Friday, April 1, 2022

Midnight Oil's new album well worth the wait

Resist is an exceptionally strong Midnight Oil album. As a big Midnight Oil fan from about 35 years ago, I can report that this one is as good an effort as anyone could have expected. This one won't go down, at least in my book, as the strongest Midnight Oil effort.

But it will go down as one hell of a closing chapter in the band's legacy, if this is indeed the final chapter, as has been reported. 

Guitarist Jim Moginie has flat-out said that the current tour will be Midnight Oil's last. But he did say rather cryptically that he and his bandmates will make more music together. So we don't know if that means there will be more Midnight Oil albums or if a couple or three of them might work together in a different configuration or what.

Resist is the 13th album from Midnight Oil since the self-titled debut in 1978. It's also the second album the Australians have released after an 18-year break.

Resist was released Feb. 18, but it was recorded about two years earlier. Midnight Oil dissolved in 2002, did a couple of one-shot reunion concerts over the years and then officially got back together for a tour in 2017.

Band members came back loaded with some songs they had been writing, and at the end of their tour, Midnight Oil camped out in a recording studio in Sydney in late 2019 and early 2020.

They recorded 20 songs during those sessions. Seven of the tracks were written about a movement to give the country's indigenous people a voice in government. Midnight Oil invited a number of indigenous musicians to record those seven songs with them, and those songs became the 33-minute album The Makarrata Project.

Midnight Oil decided that the rest of the songs recorded during those sessions would become a second album that would be released a few months later to coincide with another planned tour.

But then a couple things happened that threw plans into disarray. For starters, the pandemic delayed planning for the tour. And then in early November 2020, about a week after the Makarrata Project was released, bass player Bones Hillman died. Obviously, that put planning for the tour in further disarray.

Once the tour plans got back on track, Midnight Oil announced in November 2021 that the remainder of those songs recorded almost two years earlier would be released as an album.

I don't think I would get any argument from anyone that Midnight Oil's absolute best albums were the two that really put them on the international stage back in the late 1980s. Diesel and Dust, in 1987, and the single "Beds Are Burning" really broke them on this side of the globe. They followed that one up in 1990 with another behemoth, Blue Sky Mining. Those two records were Midnight Oil perfection, and will always be the standard by which this band will be judged by.

Resist isn't in that stratosphere. But the Oils did shoot for the moon with Resist, and they got there. I do know all 13 Midnight Oil albums to one degree or another, and if I were to rank them all, I would have this one in my No. 3 slot without much question either way. I would not be tempted to put it in my top 2, but neither would I give any thought to dropping it down to No. 4. There's a definite gap on both sides of that equation.

Resist as an organic whole does fall a little short of the absolute best of Midnight Oil.

There was a sense of joy and optimism in those earlier albums that is lacking in Resist. Mostly, that came through in the Oils' extensive use of bouncy background vocals from drummer Rob Hirst and one or two other band members. Those background vocals were really effective in getting us geared up for the fight we face.

But with Resist, frontman Peter Garrett carries much more of the load with his sneering vocal style. Resist is a darker album than those earlier ones, and it leaves you with a sort of sense of desperation, that we're up against it and we have wasted too much damn time. It's entirely appropriate to reflect the era we are in, so take that as more an observation than a criticism.

But the big criticism here is a nitpicky one. Resist, I think, could have used a little judicious editing.

Resist clocks in at right around an hour, about 20 minutes longer than the standard LP length during the time of Midnight Oil's heyday. 

We have a couple of tracks on the back half of the album that come off as filler and drags the proceedings down somewhat. If my math is correct, one of the 20 songs the band recorded was discarded, as only 19 turn up on the Makarrata Project and Resist. So if one track didn't make the cut, Resist would have been a stronger album if a couple of more of those songs were excised.

The Oils' messaging here is just as impassioned if not more so than it was in the past century.

This band has always wrapped itself in advocacy for environmental protection and indigenous rights in particular, mostly focused on things that were happening in their homeland.

The band dissolved in 2002 so that Garrett could focus on a political career. He won elective office to start with and eventually became his country's top education official. His political career ended in 2013 with the election of a conservative government.  

The Oils decided a few years later to get back together, and Resist is what we've been waiting for them to give us. It's a collection of great jangly guitar-based indie rock songs that have a lot to say about the challenges we face as a global community.

Four video singles were released ahead of the album. Midnight Oil knew what they were doing in this respect. All four of those singles, along with a fifth track, are the highlights of Resist.

"Rising Seas," "Tarkine," "At The Time Of Writing" and "We Resist" are magnificent tracks -- all written by Moginie. Garrett writes four of the tunes in this collection, and three of them are more filler than achievement. But one of the Garrett tunes is the rallying cry of a closing track, "Last Frontier," which sends us out on an ironically rousing, anthemic wave that really is a throwback to peak Midnight Oil.

Overall, Resist, is classic Midnight Oil transported from the last half of the 20th century and dropped expertly into the 2020s. It is not to be missed.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Spammers will not be tolerated. You casino scammers will be reported immediately and your comments deleted.