U2 may come to mind first when you think of 1980’s political rock bands, but Australia’s Midnight Oil were just as strident about filling their songs with strong political point of views – not exactly the norm in a music decade obsessed with inane lyrics (lest we forget, hair metal was born and raised in the 80’s and killed in the early 90’s). Their biggest hits were about the mistreatment of the native Australians (“Beds Are Burning”) and asbestos exposure in Western Australian mines (“Blue Sky Mine”). Compare that to Warrant’s “Cherry Pie”… actually don’t.
Legacy has just put out the first chronological double CD release of the band’s career, with songs handpicked by the group. The first disc contains the most obscure for casual fans, covering the band’s first six albums (from 1978’s self-titled release up to 1984’s Red Sails in the Sunset). The earliest recording’s obviously show a band that wasn’t as tight or completely formed yet, with the biggest surprise being singer Peter Garrett’s underwhelming, almost monotone vocals on the first couple of songs. He would go on (as you can hear toward the end of the first CD and all over the second) to feel much more comfortable with his powerful voice and use it to ultimately define the band’s sound.
The second disc kicks off with Diesel and Dust’s “Beds Are Burning,” the song that introduced the band to the rest of the world in 1988. And yes, it still sounds remarkable fresh 25 years later, with the novel blend of politics, horns and tight rock guitars. The 17 other tracks on the album catches a band at its peak (“Forgotten Years” and “King of the Mountain” from 1992’s Blue Sky Mine also hold up remarkable well today). The collection ends with “Liritja Way” off 2000’s The Real Thing and its clear the band was just as powerful as when they were churning out their biggest hits in the late 80’s.
The group disbanded in 2002 and Garrett, an environmentalist and activist, has gone on to serve in politics – appropriately enough – currently serving as Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth in Australian. But as Essential Oils proves the band left behind a remarkable and prolific catalog of songs.