It was about time Midnight Oil were officially noticed outside of their native Australia in 1987. The Oils were already a household name in their homeland since the late 70s with their non-compromising, hard edged, and politically expressive rock often dealing with rights, environmental issues, and activism. With sounds of progressive and new wave incorporated, they dominated Australian charts in the early 80s with landmark albums such as “Place without a Postcard” and (the abbreviated titled) “Ten to One”, even without the help of promotional videos. But their first real taste of international success came with “Diesel & Dust”, their 6th full length studio effort, which finally gave the band the recognition they deserved, with the help of the successful single Beds are Burning
Their first record to be released on CBS, “Diesel & Dust” seemed right to fit the bill to reach a wider audience. The edge may have been cleaner but still there for sure, an overall poppier sound is here, and a string of hit singles all supported this cause. However, in classic Oil fashion, their outspoken lyrical beliefs, attitude and energetic presence is still dominant, making for a great starting album for new fans of the band and simultaneously a must-have for longtime followers. Musically, “Diesel & Dust” takes a more ‘new wave’ and melodious approach with its catchy choruses, inclusion of (but not overblown) synthesizers and an overall smooth, sleek sound. From the classic 80s vibe of the anthemic opener Beds are Burning
, the mid-tempo, orchestrated Arctic World
, to the absolutely enchanting finale of Sometimes
, “Diesel & Dust” is a perfect balance of rock, pop and new wave with a staggering, charismatic vocal outing from the towering front man and successful politician Peter Garrett.
“Diesel & Dust” is a concept album of sorts, mainly dealing openly with the issues of Aboriginal rights and environmental injustices, nothing the band isn’t familiar with. Beds are Burning
talks about giving the aboriginals back their land with lyrics like ‘The time has come, a fact’s a fact, it belongs to them, let’s give it back’
before kicking into the ever-memorable chorus of ‘How can we dance when our earth is turning, how can we sleep while our beds are burning’
. And even if one can’t fully grasp the bands lyrics, the message is somehow still delivered regardless. Other tracks continue to support the cause without getting stale and bringing in new ideas that can be relatable to anything. Sometimes
, a contender for best on the album, reads ‘Sometimes you’re beaten to the call, sometimes you’re taken to the wall, but you don’t give in’
which supports the bands relentless spirit and outlook.
Every aspect of the instruments contributes greatly to the bands sleek driving rock sound. First and foremost vocalist Peter Garrett, whose presence is felt so powerful through record you can almost tell just from listening the man is a giant. His passionate singing (though maybe not instantly accessible) in Put Down That Weapon
and frantic yells in the poppy Dreamworld
is perfect evidence of this. Peter Giffords dynamic, low key bass lines in Put Down that Weapon
are instrumental in the bands sound, just as drummer and backup vocalist Rob Hirst’s nothing out of the ordinary but consistent drumming. The guitar duo of Martin Rotsey and Jim Moginie works well often with an electric guitar overlapping an acoustic riff, executed on The Dead Heart
The bands smooth transitions from song to song compliment “Diesel & Dust” greatly. Packed with memorable tunes, there’s hardly a song I would say that could be considered filler. But there sure are the obvious highlights. Lead single Beds are Burning
captures the bands ‘building up’ verse to the sing-a-long chorus. Put Down that Weapon
builds on the opener but adds a more dramatic, passionate sense to it. The Dead Heart
is a classic Oils song with its vocal harmonies, repetitive drumming and acoustic undertones while Sometimes
ends the album on a great note with its uplifting guitar riffs and inspirational lyrics.
Midnight Oil’s “Diesel and Dust” is an album that sounds as fresh today as it did 20 years ago and one of their finest in The Oils’ lengthy career. Ten songs filled with smart, moving lyrics, upbeat, catchy and at times drearier parts, and an overall captivating output, it’s just an excellent album. Due to my limited knowledge of Australian rock, I can’t accurately say its one of the best albums to come out of Australia, but can easily see it being one; same goes for being one of the better albums of the 80s.
The Dead Heart
Beds Are Burning