-string and the drums kick in with all their might. But essentially, it's just a very long (eight minutes), very slow, very boring "moody" rumination on the sick fate of mankind and the protagonist in particular. Two or three minutes of it might be okay, eight minutes is a mockery - come on guys, spare some time and rock some more instead! It's one of the most disappointing endings to a promising album I've ever heard, and considering that Midnight Oil is pretty short in general, that makes for just twenty six minutes of prime material. That's, like, more fitting for an EP than anything else. Still great, and be sure to own it if you like your rock hard, mean, and intelligent at the same time.



Year Of Release: 1979

The rule of thumb: if you're a good hard rock band, don't mess around with the formula and God (or Satan) will grant you years of long, happy, unperturbed, stable success. In other words, if you wrote enough classic riffs for one record, chances are you still have enough riffs for at least half a dozen more, whether you be Sabbath, Nazareth, AC/DC, or Thin Lizzy. And it looks like throughout the Seventies, Midnight Oil thought likewise, because Head Injuries isn't at all different in style from the debut. Same brand of intelligent headbanging. Some think of it even as a huge improvement over the debut, but I don't necessarily see it - except that they've learnt their lesson and didn't dare to put up another excruciating eight-minute parable.

Head Injuries... gosh, that sounds eerily close to Head Games, which also came out the same year. I doubt if that was an intentional parody on the Foreigner title, but the funny thing is that 'Cold Cold Change' opens the record very much a la Foreigner, with a lumpy head-smashing riff/bass/drums onslaught that assaults your senses right from second one. However, unlike Foreigner, that riff actually carries the song, which never deteriorates into a cheesy synth-supported power-chord fiesta. It's an anthemic ode to the, uhm, perils of the upcoming Ice Age (a problem that was, funny enough, tackled that very same year by Ian Anderson on the Stormwatch album), catchy, powerful and ass-kicking. Eco-rock has never, in fact, sounded better before, and the one-note bassline is already enough to kill for. Hmm, perhaps we need more one-note bass melodies in this world?

The record rarely lets down after the opener. No love songs, no drunk songs, no lengthy anthems, just straightahead rock'n'roll with very few diversions, and the Oil's political/ecological/everybody's-rights stand has already formed completely. There's even an angry condemnation of the phoney sellout rock scene itself in 'Stand In Line', which is easily the album's best song musically, too - I mean, who on Earth but Midnight Oil would have thought of ending each tact of the main melody part with that awesome ascending guitar/bass part? It's pretty breathtaking and, in fact, ominous, although I don't know why. 'Everything's set, everything's fine, we just gotta stand in line' - the unforgettable chorus. That freaky mid-section with another one-note bassline and the slowly rising musical thunderstorm. Garrett's shiver-sending whisper and then Garrett's bloodcurdling scream at the end. Woof. Hell of a song.

Other highlights would include the breakneck tempo of 'Section 5 (Bus To Bondi)', which occasionally gives way to an emotionally high chorus which I've always tried hearing as 'I'm just a fuck on display' instead of 'I'm just a part of the place' as the silly lyrics transcription tries to convince me. (No way, not even the Aussie accent can explain that mishearing!). Another wonderful song is the multi-part 'Koala Sprint'; the minimalistic introduction I could live without, but how the hell could I now live without the beautiful 'summer sun's got me stopping' refrain? It's a song about getting away from the city and into virgin, quiet territory, and about the actual impossibility to get away, and it's brought to an end with a pretty little acoustic-and-synth New Age-like coda which gives a teensy-weensy hint at some of the major changes that would be occurring soon to the band's sound.

These are my favourites, but it's not like I hate the other songs or anything. The record's main problem is monotonousness, but even within the formula Midnight Oil come up with enough creative melodies and moods to justify its existence. Listen to the despair and psycho romanticism of 'Naked Flame', for instance, a song that introduces all the power and range of Garrett's voice as well, as he alternates from heart-on-a-sleeve intonations to much more angry tones. Or listen how 'Back On The Borderline' starts with this fast distorted riff and threatening drum fills, pretending to be a gruff hard rocker, but then turns out to be all based around jangly chords and poppy melodies. Or, just the opposite, how 'No Reaction' starts with a few seconds of pretty arpeggios and then turns into a fast rocker worthy of an early Accept record. Or how the main guitar melody in 'Is It Now' provides the perfect cathartic ending to the whole record. No wonder Head Injuries gets so much praise from just about every reviewer in existence. Me, I kinda miss both the goofiness of 'Used And Abused' and the sentimentality of 'Head Over Heels' (one song of each type could only have benefited the record), but otherwise, no problems with the album.



