20,000 Watt R.S.L.
The Dead Heart – Midnight Oil[audio:Midnight_Oil_Dead_Heart.mp3]
I’ll go out on a limb and say it; this has to be one of the best greatest hits compilations, ever. There I said it and now you can start throwing whatever it is you throw at people who make one sided statements like that! Wait, there’s more sacrilege coming, apart from this collection I haven’t heard any of their individual albums but I’ll still argue that they are one of the best bands in rock. Do you feel like calling me names like hypocrite and shallow now? I mean shouldn’t a true fan hear each and every one of their songs on every one of their albums and then make such statements? Well, perhaps one day I’ll, but right now I’ll still argue they are great based on this one collection.
Midnight Oil is or rather was an Australian rock band from Sydney who were (and still are) famous for their hard rock sound, strong espousal of left wing causes, incendiary live shows and of course their powerful and hard hitting songs. Led by the charismatic and outspoken Peter Garrett (who actually ran for the Australian Senate on a Nuclear Disarmament Party ticket) the band brought a new sense of left wing activism seldom seen in the mainstream music scene. They were fiercely independent and refused to tone down their commitment to sometimes unpopular causes. Famously, they performed in front of the Exxon headquarters in New York in 1990 in protest of the Exxon Valdez spill carrying a banner that read, “Midnight Oil Makes You Dance, Exxon Oil Makes Us Sick”. They also created a stir with their performance at the closing ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympics where they performed wearing shirts that were emblazoned with the word ‘SORRY’, a public apology for the suffering Australian aboriginals went through for more than 200 years under white rule and a direct affront to the Australian PM John Howard sitting in the audience who had refused to apologize to the aboriginals in a gesture of symbolic reconciliation. The band was unfortunately dissolved in 2002 as Garrett left to concentrate on his political career. Apart from Garrett the band consisted of Rob Hirst on drums, Jim Moginie on keyboard/guitar, Martin Rotsey on guitar and a changing line up of bassists.
The 20,000 Watts R.S.L. is a collection of their best known songs from throughout their music career non-chronologically sequenced. While some have criticized this mode of sequencing I myself like the way the songs are arranged as the band has a continuity of sound that is not damaged by the essentially random ordering of songs from different periods. The album kicks off with the vaguely electronic sounding ‘What Goes On’ (the only song that doesn’t quite fit in with the other songs). Their well known hits like ‘Beds are Burning’, ‘US Forces’, ‘Blue Sky Mining’, ‘Dreamworld’ and others are included as well as lesser known highlights from their earlier albums such as ‘The Power and the Passion’ and ‘Back on the Borderline’. The songs deal with a wide range of issues ranging from a mining disaster in ‘Blue Sky Mining’ to aboriginal rights in ‘Beds are Burning’ and US military interference in foreign affairs in ‘US Forces’.
These are the songs that have stood the test of time. Unlike most other 80’s music their sound does not seem dated. The songs still retain a sense of immediacy and outrage and are as relevant today as when they were first sung. It is perhaps a sad commentary on the state of our world that this relevance will not be lost for many many years to come. Listening to the machinations of the US military as envisioned by Moginie/Garrett in ‘US Forces’ should send a chill down your spine as what they wrote almost a quarter of a century ago is still being repeated today. Or listen to ‘The Dead Heart’ above and see how the immense wrongs done by the white man to native people all over the world have never been properly held to account and the many promises made have never been kept. Yes, these are songs that can make one’s conscience cringe.
However, one great and unique thing about Oil is that you can enjoy their music without belief in the causes their songs espouse. Their songs can be heard without the left wing message, enjoying them for their pure rocking pleasure. You can even groove to some of their songs. Political and protest songs never rocked so hard and good! So even if you are deeply conservative and think left wing idealists are wimps give this album a listen. You might not be converted to the cause but you will definitely be singing along!
(Note: If you love this collection then seek out their ‘Diesel and Dust’ album, considered by many to be their masterpiece, it is also one of the finest rock albums ever made.)