To most nonAntipodeans, Midnight Oil’s career begins and ends with their 1987 hit Beds Are Burning. The sight of shaven-headed beanpole frontman Peter Garrett swaying and jerking under the blazing sun while singing about Aboriginal rights is as 80s-iconic as Bono waving a giant white flag at Red Rocks.
At home in Australia, “the Oil” are as culturally important as Vegemite and Prisoner: Cell Block H, and this comprehensive boxset goes some way to explaining why. The Sydney band’s first few albums and EPs – from 1978’s self-titled debut to 1981’s A Place Without A Postcard – are hectoring pub-rock that may as well come with their own ‘Save The Whale’ placard.
But things got interesting around the time of 1982’s 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1. The run of albums that followed – most notably 1987’s Diesel And Dust and its 1990 follow-up Blue Sky Mining – busted their sound wide open. Garrett was both their biggest asset and their Achilles’ Heel, depending on your tolerance for socio-political lecturing and increasingly strangulated vowel sounds (Beds Are Burning features the single most mannered vocal performances ever recorded).
The 90s were less kind to tub-thumping leftist rock bands, and Midnight Oil were no exception. While 1993’s Earth And Sun And Moon and 1998’s Redneck Wonderland toned down the unconventional musical excursions, the political edge remained as sharp as ever. But they were preaching to the converted by that point – something that, despite its sporadic merits, this collection does too.