Year Of Release: 1981

Before proceeding, I'd like to inform you that between that and this, the Oils did a four-song EP called Bird Noises which I'm not going to review separately because my reviews are supposed to be long and boring (otherwise, where'd I end up without an identity of my own?) and I'm not addicted enough to writing so as to write a long and boring review over four songs. Even if all of them kick ass - 'No Time For Games' is the band's protest against the bleak future for today's kids set to a typically catchy vocal melody and a gruff 'let's rock!', 'Knife's Edge' has fantastic harmonies in the chorus, the instrumental 'Wedding Cake Island' shows the band's ambitious artsy side (it's a... eh... neo-surf kind of thing? Pretty beautiful, especially those synth twiddlings), and 'I'm The Cure' is the best song because it has the best riff and a stop-and-start instrumental section in the middle that'll blow your mind. Download it or something, but don't buy it, especially since I've heard it regularly comes at full price. Bummer. Aren't you guys supposed to be decrying all the evil in the world, eh?

Anyway, on to the regular album. It's a little lighter than its predecessor - the guitar tones are getting softer and janglier, the keyboards are getting higher in the mix, and in the end it starts looking like a joyful mix of classic Seventies' power pop with the New Wave stylings of the Cars and Elvis Costello. So let's call this the Oils' power pop masterpiece, why not? Besides, it still rocks pretty hard (unlike the next album), as the very first number proves to all the Gloria Gaynor fans. Ah, that sweet cheesy keyboard sound, how I yearn for thee! How fine you actually work on a song like 'Don't Wanna Be The One', especially in the chorus, when they hit those long notes after each 'an' I don't wanna be the one...' line. At this point, it's close to being my favourite Midnight Oil song, even if for some reason every time I hear it I have oblique Tom Petty associations in my head.

It's a bit hard to comment on these songs seeing as how the principles are all the same, it's just the softer, poppier guitars that make the difference. I would say that Place Without A Postcard is a little bit more difficult to assimilate than Head Injuries simply because it's not so riff-based, with more and more emphasis placed on solid vocal melodies than memorable musical phrases. Which is why upon first listen, I was tempted to dismiss this stuff due to its being too 'meek', but then these vocal melodies start growing on you and the emotional assault slowly crushes your fortifications. Only a few songs on here tend to forget about direct emotional impact in favour of a more concentrated lyrical attack, like 'Brave Faces', for instance, which is Garrett's angriest establishment-condemning message so far ('they're all talking shit to me'), but behind the anger it's kinda forgotten that Peter talks throughout the song rather than singing throughout it. 'Burnie' is also hardly a great track, because apart from the great subtle bassline, there's little to memorize. The intimate, desperate lyrics are great, as far as protest lyrics go ('This is my home/ This is my sea/Don't paint it with the future of factories'), but the melody is next to none.

But let's just deal with the fact that practically every Midnight Oil is spoiled with something a little more "ideologically tinged" than necessary. After all, anyone who finds Garrett and Co.'s leftist statements to go over the top can go listen to Jefferson Airplane's Volunteers or something like that. Because the Airplane, for all their worth, never had anything as impressive as the venomously sarcastic media condemnation 'Armistice Day' - a song that totally rocks my world, from the opening distorted guitar passage to the moody, almost Goth-like chorus. 'You're watching people fighting, you're watching people losing, on Armistice Day', Garrett utters solemnly, as he tells us of the pretty life pictures as shown on TV that have nothing to do with the real situation. And did the Airplane ever have anything as catchy as 'Someone Else To Blame' (apart from some of the great stuff on Surrealistic Pillow)?

Okay, okay, I dunno why I really thought up that comparison. I mean, an MC5 comparison would've been more in line... then again, I guess there was really not a single band in the entire rock world that could have boasted an attitude as consistent as that of the Oils. 'Basement Flat' is classic escapism, a wonderful Sixties influenced power pop number highlighted by Garrett's romantic cries of 'what can I do, there must be some solution'. 'Written In The Heart' has the album's best, and totally scorching, riff, and a nearly apocalyptic lyrical picture that totally suits it. And the three-song suite of 'Quinella Holiday', 'Loves On Sale', and 'If Ned Kelly Was King' (I join them together because they have next to no breaks and the latter ends with a reprise of the former) must be heard to be believed. The brainless guy will spend all his time toe-tapping, the brainful guy will spend all his time soaking in the message, and everybody will be happy. 'If Ned Kelly was king, he'd make those robbers swing' - pretty straightforward, eh? Yet totally authentic-sounding. And finally, 'Lucky Country' wraps it all up with a love-and-hate message to the boys' homeland.

