[Reviewed by Peter Marks]
It took me a while to get to them but the Oils never were ones to rush things, they’d spend years between albums regardless of what the public demanded. So it is that twenty five years down the road I’m stopping the flow of time to write about a release that is in the blood, oh they’ll bury me with my copy of ‘Blue Sky Mining’. Or burn, to keep it more realistic. Either way, it goes when I do. No other band could have done what these Aussies pulled off so handily, nor would they have tried; when I think about it I often wonder why it is that this long player is such an anomaly and then I remember…
The cultural and political landscape of 1989/1990 was an uncertain one, the wall had fallen and supposedly the cold war was over. In it’s place a corporatized new order was starting to take shape, one which politicians across the borders of the world were more than happy to set up shop for and climb into bed with; eventually they were to become beholden to it as a last act of the tragicomedy we call capitalism but this review isn’t about how fucked we are now.
Midnight Oil plainly saw the writing on the wall and despite their conquering of the US charts, went back into the studio and honed their sound down to a finite, brilliant point in order to cut through the haze of chummy bullshit every talking head was spouting on the screen. Oh things are going to be better now, are they? We don’t believe you. After all, it wasn’t until their infamous 2000 olympic performance in Sydney that the Australian government began to even acknowlege what they’d done to the indigenous peoples of that country as being not quite the right way of behaving.
Those in power cannot be gently nudged, they have to be bludgeoned. This is precisely what ‘Blue Sky Mining’ was designed to do.
From the instant those opening notes on “Blue Sky Mine” ring out, the established order were put on notice: we know what you’re about and what you’re up to, our fans are aware now as well. Better lock those skyscrapers up good and tight, you wouldn’t want any of those pesky ‘little people’ to get in. “Stars of Warburton” followed with a thunderous indictment of just how off the rails bureaucracy had become, to the point of there being little if any oversight. Our scribe concludes that he’s amazed he can still see stars, he wasn’t the only one. “Bedlam Bridge” hits home hard about America, it truly does. This was indeed the state of things in the rotting cores of cities all across the country; everything was being eaten up from the inside out.
“Forgotten Years” still stings when I hear it, some of you may recall it being the “hit” of the album and indeed mtv played the shit out of the video for it but again, listening to it closely revealed a protagonist who was determined that those who died fighting the rich man’s wars would not disappear beneath the ever shifting tides of history. This song also had possibly the jewel in the crown in terms of a b-side, the acrid and recriminatory “You May Not be Released”. Why it didn’t make the cut for inclusion I’ll never know, the thing just seethes with rage. “Mountains of Burma” painted a grim picture of the state of things on an enviromental level, voting for governments with axes in their eyes… scorching the Earth until the Earth surrenders. An indictment of industry which only made the impromptu concert they gave in front of exxon’s headquarters all the sweeter. They filmed the video for another single while doing it, too, always quick on their feet.
“King of the Mountain” implored workers of the world to run to the foot of the mountain and so we did. People forget that this was done in response to exxon’s tanker the valdez spilling tens of thousands of gallons worth of oil into the ocean up in Alaska. The company was keen to just pay everyone off and shut them up but Midnight Oil wouldn’t let it be. “River Runs Red” is one of my favorite songs from them because it clearly was referring to the rape of the rainforests and also an economic nightmare known as NAFTA becoming law. The playing is superb with the band cranking up the urgency while Peter Garrett delivers one lyrical knock out blow after the other. “You’ve taken what’s good from the ground, but you’ve left precious little for me.”
“Shakers and Movers” found them in a rare sentimental mood and is one of their sweeter creations. “I can shake, I can move but I can’t live without your love.” They weren’t afraid to put the protest signs down and lose themselves in someone; to stay on the fine point they had crafted for the entire length of this maddeningly short record just wasn’t possible. No one can be on their guard constantly and it is this emotional floodgate being opened that brought us to their call for unity across all parts of Australia. “One Country” is a plea for the wounds of the past to be dealt with, for someone to start the process of healing by admitting they were wrong. It’s an inspiring, exhortive masterpiece for the soul, you couldn’t come away from hearing it unaffected. The concluding “Antarctica” pleaded to find somewhere still unspoiled, a place where nature still reigned supreme. Give us solitude, there has to be one place left in the world where it can be found… isn’t there?
Predictably, not many people talk about Midnight Oil anymore. Who wants to think about the consequences of one’s own actions when there are celebrity babies to be fawned over or a new way to interact with others in the souless, sterile environs of the internet. The Oils were the real thing, they meant what they said and bled sincerity. They, above all others, were brave enough to stand their ground and not compromise one iota. This lot are also responsible for my favorite lyrical line of all time:
“The rich get richer, the poor get the picture…”
Read about it, indeed.