Midnight Oil: Capricornia (Liquid Records)

Listeners who gave up on the Oils ’round the time that Bush Sr. left office ought to perk up and give Capricornia a spin.

In the ’80s, Australian group Midnight Oil were one of the most potent, politically aware bands in the world. Unlikely mini-hits such as “Beds Are Burning” and “Power and the Passion” combined catchy, danceable rhythms with topical concerns (the former was about Aboriginal land rights; in an era of egoism and excess of all types, it stood out like a sore thumb). In the ’90s, though, Midnight Oil became unexpectedly low-profile: their albums Earth and Sun and Moon, Breathe, and Redneck Wonderland made little impact outside their native land, and though each had great material, some of the spark of the Oils’ past work seemed to be missing. This year, with a brand-new label (Liquid) and a new collection titled Capricornia, the Oils may restore most of their previous fan base.

Capricornia is a solid, consistent album. Imposing lead singer Peter Garrett’s clean snarl is as effective as ever on blistering rockers like “Mosquito March” and “Too Much Sunshine.” But there are more subtle, textured tunes such as “Luritja Way,” which showcases driving acoustic guitars and the trademark Oils harmony vocals; the classic mid-tempo “Tone Poem” with its catchy chorus; and the introspective, Aussie-centric “Under the Overpass” and “World That I See.” Crisp, layered guitars and steady, propulsive bass and drums have always been signature elements of the Oils sound, and original members Jim Moginie (who wrote or co-wrote all the songs here), Martin Rotsey, and Rob Hirst deserve the lion’s share of the credit; bassist Bones Hillman, who joined in the late ’80s, is the only non-orignal member.

The fresh-sounding recordings here were produced in Sydney by Warne Livesey, and if not as giddily brilliant as, say, Diesel and Dust, this is still a mostly passionate, focused work. Midnight Oil remain proudly and uncompromisingly Australian, and they are clearly not interested in trends or the perceptions of the fickle. As Garrett sings in “Too Much Sunshine,” quite straightforwardly, “Well we do the same things that we always do/Nothing changes but the colour changes hue/I don’t come to bury you/The trouble is with you.” Listeners who gave up on the Oils ’round the time that Bush Sr. left office ought to perk up and give Capricornia a spin.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply