Sound — 8
Midnight Oil is an Australian rock band best known for their ecological/political songs and their crazy dancing big, tall, and bald lead singer, and in my country, the USA, just one song - "Beds Are Burning."
But alas, recently, I dunno what inspired me to do so, but I decided to go explore the released refineries of "The Oils" a bit, and as usual, I bumped into a smorgasboard of new material to sink my teeth into as a musician and as a listener.
This album is their second effort, "Head Injuries," and awesome title aside, this album has been described by some as being a bit... er "proggy" - to me it's one of the heaviest albums Midnight Oil put out - from the chorused Rush-like guitar boxing match of "Cold Cold Change" to the hopeful it a bit somber "Is It Now?"
Midnight Oil consist for the following people:
- Rob Hirst - drummer and one of the founding members of Midnight Oil who had been around since they were called Farm and Peter had hair.
- Andrew James - bassist
- Jim Moiginie - one of their two guitarists, this guy carries the thicker tone most of the time and plays most of the distorted stuff through a Gretsch Rok-Jet or a Gibson SG.
- Martin Rotsey - guitarist, typically armed with a white 63' Fender Stratocaster (though he also uses a Fiesta Red Fender Jaguar, and a Rickenbacker 12-string as well on this record). His sound is cleaner, twangier, and a bit more punchy, but can be pretty overdriven at times.
- Peter Garrett - lead singer, mc, activist, politican, and dancer, this is the big, tall, bald dude you see running around dancing like he's having a religious rapture or sorts.
The music on this album falls right in line with my FAVORITE era of rock music - that sort of angular, hard-edged, glossy, but still very earthy sound that IS 1979. Just high tech enough to seem like the future, but just human enough to keep it's feet on the ground. Other great examples of an album like this are The Cars "Candy-O" or The B-52's "Wild Planet." The right mix of the future and the present (well, present for 1979) to give it enough power without sounding dated.
Crunchy overdriven guitars drive everything, whilst going very very light on the synthesizer (off the top of my head, "Bus to Bondi" and "Koala Sprint" is the most synth heavy song on the entire album) The bass work is superb, and the drumming is tight and well produced. The stereo separation is effectively used as well, it feels like you're at the concert with everyone in their respective positions. The mixing is extremely clear on this one, I can pick everything out very well in the mix.
Guitar and bass wise - these guys fall into the same category The Cars do the "we make it look easy so everyone thing's it's easy till they try to play it" - I remember stumping my guitar teacher with "Bye Bye Love" off The Cars first record - this stuff is at that same level of complexity - provided in part by 2 guitarists that are not always playing the same exact parts at the same time - which is part of why they sound so huge. heck, I've been playing 22 years, and something like "Bus to Bondi" is like learning to play a Megadeth song with the fast, precise riffing - and unlike Megadeth, you can't smudge that kind of riff if you choose to go the authentic Martin Rotsey route and play a 3 single coil Stratocaster in position 4 with just-enough gain.
Lyrics — 8
Seems on this outing of the Oils, Garrett is more about observing Australian/Sydney surfer culture, and discussing the socio-political side of it all. It kind of feels like an album telling the story of a summer on a Sydney Australia beach to me, which I admit is in part to my research because I was not alive when this album came out nor have I ever been to Australia. It's a pretty 50% split between symbolism and straightforward-ness, kind of a happy in-between of something like Loverboy and something like The Cars. You don't know if you're going to hear about the crashing waves or a round wall of ocean blue going over your head until Garret puts it out there.
Lyrics follow the music really well, ranging from typical straight-up rock like "Cold Cold Change" or "Borderline," to the more poetic prose of the introduction to the "Koala Sprint."
I think the closest matches vocal-wise to Garret would be Ric Ocasek's seriousness and quasi-speak-singing in The Cars, another close one would be like a un-camp version of Fred Schneider of The B-52's, except without 2 girls backing him up. Like The B-52's and The Cars, he has sort of a social consciousness of his scene of choice to sing (mostly) about here, enough to not always have to make some glaringly obvious "that guy is fat, I like your hat" kind of poetry for it... and thank god, but he's not always hiding the meaning behind too thick of an abstraction that one can pull 6000 meanings out of it ala, just about every darned thing in the Nirvana catalog.
Like I said though, well worth an 8, Garret's delivery and serious yet energetic approach are a part of what makes the Oils sound they way they do.
Overall Impression — 9
I put this up there with some of my favorites of the year which include The Cars "Candy-O," The B-52's "Wild Planet," The Sound's "Jeopardy" album, and the list goes on. It's not quite as high-tech as "Candy-O" but not quite as raw as The B-52's or The Sound, it falls into a happy medium. It's also heavier than any of those listed, sort of bridging the gap between AOR and post-punk, whilst sounding distinctly Australian from it's still quite raw, reedy, bouncy, energetic, but strong power.
The entire album is a collection of standout tracks, I have a hard time but If I had to pick 3 - I'd pick "Cold Cold Change," "Bus to Bondi," and "Koala Sprint" - but everything else does too, I'd say the song I like the least is "Stand in Line" and even that is out stand-ing. I found myself not reaching for the skip button even once while listening to this album. That's one reason I'm comparing it to albums that I have - because just like "Wild Planet," "Jeopardy," or "Candy-O" there's not a single bad song worth missing on it. Love the whole album.
About my only question left on this album is what's the deal is is that Garrett on the cover and is that his head wrap for his head injuries? Or is he wearing a wig and a beret... really. Love the old-school Amber Monochrome monitor vibe of it though.
I bought it digitally so I don't think theft is much of an issue. Though I am also planning on seeking this one out on vinyl - though I'm not sure how possible that is in the states, but hey, Australia is just a diagonal jaunt west and south of where I live so maybe some grand person from Oz left a copy on vinyl kicking around Seattle somewhere. Time to peruse Silver Platters.