The late, great Musician magazine once had a story on Midnight Oil that recounted how Aussie radio stations refused to play their early stuff because the band were “antisocial.” Musician rightly noted what a crock that is, that Midnight Oil may sound angry but are one of the most socially conscious bands around. As I recall from various interviews, they’re actually a fine bunch of Christian lads*, though they never recorded anything with a religious theme that I know of. (Maybe on one earlier work.) They’re not yelling out of hate. They’re yelling to make things better. And it’s not Peter Garrett’s fault he’s tall, bald and a little intimidating.
Yet the Oils did indeed sand down the punk edges a bit as they matured. The breakthrough 1987 album Diesel and Dust — a classic if there ever was one — mixes up tones and textures with great skill.
But even after DandD, the follow-up Blue Sky Mining and the requisite three-year breaks in those days for bands that had “made it,” Midnight Oil could still summon some righteous fury.
This is the opening track in Earth and Sun and Moon, which would prove to be something of a commercial swansong for the Aussies, at least outside their home country. (They recorded three more studio releases before Garrett went into politics full-time and got elected to Parliament.) It’s clear from the first note they’re not messing around.
Bones Hillman lays down a menacing bass line over Rob Hirst’s shimmering cymbals. Once that’s established, Jim Moginie takes a swipe at the organ, then slowly builds a chord from the bottom up and brings it back down. The organ fades, the bass keeps going, and then Hirst batters out a quick roll and a powerful fill. By the time Martin Rotsey (I’m guessing, barring some overdubs) announces his presence with a double-bend, you know you’re about to hear something important, like a message from some musically proficient cousin of the Emergency Broadcast System.
Yet this is one of Garrett’s more abstract lyrics. He’s going for imagery here, painting a picture of our lives of consumption teetering precariously on the edge of a threatened Earth.
The bass line chugs through the verses, letting Moginie and Rotsey hint at the chord structure with a few ominous notes in the distance.
The band’s dramatic skill shines most in the bridges, with swelling organ chords and the Oils’ trademark Arpeggios of Doom. Seriously — this band can take simple arpeggios and make it sound as if the flood is coming, and you’d better get moving on that ark. (Ah — NOW we find the Christian themes.)
Not one of their better-known songs, but a good concise introduction to the band in case you haven’t heard them before. On the album, it forms a potent one-two with My Country, which reminds us of the old saying about patriotism being the last refuge of the scoundrel. After that, it’s not their most consistent album. The single Truganini and the acoustic-driven Bushfire are the standouts.
* — if you want to read about Garrett’s take on faith and politics, check his site for an eloquent speech.