For three decades now, Midnight Oil have hoisted their flag as one of the geosphere's most politically aware and astute rock bands, fighting the good fight against imperialism, nuclear weapons insanity, Australia's mistreatment of its aboriginal people, environmental destruction, heartless corporate power, and other worthy causes. While most bands merely pay lip service to the trendy causes of the day, the Oils have consistently put their money where their mouth is - lead singer Peter Garrett actually ran for the Australian Senate in the mid-'80s, and they negotiated with their record company to release the packaging of their 1990 album Blue Sky Mining completely in recycled paper (which led to a very healthy trend in CD packaging - get rid of those long-boxes, please!). However, at the end of the day it's the music that matters, and luckily the Oils have delivered the goods on that end. Simply put, they were one of the greatest bands to grace the '80s. Their reputation today is curiously diminished; though not outright ignored, a lot of folks seem to have forgotten what an exciting, dynamic, passionate, and engagingly melodic/anthemic/danceable band Midnight Oil was back in their heyday. Occasionally a bit heavy-handed, the Oils' staple was raging anthems that could ignite every pub from the outback to Sydney, delivered with melody, intelligence, and instrumental complexity. Their blend of Rush-influenced prog-rock, power-pop, punk energy, and AOR sheen is distinctive and idiosyncratic, but not purely original in a formal sense: their talent is synthetic rather than innovative. Few bands that are this smart rock this hard, and few bands that rock this hard have as much brains as they do brawn. Their independent record label they released material on in the early days was called Powderworks, an apt a name for their explosive style as any, and the lead singer has the coolest bald head in rock'n'roll. What's more to say? Oh yeah, I've gotta review the albums....
Want more? Check out That Cunnin' Midnight Oil.________________________________________________________________________________
A promising beginning, but the Oils' sound hasn't fully gelled yet; they're not as tight as they could be, the production's tinny, and while the guitar work's accomplished, it meanders too much into conventionally show-off solos. This album is basically split between tough, catchy rockers ("Powderworks", "Run By Night", "Used and Abused") and unfocused art-rock excursions ("Dust", with a really interesting bassline that's the basis of the song, but not much else; "Surfing With The Spoon", that works up to an exciting climax; and "Nothing Lost, Nothing Gained", of which the less said the better). Even at this early stage, the rockers are all exciting, especially "Run By Night", about drinking whiskey and playing with the light. Yes, the Oils are a bit more hedonistic and less politically oriented at this point. They even have a - gasp - conventional love song, "Head Over Heels", territory they would never turn to again. It's okay, but I'm glad the Oils never did anything like that again - the lyrics are completely banal, and Garrett's voice is hardly suited to tender love man sentiments, to say the least. He's better screaming his head off - man, does he have a cool scream. The more experimental numbers wander all over the place, generally without much of a point; the Oils haven't developed enough as a band to make these efforts interesting. A formative effort.________________________________________________________________________________
Now this is more like it. The Oils have never rocked harder and more exciting than on this album; they've really tightened up their arrangements, punching up their bite for headbanging action all the way through. From the pounding opener, "Cold Cold Change" (about the new Ice Age everybody was worrying about at the time - sure makes me suspicious about this global warming stuff. Not that I know beans about science, but will those scientists make up their minds?), to the driving closer, "Is It Now?", the Oils kick up a racket that just won't let up. The energy level here is amazing, easily the equal of any concurrent punk bands, only the Oils have accomplished chops behind them, which makes for an even more pointed and compelling attack. Also, the lyrics have improved considerably since the debut along with the music. The Oils complain about polluted beaches ("Koala Sprint"), complacency ("No Reaction"), war ("Profiteers"), madness ("Naked Flame"), and fat old corporate rock bands splittin' their jeans ("Stand In Line" - maybe they're punks after all). The only real problem is that it's all fast and hard, with little stylistic variety; the slower numbers - well, "Naked Flame" is a slow one - fall flat. Other than some odd time signatures (check out "Bus To Bondi") their experimental tendencies are kept in check, which is both good and bad. I'm glad the band didn't stay stuck in this style - in fact, the Oils are one those refreshing bands who forge ahead with every album, with every album a clear advance stylistically over the last one - but I'm glad they did do at least one album that cuts the digressions and rocks hard with a ram-it-down-your-throat intensity. Not really metal, not really punk, this is simply one of the greatest hard rock albums ever made.________________________________________________________________________________
