Midnight Oil, Diesel and Dust (CBS)

At last we have another album from the Oils, two years after their anti-nuclear EP Species Deceases. This new offering is also thematic, a logical outcome of their recent tours in outback Australia: Diesel and Dust is a Land Rights record.

That revelation probably turned off two-thirds of the readership, who would rather not think about aborigines and all that stuff. Doubtless the same thing occurred with Species Deceases and all those who would rather pretend Hiroshima never happened. Just about every Oils record of recent times is a political comment, or more correctly, a "moral" comment, which demands the listener pay attention. I don't normally give a hoot about lyrics, but you can't avoid doing so with Peter Garrett singing "There is enough/ This is not the Buckingham Palace/ This is the crown land/ This is not our land" ("Wara Kurna") or "The time has come/ To say fair's fair/ To pay the rent/ To pay our share" ("Beds are Burning"). Of course the issues are simplified in a four minute song, but the bones of the message always shine through, and in this case it's "let's do now what we should have done all along". With the Bicentennial next year being led by a government which wimped out on this issue, the message is particularly timely.

It's hard to see how anyone could be an Oils fan without more or less sharing their views (it would be like Reagan listening to a disco mix of Russian revolutionary anthems). But the fact is that, Iyrics aside, they are also bloody good musicians, some of the best Australia has to offer. Viewed from a musical angle, Diesel and Dust is a standout Oils album. As with most, it takes a few listens to get into, but once you're there you're hooked.

It's not really a progression from Species Deceases (very much a one-off), more a "Son of Red Sails". If you know and love "The Dead Heart" (included on Diesel and Dust, but in a slightly cut down form, which is a shame) this is your kind of album. A couple of tracks are a bit weak, as Garrett's voice doesn't really seem to suit some of the slower numbers. But on the whole it's outstanding—best tracks are "The Dead Heart", "Bullroarer", the excellent "Sell My Soul", and the catchy "Beds are Burning". The only real problem is that it leaves you wanting more.

The Oils seem to resort to a few of their own musical cliches in spots, but after umpteen albums this becomes inevitable for any band. There's still no sign of them falling into a rut, musically or Iyrically—Midnight Oil will be around for a while yet, judging by their popularity. Roll on album number seven.


First published in Togatus, 1 September 1987.
This page: 28 February 2000; last modified 8 May 2018.

©1987, 2000 Rory Ewins