Turning to other places, I surprisingly find this to be considered a letdown after Head Injuries, yet I have no idea how that could possibly be. The notorious Glyn Johns produced it, and to this here pair of ears his production sounds all right, although I'm not really Mr Production Guy as everybody knows. Yup, they move away from the expected "hard rock" element, but who cares if the songs are still rocking, and Mr Garrett himself burns with just about the same amount of midnight oil as he usually does? Don't listen to the naysayers, get this as the third ultra-consistent Midnight Oil album in a row.


10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 ****

Year Of Release: 1983

Shittiest album title ever, at least for us reviewers who actually have to type it in. But a major change in sound all the same, as Midnight Oil expand in all sides, as if the hard rock of their first two albums was just a shell covering them from gaining access to everything else. Now I'm not so head over heels in love with this as many are - those many that consider this the band's masterpiece. The change in sound hasn't affected the band's consistency; as usual, there's a couple numbers on here you probably will never get mad about (although these might certainly differ from person to person), but most of the songs seem to be written with the same amount of care and devotion as always.

What it has affected is the band's grittiness; only one or two numbers on here rock with the same force as Seventies' Oil, and for a band that actually gave intelligent hard rock a new birth, this is sad news. Worse, even when they try to rock out, they are now delivering an extra prick of artsiness to even their harder numbers, and thus 'Only The Strong' becomes so chaotic and messy I have a hard time trying to concentrate on it. There are unexpected stops and starts, inexplicable tempo changes, instrumental passages that threaten to tear the melody to pieces, the drummer goes totally nuts, and overall I just don't like it very much. I guess with a couple dozen more listens the thing will sink in, but it's not like I'll be wasting my life trying to 'get' to the bottom of it.

That said, the album still receives a high rating because overall, Midnight Oil's transition to 'artsy' is successful. I suppose many a fan was profoundly shocked when he heard the record open with a synth-only intro more suitable for Depeche Mode than for these witty Australian headbangers, and then watched 'Outside World' progress like a typical early Eighties moody synth-pop number, with no guitar and drums that are there only to provide occasional outbursts of power rather than establish a well-expected beat. But it works, because the melody is pretty and memorable, and the epic feel is captured very well. So unless you hate Depeche Mode worse than your hemorrhoids, you'll probably like this stuff too.

Another blatant example of Midnight Oil indulging themselves is the two-minute intro to 'Scream In Blue' which just shouts 'psychedelic!' all over the place. I'm not sure what it is exactly they're using out there - occasionally sounds like Mellotrons, but whoever used a Mellotron in 1983 for Chrissake? And when the drums kick in, it all starts to soud suspiciously similar to the Rolling Stones on '2000 Light Years From Home', and no, I'm not joking. And it sounds fairly great, too - although the intro has little to do with the song itself, which is, to tell the truth, not all that inspired. On 'Scream In Blue', the boys seem to be trying to make something in between a love song and an escapist song, and it ends up sounding like Poronography-era Cure with just as little melody, yet not enough atmospheric build-up to be captivating. Garrett's vocal delivery is really passionate, though.

However, when they're not trying so hard to be 'different', it's the same pathetically consistent Midnight Oil we know and like. The condemnation of American foreign policy in 'Short Memory' too straightforward and unpoetic? Perhaps, but the song itself is great, with a very untrivial melodic twist in the chorus. The vocal melody of 'Read About It' too simple? It's genius simplicity. 'US Forces' takes too much time to build up? Well, when it does build-up, it launches into a classic Midnight Oil chorus ('sing me songs of no denying, seems to me too many trying...') that fully redeems the song. And I haven't yet mentioned 'Power And The Passion', the best song on the album. Or maybe not the best, it's got too much "Duran Duran influence" running for it. In fact, funny enough, it is on this album that I have to occasionally complain about the production - what the hell do Midnight Oil need these drum machines for, for instance? This is not a Peter Gabriel record! As a matter of fact, it ain't even a Phil Collins one!