"Let's Rock!" are the first words out of Garrett's mouth, setting you up for some head injurin', but hey....it rocks, for sure, but the Oils have stretched out their songs a bit, slowed the pace - there's even a pretty surf instrumental, "Wedding Cake Island". "No Time For Games" and "Knife's Edge" are great songs that would have fit fine on the previous album, and both display somewhat improved songwriting and playing. The closer is the anti-drugs "I'm The Cure", which rocks hard and mean, but closes out with some pretty flamenco-influenced guitar interplay, a gambit which the Oils would make a staple on several later songs. 4 songs, 4 winners, but it's docked a half star for its overinflated price on CD for only 4 songs. Which isn't the Oils' fault - why don't us pissed-off, ripped-off consumers get together against these ridiculous CD prices? Hey, it's only a dollar to produce, and you're selling it for $16.99?! Maybe the Oils could write a song protesting this screwing over of the music buying public....or maybe not. But hey, if you see this EP at reasonable price, pick it up!________________________________________________________________________________
I'm probably giving this LP a bit too high of a grade, but I listen to it as much as any other Midnight Oil album. It certainly isn't the place to begin, and it has some serious problems. Chiefly among those problems is Glyn Johns' production, which at once makes the band sound blustering and thin. On this album, the Oils sound like a rampaging elephant, destroying any little subleties in their wake. The added muscularity makes the Oils more compelling in some ways (especially on no-nonsense rockers like "Someone Else To Blame" and "I Don't Want To Be The One"), but limits their impact on slower numbers like "Armistice Day" and "Brave Faces". Actually, "Brave Faces" is pretty good, and the Oils display yet more songwriting growth, as well as a bit more finesse where arrangements are concerned. In comparison to what the Oils accomplished later, some of this seems painfully clunky ("Burnie"), and too much suffers from indie-label production murk (the otherwise fine "Basement Flat"). Still, the Oils deliver yet another batch of fine, impassioned songs with lots of heart and the whole shebang rocks throughout. I'll take this over the more accomplished, yet duller Blue Sky Mining any day (or at least this one).___________________________________________________________________________________
The great leap forward. The Oils have switched to a major label, with major label production....and for once that's a good thing! It allows them to open up new vistas in their sound, complemented quite handsomely with more prominent synthesizers. No other Midnight Oil album has this much stunning variety. From the subdued, yearning opener "Outside World", to the urgent, driving closer "Somebody's Trying To Talk To Me", the Oils deliver a tour de force, showing all their various sides without the least bit of strain. The production is ever so slightly off, giving this album a rather odd air about it, but other than that it's perfect: no two tracks really sound the same, and nearly all of them (could care less for "Scream In Blue") are good (or, dammit, great!). This was the first Midnight Oil album I ever bought, and lucky me! It makes their previous efforts sound like demos in comparison - just why did the Oils hold back? They had so much at their arsenal, a whole universe of textures and tempoes that they didn't employ earlier. An undeniably great album, and the Oils' unquestionable masterpiece. The best song on side one's "Short Memory", which grimly sets history lessons that great powers haven't yet learned (Americans in Cambodia, Russians in Afghanistan) side by side to make an easy point (so how come we haven't learned it?) hammered home by an insistent chorus. After that you get the jangly, rockin' (no, those two are not mutually exclusive) "Read About It". The best song on side two is "Power and the Passion", which has one of the few drum solos (a tinny canned one, at that!) ever worth hearing, an anti-anthem for the anti-soap opera you're currently tuned into, mate. I could go on with this song-by-song stuff....the Oils really come into their own with this album, and if you're interested in them at all, start here.
