In Praise of Midnight Oil

Posted by Greg on Jul 26, 2017 in Music |

It happened this summer without much fanfare and without any significant buzz. One of Australia’s biggest bands embarked on a North American summer tour and to most of America it went unnoticed. For reasons that may forever remain a mystery, Midnight Oil has never found the same success that they do in their native Australia.

Considering how well-reviewed their concerts (and albums) have been by critics, this post is just a reminder that Midnight Oil is probably one of the best bands no one ever talks about. I guess maybe I’m a little biased. To this day, few albums are as important to me as Blue Sky Mining. I found the album rather accidentally: at a tag sale during the summer of 1994. At the time, 13-year-old me thought the cover art was interesting and the title of the album even more so. I knew very little about the band. A few hours later, I put the disc in my Discman and my world was floored. A statement song with a catchy-as-all-heck chorus opens the album. Could it get any better? I had no idea where Blue Sky Mine was, but I sure as heck wanted to visit. I wanted to get to know these people who were toiling away in the mines all day.

Eagerly I listened on. The songs just kept getting better and better. The stories just as elaborate, rich and literate. The characters, landscapes and events engaging, detailed, unshakable. I was totally sold. That indelible impression Blue Sky Mining left upon first listen was revisited throughout the summer of 1994 and on into 1995. By the time I was midway through high school I was diving into the back catalog and tracking the band as best I could on what was then a very young Pollstar.com. Every album was just as good as Blue Sky Mining and some were even better. As the years passed, my love affair with the Australian band waned. My college years sucked me into 90s rock, the burgeoning alt-country world and a good chunk of radio country. I listened to the band’s final three albums and while each had their share of gems, none of them left me as floored as Blue Sky Mining, Diesel and Dust or Red Sails in the Sunset. But a part of me has always looked for that deep sense of literary storytelling in every new artist and band that comes across my desk. Very few, if any, seem to measure up.

And then it happened. Earlier this year, I got a press release that Midnight Oil was touring North America. Sadly none of their dates came anywhere close to Florida (Atlanta was the closest and that’s seven hours), but the high school freshman in me was so eager to attend.

Obviously there are hordes of American fans or else a North American tour would have never come to fruition, but talk about Midnight Oil and beyond “Beds Are Burning,” few if any have any connection to this band.So what is it about Midnight Oil that has never resonated with America? Was it the band’s distinct sense of geography? Was it that they sang about mostly Aboriginal and Australian causes? Was it lead singer Peter Garrett’s throaty growl? Whatever it may be, Midnight Oil has never gotten their due in America.

Here’s hoping that changes in due time.

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