Okay, since I'm already making a living off namechecking every Midnight Oil song, let me also say that 'Tin Legs And Tin Mines' sounds like a future Mick Jagger solo ballad (a good one), that 'Maralinga' assumes an almost gospel-like character with Garrett's furious screaming of 'I wanna be here at the end!', and that the last number, 'Somebody's Trying To Tell Me Something', at least ends the record on a rocking note - even if the ROCK of 1983-mark Midnight Oil is absolutely different from the ROCK of 1978-era Midnight Oil. Echoey U2-ish guitars, keyboards, sterile production (yes, well, you heard me say it), none of this accounts for classic hard rock, but it all accounts for first-rate Eighties "hard-pop". Or whatever you might call it.

And please excuse me for not dedicating more time to Midnight Oil's lyrics. Any specific mention of those would inevitably lead to huge sociological discussions on the world's depravities (which are many and which all need to be discussed, but not here), and we're here to listen to music. After all, the lyrics of Garrett and others weren't, and wouldn't ever be, enough to change the world, and in that respect they're on equal ground with your average leftist pamphlets. Except that they hit harder because they're "rock poetry", but that's not enough reason to dedicate space to them. They're all pretty obvious.



Year Of Release: 1985

The first serious misfire in the catalog. If you ask me, though, Midnight Oil had already showed some signs of veering off into a potentially boring direction on the previous album (for Jesus' sake don't make me retype its title!), and Red Sails is a logical continuation of that line. To be frank and blunt, Midnight Oil are at their best when they rock out. They are a ROCK band, 'nuff said, making intelligent hard rock for the masses which is a rare thing in itself. Branching out for them is a risky business, and Red Sails is incredibly patchy in that department.

It does start out promisingly, with two tremendous highlights that set a big gallon of hope for the future. 'When The Generals Talk' is by no means a "traditional" song for them - seems like the band had one too many listens to Prince, because what they're doing here is setting up a monstruous roboto-funk groove, with electronic drums and concise mathematically adjusted rhythmics, with nary an ounce of classic Midnight Oil spontaneity. They're good at doing that, though. The rhythms are catchy and the production just right so as not to lose any power. The wimpy little ungrammatical chorus ('when the generals talk, you better listen to him...') is quite memorable as well, and even the little bit of vocal ad-libbing is cool.

Then the second song jumps in, and it almost woos you into thinking that the Oils are finally dumping experimentation and returning to their classic rockin' self. 'The Best Of Both Worlds' is almost ferocious in its aggression (check out the drumwork especially), but melodic at the same time, and it alternates poppier and harder moments perfectly at ease. And when they kick in with the distorted guitar solos, it's a headbanger's paradise. So it's not Megadeth, but hey, we're talking melodic hard rock here. "Melodic hard rock" is either Midnight Oil or Foreigner. Make your choice?

Unfortunately, after these two songs the Oils drag down into a slump from which there is no escape. For such a huge album (fifty minutes, no less), there sure is a lot of filler on here, or at least, potentially great songs that go on for way too long. Whoever told Garrett and Co. that 'Jimmy Sharman's Boxes' deserved a seven and a half minute running length definitely deserves to be fed to hungry dingos. No, I do like that tired little acoustic riff that supports the main part of the song, but after some time it almost turns into 'mood music' for me, disregarding the later development into a harder-rocking passage, and I definitely don't put on a Midnight Oil album to serve as mood music. It's easily their second worst song after 'Nothing Gained Nothing Lost'.

I could easily do just as well without the closing number, 'Shipyards Of New Zealand'. The day you find a hook in that song, wrap it up and send it to me via FedEx so that it doesn't have enough time to evaporate. Most certainly, Garrett's preachiness and personal philosophy simply takes the lead on that song, just like it did on 'Boxes'. But it's one thing, at least, when it's the "moodier" numbers that are devoid of hooks or run too long; it's another thing when you actually get a couple of rockers, like 'Who Can Stand In The Way', who also sound like they were written with the exclusive aim of conveying a particular Garrett idea on the harmfulness of capitalism, hooks and creative melodies disregarded. What does that song have? A cool three-note bassline? Mmm, yeah. I can't even track down the chorus because it's more quiet than the verses. Bummer.

Of course, you can't just take a solid band like the Oils and take the wind out of their sails (no pun on the title intended) in one movement. After all, you're still left with the two great songs at the beginning. And throughout there are still multiple moments of glory: 'Minutes To Midnight' is probably the best of the upbeat acoustic based "poppers" on the album, with wisely constructed call-and-response verses; the weirdly pronounced 'Kosciuszko', evoking the memory of the old Polish warrior for the freedom of his people, is joyful and exuberant, and is definitely one of the "quintessential Midnight Oil" tracks on the album; the chorus of 'Helps Me Helps You' is funny in a particularly juvenile Midnight Oil way; and when the drums and guitars kick right halfway through the otherwise poorly-atmospheric 'Bells And Horns', it at least gives this instrumental some kind of excitement. But still, this hardly saves the album from being a relative disappointment.

