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Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

3WA 2018 #8: Midnight Oil – Blue Sky Mining

Late February, 1990. An Australian band which had burst into the public consciousness of a U.S. audience with their previous record releases a follow-up, hopeful to continue and expand that level of success.

What is it?

Blue Sky Mining is Midnight Oil’s follow-up to the popular and highly-regarded Diesel & Dust album, consisting of ten more tracks of the brand of politically-charged rock-n-roll that made them famous.

How does it sound?

How sounds the sampler on this winter’s night:

Why this pick?

There are more important Oils records. There are Oils records which are held in higher critical regard. Blue Sky Mining occupies an interesting sweet spot, however. It’s the band at the height of their powers, delivering a solid record with some gorgeous stand-out tracks and almost no duds.

Yet somehow this album is also the safest thing they’ve ever done. How do you follow a popular and acclaimed world-wide hit record? By very carefully giving audiences more-or-less what they want, in this case. This somewhat mellower Midnight Oil phase continues right up to the release of the in-your-face Redneck Wonderland several records down the road.

Which songs are the highlights?

Unlike the initial run of Star Trek movies, this album’s highlights are on the odd rather than the even numbers. It leads off with the big hit single, “Blue Sky Mine.” Two songs later, “Bedlam Bridge.” Two songs later, the gorgeous “Mountains of Burma.” Two songs later, “River Runs Red.” The pattern continues and breaks with the ninth & tenth songs, the outstanding pairing of “One Country” and “Antarctica” (one of my all-time favorite Oils tunes).

Seriously, “Antarctica” is just plain beautiful.

Which songs don’t work so well?

“Shakers and Movers” is the only dull thud for me here. It sort of vaguely comes off as being something like a love song, almost, and boy howdy are the Oils not good at those. Other than that I’d say “King of the Mountain” and “Forgotten Years” are by-the-numbers tunes which are listenable enough but don’t stick in the mind much past the final fade-out.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

It could’ve been either of the “red” albums (Redneck Wonderland or Red Sails in the Sunset) or else 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1. Not that I couldn’t make a case for most things in the catalog other than Capricornia or Breathe, mind you. Sure, this is an angry band in a lot of ways, but they deliver that anger with such infectious energy that it doesn’t bring you down, it lifts you up and gives you energy and strength.

Any final thoughts?

Due to an interesting coincidence I didn’t notice until it was revealed by the spreadsheet I’m using to track this project, next week’s entry will, indeed, count as shenanigans…

4 Comments

  1. Certainly I know “Beds” and “Blue Sky Mine”, but on the whole The Oils reached my ears at a very bad time. Depending on which album we’re talking about, I was either in the end of my New Wave/Angry Young Man phase (ABC, Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello) or I was in the middle of my Make It Louder phase (Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, RevCo, KMFDM).

    So Midnight Oil was either too angry or not angry enough for my tastes at the time. That’s unfortunate, because while I’ll never be a big fan, these days I’ve liked what I’ve heard.

    I can’t give this album a fair ranking, alas.

    • You could start with this one and do very well, honestly. This and D&D are both great Midnight Oil starter records. The closer you get to now and the further back to the start you go, the more off-putting their stuff becomes in some ways.

      • This probably won’t come as a surprise to anybody, but politics and Wonderduck don’t mix anymore. I originally started The Pond in 2005/06 as a place that completely ignored politics… let the people who know what they’re doing talk about it, I’ll talk about rubber ducks… and I doubled down on that after a political argument with Momzerduck resulted in me walking out of our weekly lunch.

        So overt political statements in my music are a little off-putting to me, with only certain artists exempt… Billy Bragg, for example, and yes, that’s a pretty extreme exemption. Rage Against The Machine gets an exemption because Zach de la Rocha is such a horrible singer/songwriter that it’s hard to take him seriously, but the music is so amazing I’ll put up with it. Early U2 gets excused because holy crap, have you heard it? Y’know, that sort of thing.

        The Oils, though, seem to limit their politicalness, at least in D&D and BSM, to Australian political concerns (though there’s national overlap, of course), and that makes a difference.

        That’s shallow of me, I know. Music, like anime and rubber ducks, is a form of escape from the real world for me, so I prefer to keep it less overtly politically charged. How correct is my judgement that the political statements for M.O. are (at least nominally) Australian?

        Because heaven forbid I have to actually think about my music!

        • Funny you should mention early U2 as they’re definitely going to appear later on this year in this project.

          The Oils’ politics are, when they name names, almost exclusively Australian/regional with a side order of environmentalism and a sip or two of frustration with US meddling. But “message” is all they do, so I can understand how it might be off-putting. YMMV and all that.

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