Fronted by the fiercely passionate, toweringly tall, shaven-pate Peter Garrett, the Oils are this year releasing the 14th studio album of their career, Capricornia. They are also bracing for a major coast-to-coast tour of North America-- a conquest they have not made for almost half a decade-followed by a swing through the European continent.
Capricornia - named after the hostile, tropical northern reaches of Australia-premieres exclusively in the U.S. on newly formed Liquid 8 Records in February 2002, with an international release slated for later in the year. The long-awaited album is the Oils' first new full-length studio CD in four years… the lead single, "Golden Age," spotlights the band in top form, and immediately upon its January release found a home at rock radio in top markets nationwide.
Liquid 8 founder Mason Munoz, a former veteran Sony Music executive, has had a long and fruitful association with the Oils, who were signed to Columbia Records for many years. As well acquainted with their uncompromising artistry as their outspoken social consciousness-raising, Munoz was instrumental in putting together their 1990 performance on a flatbed trailer in front of Exxon's Manhattan corporate headquarters to protest the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Midnight Oil's renewed professional collaboration with Munoz via Liquid 8 - on record, onstage, and of course, on principle - is a mutually welcome turn of events.
The Oils are perhaps best known around the world for the extraordinary track "Beds Are Burning," their unforgettable anthem about Aboriginal land rights that was a global hit single in the late '80s-and which they recently reprised to great effect with a 'guerilla' performance at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, staged in front of their Prime Minister to draw attention to governmental abuses against Australia's indigenous peoples.
The incendiary song, and Diesel and Dust ('87), the now classic, Warne Livesey-produced multi-platinum album on which it first appeared, evolved out of a 1986 odyssey Midnight Oil took through the most remote outback settlements with Aboriginal rockers The Warumpi Band.
The experience, which also spawned a book and television documentary, profoundly influenced the Oils in many ways, personally and artistically, and, of course, catalyzed the creative juggernaut that made them international superstars for their intense and provocative repertoire and blistering live shows.
Diesel and Dust's phenomenal ride was followed up-after an extended stint of intense worldwide touring-by the equally acclaimed Blue Sky Mining ('90), also produced by Livesey. The album featured stand-out tracks including "One Country," "Forgotten Years," and the title cut, a fiery cry about the oppressive plight of downtrodden mineworkers… proving uncontestably that even the greatest success hadn't dimmed Midnight Oils' fervor.
That unquenchable passion officially ignited in 1976 when The Farm - which had been playing around and about Down Under since '71, re-christened themselves Midnight Oil. Four of the founding Oils remain with the band to this day-- Peter Garrett (vocals), Jim Moginie (guitar/keyboards), Rob Hirst (drums), and Martin Rotsey (guitar)… original bass player Andrew James was replaced by Peter Gifford in '80, and he in turn by current bassist Bones Hillman at the end of the '80s.
Shortly after first forming, the group -- with the aid of longtime manager and friend Gary Morris -- quickly reeled off three releases on its own small local label, Powderworks: a self-titled debut album in '78, followed by Head Injuries the next year (which went gold in Australia), and the also-successfully-charting EP Bird Noises in '80.
Still, the Oils were primarily held in awe for the bone-crushing intensity of their live shows.
It was not until 1981's platinum album Place Without A Postcard, recorded in London with legendary British producer Glyn Johns, that it's generally acknowledged that the gripping energy of Midnight Oil's live shows, as well as their intelligence and political mindset, were captured in a worthy fashion in-studio. The disc also delivered the Oils' single "Armistice Day," and led to their deal with Columbia Records in the United States.
Next up was 1982's 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, their American debut, and a monster release that spent more than two years on the Australian charts, making them bonafide superstars in their homeland. Again made in London, the album brilliantly fused rising star producer Nick Launay's cutting-edge experimentalism with the Oil's maturing prowess and potency as a band. Featuring muscular, gripping tracks including "US Forces," "Short Memory," and the hit single "Power and the Passion," 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 is hard-hitting, arousing and unforgettable, a true Oils gem.
The years in between that classic LP and what would be their next watershed album - the aforementioned Diesel and Dust-saw one more Launay produced full-length, Red Sails In The Sunset ('84), and the ferocious EP Species Deceases that generated the memorable Oils anthem "Hercules."
In the midst of this period of personal and creative turbulence, Peter Garrett also undertook a run for the Australian Senate on a Nuclear Disarmament ticket, losing by only a small margin. The defeat, rather than setting back Garrett's dedication, only strengthened his purpose towards speaking out on political matters as his conscience saw fit.
During the period immediately following the releases of Diesel and Dust and Blue Sky Mining -- and the surrounding decade-and-a-half-plus of full-throttle touring and recording-the Oils took some restorative breathing space to follow its own, ever-idiosyncratic muse.
Leaving any premise of predictable music behind, they wholeheartedly reconnected with audiences back home on a street level, performing everywhere from on the blockade at Jabiluka to folk festivals to pubs, and then some.
Subsequent releases as the '90s unfolded included Scream In Blue (Live) ('92), which true to its title, captured the unbridled essence of these performance aces in concert.
Next, recorded in part with analog instruments in a studio more low-tech than the norm for the band, 1993's Earth and Sun and Moon showed a different side of the Oils. This critically acclaimed disc offered up all the strength of Midnight Oil's music and message in a more intimate, acoustic setting, and 1996's equally melodic and forceful Breathe followed suit.
In 1997, 20,000 Watt RSL - The Midnight Oil Collection treated the fans by retrospectively compiling sixteen of the band's greatest tracks from over the course of their remarkable career, and introducing two new songs as well.
The Oils bade farewell to the '90s with a bang…the savage Redneck Wonderland ('98), which re-teamed the band with Warne Livesey, is a searing exposition of the dark and unjust underbelly of Australia, the quintessential Midnight Oil full-tilt, righteous rock 'n roll rant. Co-produced by Magoo, the Aussie techno-new music wunderkind, the album proved too fierce for radio but widespread critical embrace heralded the band's enduring stature.
The ensuing fresh decade and millenium ushered in a slate of activity including "Say Your Prayers," a new studio track for the multi-artist charity album Liberdade, benefiting the troubled people of the East Timor crisis.
Closer to home, it also found the band involved in the campaign to elicit a formal act of apology from the Australian Government on behalf of earlier generations for policies that led to the separation of Aboriginal children from their mothers. Despite Government noncompliance to date, Midnight Oil, along with hundreds of thousands of countrymen and women, unwaveringly continue to show support for their homeland's first citizens.
Most recently, in 2001 in Australia, the band released The Real Thing in Australia, a vibrant collection of new studio material, live tracks from historic Metro Theatre Shows in Sydney, and highlights from the band's MTV 'Unplugged' sessions. It warmed up the Oils for what was to become Capricornia, as did an end-of-the-year mini-tour of the States that previewed their latest tracks for welcoming American audiences.
Of one of those late '01 U.S. shows, The Orange County Register noted that, "Midnight Oil soldiers on, ageless. Galvanizing and pertinent. It's as if they never stopped fighting." Reporting on a recent date Down Under, Australia's leading quality newspaper, The Melbourne Age, wrote that, "Time had done little to quell their fire…Garrett is still, without question, the most formidable and original frontman of any band…ever."
Their fire too long missing from the Northern Hemisphere, Midnight Oil - having no doubt amassed a wealth of pent-up energy and passion since their last full-scale visitation to these shores-is certain to make their ever leading-edge presence known with Capricornia and its accompanying worldwide tour.