Especially since later in the year it was followed by the solid EP Species Diseases, sort of a conscious tribute to the Hiroshima disaster right from the socially conscious hands of Mr Garrett - which I'm not giving a special review because it's only four songs, but it's four solid rockers that have almost everything a Midnight Oil lover could desire. They're not among the band's best (and as far as EPs go, Bird Noises is better anyway), but at least Species Diseases would prove that the Oils still got that ol' rocking flame in them. Duh.



Year Of Release: 1987

I'm not happy. Oh, in a way I am happy that, due primarily to the sudden success of 'Beds Are Burning' as a hit single, Midnight Oil finally earned enough money with this album to acquire a wallabee farm for every aboriginal family in the Australian deserts (now go ahead, tell me they didn't and ruin my heart!). But I'm surely not happy that with this album Midnight Oil finally once and for all slipped into the comfortable formula of making rock music that's not too fast, not too slow, not too lethargic, not too energetic, not too catchy, not too unmemorable, not too innovative, not too conservative, not too intellectual, not too dumb, not too edgy, not too bland, not too overproduced, not too underproduced... not anything.

Just about every song is just that - mid-tempo four-four rock'n'roll that displays enough creativity and energy so as not to sound like a late-Eighties Bad Company, but certainly not enough of either to make it really distinctive. In fact, I think their pushy colleagues, INXS, were doing better with their own records at that time. And yeah, I'm saying it at the risk of getting it from millions of Midnight Oil fans who first got into the band through Diesel And Dust as the most commercially successful and easily available product; but me, I arrived at it chronologically, and when the diesel and the dust finally settle, maybe the world will agree with me that it's merely the continuation of the slump into "monotonous somewhat-above-mediocrity".

That said, I certainly think that 'Beds Are Burning' is one hell of a great song. The pompous brass intro, the little melody twist from the verse to the middle eight, and, of course, that brilliant anthemic chorus - one of those great ones that never get out of your head. 'How can we sleep while the beds are burning'? More like 'how can we yawn while the song is playing', indeed. Garrett's vocal delivery might seem a bit obnoxious on here, of course, but don't let it distract you from the fact that the song is just immaculately written. I'm not sure if it was the band's only song with hit single potential, but at least it does deserve the success.

The big problem is: that's all. The nine ensuing numbers, with a couple slower exceptions, all sound like inferior clones of 'Beds' - not so much because of the melodies, but because all the melodies are rendered in the exact same way. Glossy late Eighties production, lifeless, robotic guitars that sound neither gentle enough (for power pop) nor heavy enough (for hard rock); standard rock beats with no memorable riffs attached; and an unexpectedly lax attitude towards putting vocal hooks in songs. So yeah, songs like 'Put Down That Weapon' and 'Warakurna' sound intelligent enough, and all of the album is, in fact, a virtual paradise for leftists, as it is almost in its entirety dedicated to Garrett and Co. lamenting the fate of the native population of Australia.

But you know what? If I wanna hear politicized music that makes a lot out of its message and almost nothing out of its melodies, I'll take a classic period U2 album over this stuff any day. At least U2 had an innovative guitarist and a tremendous vocalist; Diesel And Dust features the same predictable nasal growl and the same predictable guitar chuggin' all over the place. I could play the record in the background with ten people in the room and after a short while nobody would even be noticing it's actually on. Sure enough, when you put on one selected song very very loud and then repeat it several times, it kind of sinks into you. It's not an awful record anyway; if you wanna have awful records, go check out late period Rush or something. It's Midnight Oil, they're a good band.

And okay, occasionally there are hooks. 'Dreamworld' is perhaps the second best song on here, with its aggressive 'your dream world is just about to end!' chorus and all (even so, when put back to back with something like 'I Don't Wanna Be The One', it pales drastically). 'Bullroarer' is perhaps the third best song on here, with its aggressive 'I've heard the bullroarer!' chorus and all (even so, when put back to back to 'Cold Cold Change', it withers significantly). 'Sometimes' is perhaps the fourth best song on here, with its aggressive... well, you probably get the message already.

