Midnight Oil brought a new sense of political and social immediacy
to pop music: not only did incendiary hits like "Beds Are Burning"
and "Blue Sky Mine" bring global attention to the plight of, respectively,
aboriginal settlers and impoverished workers, but the group also
put its money where its mouth was — in addition to mounting benefit
performances for groups like Greenpeace and Save the Whales, frontman
Peter Garrett even ran for the Australian Senate on the Nuclear
Disarmament Party ticket.
The band formed in Sydney in 1971 as Farm, and originally comprised
guitarists Jim Moginie and Martin Rotsey, drummer Rob Hirst and
bassist Andrew "Bear" James; Garrett, a law student known for
his seven-foot-tall stature and shaven head, assumed vocal duties
in 1975, and the group soon rechristened itself Midnight Oil.
After months of sporadic gigs, they began making the rounds to
area record companies; following a string of rejections, the group
formed its own label, Powderworks, and issued their self-titled
debut — a taut, impassioned collection of guitar rock which quickly
established the Midnight Oil sound — in 1978.
After declaring their independence from the music industry, the
Oils grew increasingly active and outspoken in the political arena;
after performing in opposition to uranium mining, they supported
the Tibet Council before turning their attentions to the unfair
practices of the local music industry, and formed their own booking
agency in response to the monopoly exerted by area agents and
promoters. With their 1979 sophomore effort Head Injuries, the
band scored their first hit single, "Cold Cold Change," and earned
a gold record. James left the band the following year due to health
problems; with new bassist Peter Gifford, they cut the EP Bird
Noises, another chart success.
With 1981's Place Without a Postcard (recorded with producer Glyn
Johns), Midnight Oil achieved platinum status on the strength
of the smash "Armistice Day," which won the group an American
deal with Columbia Records. Their follow-up, 1983's 10, 9, 8,
7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, spent over two years in the Australian Top
40; after 1984's Red Sails in the Sunset, Garrett made his run
at Senate, losing by only a narrow margin. Participation in the
Artists United Against Apartheid project followed, leading directly
into Midnight Oil's increased interest in the battles of Australia's
aboriginal settlers and a tour, dubbed "Black Fella White Fella,"
with the aborigine group the Warumpi Band.
The aborigines' plight came to the fore on 1987's Diesel and Dust,
the Oils' breakthrough record; sparked by the hit single "Beds
Are Burning," the album reached the U.S. Top 20 and made the band
a household commodity. After bassist Dwayne "Bones" Hillman (ex-Swingers)
replaced Gifford, Midnight Oil returned with 1990's Blue Sky Mining,
which they followed with a concert outside of the Exxon corporation's
Manhattan offices in protest the company's handling of the Alaskan
oil spill. (A film of the performance titled Black Rain Falls
was later released, with profits going to Greenpeace.) The album
Earth and Sun and Moon appeared in 1993, followed three years
later by Breathe. Midnight Oil next resurfaced in 1998 with Redneck
Wonderland. The Real Thing, only available in Australia, followed
in 2001. It was a solid collection of new songs and live tracks
from Midnight Oil's magnificent run at the Metro Theatre in Sydney.
Capricornia, issued on Liquid 8 in spring 2002, marked the band's
14th album of their career. — Jason Ankeny