Reader CommentsRich Bunnell, email@example.com
I agree that the album's a masterpiece, even if it isn't EXACTLY as consistent as you made it out to be. "US Forces" doesn't do anything for me at the moment, but I'll probably like it later. The rest is brilliant, even partially "Scream in Blue," in particular the instrumental first 2 1/2 minutes, before it turns into a dippy (but still okay) piano song. "Power and The Passion," while the vocals aren't mixed very well, is a classic, and yes, the drum solo kicks some major arse. I use a sample of "Outside World" for when I close Windows--"I can see the oooutsiiiide woooorld!" 4.5/5
Whoa, boys, slow down! The Oils indulge into a little bit too much self-indulgence here. It's nice that they're still experimenting, but I wish there were more fully realized songs. Several of these numbers hardly even register at all, and some of them that do - "Jimmy Sharman's Boxers", nothing but an ascending synth all the way through, promising much but portending nothing - aren't too good. The pseudo-political rap (!) on "When The Generals Talk" is downright embarrassing. Actually, "When The Generals Talk" is a pretty catchy tune, despite all that, and so are a few others, particularly "Kosciosko", about them ol' frontierin' days (pack up yer skillets and vittles, ma, we're headed out to the middle of an uninhabitable, unpopulated desert!). "Best Of Both Worlds" cuts the crap (pun on the really atrocious album their soulmates the Clash released the same year) for an explosive rocker, but most of the rest....err, I'll pass on it, mate. Cheers to the shipyards of New Zealand, though.
Reader CommentsRich Bunnell, firstname.lastname@example.org
Both you and Alroy (of Wilson & Alroy) give this 3 stars out of 5, but the songs sound good enough for me. "When The Generals Talk," isn't rap at all, at least by the definition of "rap" I've been taught--Peter's SINGING every one of the vocals, not rapping them. The song's pretty darn catchy too. The rockers are great ("Kosciusko," "The Best Of Both Worlds") and the "less-interesting" stuff like "Shipyards Of New Zealand" and "Jimmy Sharman's Boxers" don't bother me at all. The only dent for me is that weird "Bakerman" song, but that's over with pretty quickly, taking up only 50 seconds of my time that I'd probably just spend sitting around and breathing anyway. Also, the production isn't the best, but I enjoy this one every bit as much as I do the previous album. 4.5/5
In celebration (well, lament, actually) of the 40th anniversary of Hiroshima (hey India: FUCK YOU! If the world ends in an atomic cloud tommorrow, it's on your head....well, actually us Americans'....if you want to get specific, Robert Oppenheimer's, and Harry Trumans', and whatever his name was who dropped the bomb only he was just following orders....all I gotta say is I feel a lot less safer going to sleep tonight), the Oils released this 4-song EP (as a card-carrying (not literally) Southerner, I am quite proud of my neo-Faulknerian asides. Hey, did you realize you've only read one grammatical sentence so far?). "Progress" is a bit too parochial in its focus for me (like I of all people should complain about that), and "Blossom and Blood" has a great chorus, but is pretty aimless for the rest of it. The other two songs are very good, but don't really break any new ground for the Oils. This basically seems like a rush job, which isn't entirely a bad thing since it excises the indulgences of Red Sails In The Sunset for a more straightforward steamrollin' enterprise, which goes to show that the Oils are damn good at steamrollin'. I know, when they get experimental, I bitch about that, and when they just rock, I bitch about that, too. Contrary bastard, ain't I? It's just that the Oils are so good when they combine their two sides that I hold such a high standard for them - they just don't seem complete when they only do one or the other.___________________________________________________________________________________
The album that made them famous, and one of the '80s best examples of politicized pop. You of course know the big hit "Beds Are Burning", about really hot sex (apparently some guy stopped Jim Moginie in the street and told him that), and the smaller hit "The Dead Heart" about having a heart attack during that really hot sex. But, all joshing aside, this really is a whale of an album, a big, blustering beast that lets loose like a boxin' Kangaroo amidst 1988's oversynthed readymades (take that, Kylie Minogue!). The Oils cut out their experimental side for a straightforward power-poppy (emphasis on power) approach, and I'm not exactly complaining (this time). The concept is oppressed aborigines, inspired by the Oils' tour of 110 in the shade desertvilles, and you can smell the diesel and dust in the grooves (was that a lazy metaphor, or what?). You don't need an Encyclopedia Australica to understand (and dance to) "Dreamworld", "Warakurna", and the universalist anthem "Sometimes", though it helps a little bit - but hey, why should us Americans be such snobs? We force our culture down everybody else's throats, can't we take a little Aussie politics? Problem: "Arctic World" (not about the Aleutians), "Whoah", and maybe another one aren't very good. But so the bloomin' boomerang what. For some reason "Gunbarrel Highway" was excised from the American release, and since I'm a Yank I haven't heard it. Wait until the year 2008 when they re-release this album with 20 bonus tracks at DAT or DDT or whatever. Why am I using such a goofy style with such a serious band like Midnight Oil? Why not? Bands that take themselves this seriously ought to be treated this silly, just to remind you studious minded folks that it's only rock'n'roll, but I like it! Even oppressed aborigines can understand those sentiments. Ever hear of a group called Yothu Yindi? Check'em out, they're cool. Cheers, wallabee.