You know, I'd gladly spend more time with this album and build up my feelings so that I'd have something positive to say about each and every song, but I'm kind of short on time for that honourable purpose. I've seen the inevitable anyway: the band doesn't want to bother with making great music anymore, they're much more concerned about the political message, probably relying on their innerborn musical talent to get by in the melody department. Well - supposedly music like that is great for some purposes, but I'm not too interested. At least they coulda rocked a little bit harder, you know.



Year Of Release: 1990

Three years later all the guys are capable of is creating Diesel And Dust Vol. 2 - any two songs on those two albums are perfectly interchangeable. Strictly speaking I should have rated this lower because I don't like the idea of two identical albums in a row, but for honesty's sake I must acknowledge that Garrett and the boys sound just as inspired and moderately energized here as on the 1987 record, and actually I even think that the overall number of "above average" songs on BSM might exceed the one on D&D. (Hmm, I wonder if there's any coincidence involved in these abbreviations?).

Namely, the title track is the record's 'Beds Are Burning', a solid memorable anthemic composition if there ever was one, and don't be misled by the seemingly cheesy one-finger-on-a-keyboard introduction because it actually works positively well in the context of the chorus. The message, of course, is overtly political once again (gee, who'd have thought that?), but the verse/middle-eight/chorus build-up is immaculate. And almost as good, or, on certain days, even better, is the lost gem 'Forgotten Years', whose chorus is arranged as masterfully as ever. Midnight Oil have earned the tag of "power pop" for those two albums, but to tell the truth, there's very little power in most of these songs - 'Forgotten Years' is one hell of an exception. It would have benefited significantly from a heavier guitar sound, but even as such the 'the roarin' years, the fallen years - these should not be forgotten years!' refrain easily sweeps me off my feet.

Elsewhere, 'King Of The Mountain' is also catchy as hell, although, granted, the song sounds just a little too juvenile for this period in Midnight Oil's career - but then again, better a simplistic-but-catchy pop melody than a claim for seriousness with no melodic hook to back it up. And 'Mountains Of Burma' is at least trying to break up the formula a bit, with its slow, pompous, almost "artsy" pace and those washy string-imitating keyboards in the background that almost give the song a classic "Kashmir"/"Stargazer"-style Eastern-oriented flavour.

These songs show that at least Midnight Oil are not exactly running out of steam. They still have the balls to raise some hell, and they still have the gall to fiddle about with their sound in a couple instances. But that's not to be said of the rest of the songs, all of which fall into the same rutty category. Listen to 'Stars Of Warburton' or 'Bedlam Bridge' long enough and you may eventually get yourself convinced of their greatness. Listen to them only, say, five times in a row, and they'll still be coming across as well-produced lumps of nothing interesting. (Okay, on fifth listen I take it back about 'Stars Of Warburton' - there really are some interesting things happening in the chorus, not that it's any less predictable, though).

Actually, thinking of 'Bedlam Bridge' leads me to the idea that if there is any change in the sound, it's that on way too many occasions Midnight Oil really move close to adult contemporary on the record. 'Shakers And Movers' has this tight rhythm and all, but listen to the lethargic "heavenly" synths in the background and the ever diminishing guitar presence and then tell me this isn't the kind of song that could be appropriated by your typical "adult pop" radio station. Arguably this can be explained in a very simple way - as the band members themselves get older and older, so is their music. They're smoothing out the edges, trying to sound 'mature' and really deep, but hey, rock and roll does not work that way. They're just sounding more boring.

And the boredom is really excruciating when you arrive at something like 'One Country', which just sits there for six minutes with its mushy acoustic strumming and sparse piano accompaniment and does nothing. Even when they finally add some rhythm section, it doesn't become one inch more interesting because they choose a glossy muffled martial sequence with generic string arrangements. A real shame for a band that once used to make even some of its less memorable songs attractive by simply packing a wallop of brute rock'n'roll energy. Likewise, I have no interest in 'Antarctica' - yeah, it must be 'one place left in the world', but I really don't take that crap from a song that refuses to have one tiny hook. Message above all. Blah blah.

The more I actually relisten to these songs, the more I am convinced that it is actually a fall-off even from the Diesel & Dust standards, so fuck the three star rating. Fuck those sellouts as well. I really do NOT like this period in the band's career, so why should I even want to compensate for that? Whatever reliable intellectual credit these guys still had left on D&D, they are sure gambling it away like mad on this record. So download 'Blue Sky Mining', 'Forgotten Years', and 'King Of The Mountain' (these three weren't chosen as the singles for nothing, you know) and forget about the rest of this album.


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