Sound — 8
The opening track on Diesel and Dust the international hit Beds are Burning, contains much of the sonic technique which makes this record a success. Peter Garrett delivers the weighty content of his music with a sincere energetic vocal performance which is at the same time charismatic, engaging, and urgent. Garrett uses his unusual vocal instrument to stand proudly and defiantly before the soundtrack, or quietly and eloquently blend into the musical atmosphere. Given the humanitarian aspirations of this effort, Garrett's ability to perform such an engaging vocal is pivotal to much of the overall musical success of the album. The tempo of the acoustic elements throughout evokes a feeling of community, connection, and tradition. In this sense the thematic motifs evoke a folk music sensibility in character, and instrumentation. The choral palate is predominantly major during these interludes of hope and serenity. Appropriately, minor elements are incorporated to maximize the ability of the passages more characterized by angst. The chorus of Beds are Burning is an anthemic vocal passage which takes place over the more triumphant melodic sequence. Musically speaking this is an elegant track, which surges with importance, and appeal. The well known trackThe Dead Heart incorporates similar sonic treatment to produce a track with a palpable tribal feel, and a vehement anthemic message. The initial background vocal, follows a musical line which speaks of an inquisitive, cautious hope. This line is doubled by a pair of acoustic guitars playing along with bright, full strums. This sequence ends as the cautiously optimistic chords are answered by a menacing, terminal chord, which seems to have an air of malevolent authority. The lead vocal merges with a background vocal harmony to deliver a dramatic defiant passage and testament of will. The vocal arrangement for these powerful refrains creates a sense of many people; a displaced nation of people affirming their humanity, this song rings forth as a voice of an amorphous nation seeking justice.
Lyrics — 9
The informative and revelatory character of the lyrics to Diesel and Dust, do a superbly effective job of communicating the world and the difficult circumstances of Australia's aboriginal people. Throughout the lyrics are motifs creating a mental picture of the environment in which aboriginal people were observed during 1986's Blackfella/Whitefella tour. The opening track begins with Topographical landscape images to provide a remote context for the emotion soon to come. The following passage provides images from the Australian wilderness: "Out where the river broke/The bloodwood and the desert oak/Holden wrecks and boiling diesels/Steam at forty five degrees." Having provided context, the bulk of the record's lyrical content is devoted to describing the human experience caused by the subjugation of Australia's Aboriginal populations. The tone of this message is delivered in a range from confident and assertive, to defiant and frustrated. An example of the latter method is evident on the following passage from the track Dead Heart: We don't serve your country/don't serve your king,/know your customs don't speak your tongue./White man came took everyone/We carry in our hearts the true country/and that can not be stolen./We follow in the steps of our ancestry,/And that can not be broken." This sentiment seems to be at the center of the lyricist's message. Garrett, who previously campaigned for Parliament on Australia's Nuclear Disarmament Party ticket, communicates a message of bilateral disarmament in the song Put down That Weapon. The following passage demonstrated the singer's message; And if all the skies go dark with rain/Can you tell me does our freedom remain?/Put down that weapon or we will all be gone." Garrett provides a moving, sensible criticism of an international climate which dealt with a possibility of mutually-assured destruction.
Overall Impression — 9
An undercurrent of activism was very much on the minds of contemplative people everywhere during the Ronald Reagan morning in America Eighties. New bands such as U2, and REM competed with the mainstream music industry by emphasizing the sincerity and importance of their overall content. Music was for this period informed with a concern for humanitarian issues. Perhaps the apex of this groundswell was realized with the Live Aid concert on July 13th, 1985, a two continent concert organized to send humanitarian relief to the famine victims in Ethiopia. Amid this context of emphasis on relevancy, Australian superstar band Midnight Oil released it's sixth recording 1987's Diesel and Dust. This defining intersection of an album and a moment catapulted Midnight Oil into the mainstream worldwide music charts. While the band had earned decent recognition with the 1982 single, The Best of Both Worlds, the single Beds Are Burning eventually reached #6. With it came worldwide exposure, regular play on Mtv, as well as rotation on the college and mainstream radio dial. The inspiration for 1987's Diesel and Dust was summoned when Midnight Oil, already popular in Australia, embarked on the 1986 Blackfella/Whitefella tour in remote areas of Australia, playing to audiences of Aboriginal people. Singer Peter Garret, (now Australia's Minister for Environment, Heritage, and Arts), joined with Aboriginal music stars, The Warumpi band, to stage concerts for a people separated, and feel the pulse, the energy, the hope, and the experience of Australia's Aboriginal tribes. The 20th anniversary expanded CD Diesel and Dust, and the DVD documenting the 1986 Blackfella/Whitefella tour have been re-released by Legacy Records, and combine to give a thorough perspective into the energy and musicality of a unique moment in the intersecting history of music with international humanitarian advocacy. Six months after release Diesel and Dust crossed over from college radio hit album to mainstream hit record. The swell of popular support for Beds are Burning speaks to the appeal and quality of the record. Musically Diesel and Dust succeeds in creating a folk-based, tribal set of songs rich with emotion. The message delivered in the music pulses with relevance. The writing and the production combine to produce a solid record with a number of singles which speak to one's humanity, and stay with the listener. The 20th anniversary of this record is an important reminder of global issues presented in powerful musical form.