Reader CommentsRich Bunnell, email@example.com
Slightly over-rated, but the songs you said are slightly sucky are the only two duds on the album, to tell you the truth. I'd give it 4 stars instead of 4.5, simply because I listen to it a bit less than other Oils albums. Still, "Dreamworld," "Put Down That Weapon," "Bullroarer," "The Dead Heart," and of course "Beds Are Burning" are all downright classics--and that's half the album! Solid if not the greatness it's made out to be.
Their first album made after achieving American stardom is something of a disappointment, but has several quite good songs on it. Age has left the Oils a slower, more reflective unit, quite prone to atmospheric art-rock numbers like "Mountains Of Burma" that I have a hard time staying awake through. Evidently impressed by the weight of their success, the Oils deliver some of their most ambitious lyrics, dreaming of "One Country" and starting over in "Antarctica". What you think is a love song actually turns out to be an ode to Mother Earth, and of his stardom, Garrett wants you to know that he doesn't like being compared to Jesus' disciples. The two best songs were both minor hits: the title track, a pro-miner anti-capitalist rabble rouser straight outta Pete Seeger or Upton Sinclair; and "Forgotten Years", about how we be grateful that we've never had to fight in a war, and give props to the homeboys who fought for that comfort. A pretty good album, all in all, but dull in spots and not quite as compelling as their earlier work. Unfortunately, this was the beginning of their downward slide.
Reader CommentsRich Bunnell, firstname.lastname@example.org
I agree with you for the rating on this one--it's not a very exhilarating listen, though it's hardly "dull". I love "Stars Of Warburton," and the last two songs are pretty great too. I can't help noticing the backing vocals at the end of "One Country"--shades of Mike Mills! The upbeat songs were all singles and are all great, but a few nondescript songs ("Mountains Of Burma," "River Runs Red") make the album slightly patchy. There's nothing wrong with any of the songs, however, it's just that some of them don't live up to the level of past Midnight Oil songs.
A live album named after the one song on 10,9,8... that I could do without. I don't care for live albums, so I don't own it.
Reader CommentsEric M. Van, email@example.com
You're right, live albums generally suck. But this is the Oils' best album, as one listen to a version of "Read About It" that *shreds* the studio version will demonstrate. Ditto for "Beds are Burning" and "Sometimes," whose final chorus here is one of the most transcendent incendiary anthemic rousing moments in recording history. Plus, you get an unlisted studio remake of "Burnie" that reveals it to be one of their greatest songs. 5/5.
Not really that bad of album, but not very memorable, either. The Oils are stuck in a depressing stylistic rut; by trying to get back to basics and excising the experimental tendencies, the Oils come across as an elephantine monolith that can't change gears. They just keep chugging through one midtempo rocker after another, getting their tongues tangled ("The End of the Beginning of the Outbreak of Love" - err, could you be a bit more specific?) and offering the same old sentiments ("Truginani") without their usual bite. "My Country" and "In The Valley" are standout tracks, but most of the rest is just Oils-by-numbers (forgive pun). The odd thing is that superficially this album doesn't sound any different from many previous Midnight Oil efforts. The only difference between this and Diesel and Dust is that this sounds tired. Time to for a refuel?
Reader CommentsRich Bunnell, firstname.lastname@example.org
2 1/2 out of 5?!? It's not THAT bad at all! "Truganini," "Drums Of Heaven," "My Country," and ESPECIALLY the awesome opener "Feeding Frenzy" all rule. "Outbreak Of Love" is decent, though the chorus is admittedly a little too specific and wordy. Also, the songs are bit too cheerful this time around and there's an air of sameness to some of these tracks, but it still doesn't sound washed-up and dull as you put it--to me it's still an interesting listen, as are all of the Oils albums I've heard as of yet. Interesting band. 4/5
Their latest studio album. I haven't purchased it yet, mainly because I haven't seen it cheap (I try to avoid paying nearly twenty freaking dollars for a piece of coated aluminum at all costs, and I haven't seen this in the used bin yet)._______________________________________________________________________________
Yep, that's it, a brand spankin' new Oil album. Yee haw!
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