Midnight Oil – ‘RESIST’ Album Review

Photo Credit: Oliver Eclipse

Since first making their debut in the late ’70s, Midnight Oil has become arguably the greatest band ever to come out of Australia. Outside of their native country, they’ve never come close to the commercial success of AC/DC or British transplants the Bee Gees. Even INXS during their heyday probably established more of an international audience. However, Midnight Oil has always been defined by their outward social conscience, calling attention to issues both exclusive to Australia (i.e. the treatment of the Aboriginal people) and those which affect the entire planet (climate change) all backed by their solid guitar-based rock and the unwavering leadership of longtime frontman Peter Garrett.

On RESIST, Midnight Oil’s commitment to the causes they’ve always championed hasn’t waned in the slightest, as titles like “We Resist” and “Rising Seas” would clearly suggest. It’s not hard to imagine what the subject of the former track (which also opens the album) is: “Let’s confess, we did not act // With serious urgency… // Temperature rising // Climate denying.” The song starts with just Garrett’s voice and a somber organ (almost suggesting a funeral) before rocking out to the familiar Midnight Oil sound, and it’s not the album’s only musical psych-out. “Nobody’s Child” opens with a spacey ’80s-type synth, then similarly rocks out only to have a strange but cool baroque section turn up several times in the track.

“We Resist” is another song that begins slowly, and then goes to an almost quasi-droning Nine Inch Nails-type approach, while “Reef” revolves around an uptempo acoustic riff (though also includes an amazing electric guitar solo). “At the Time of Writing”, arguably the album’s best song, boasts a killer bassline and a feel that almost invokes the late Tom Petty and similar Americana rockers. The song, surprisingly, ends with the inclusion of what sounds like an intentionally bad moose call-like saxophone, possibly to illustrate a point about how many things that start well can end up going sour in the end.

Lyrics throughout RESIST remain true to Midnight Oil’s trademark combination of outspokenness, irony, and the need to make their listeners think, though here the band does occasionally paint in broad strokes. On “Undercover”, they make a general but crucial statement about current international strife and how many people chose to ignore it (“Still living the high life // Chasing those bright spots // Pretending everything’s okay”). “Barka-Darling River” is named after an Australian body of water, but the lyrics about a deteriorating government (“Standing in the house of the founding fathers // It’s not a house that’s well looked-after… // Who let the bag of idiots open? // Who drank the bottle of bad ideas?”) could apply to just about any nation which has been a bit callous about whom they allow ruling.

After nearly forty-five years, it’s probably okay to admit that despite his towering physical presence and matching commitment all he’s always stood for, Garrett has never actually had the strongest singing voice (pitch has always been something of a problem for him). However, the messages which the band conveys have always outweighed any such shortcomings. Midnight Oil closes RESIST – and possibly their entire recording career (back to that in second) with the appropriately-titled “Last Frontier”, which interestingly enough is the most pop song on the album. It’s as if, despite everything else, the band wants to close out with a smile and a sense of optimism.  

Midnight Oil has already announced that RESIST will be their final studio album and the current tour will also be their last. Of course, any rock fan knows better than to take that claim at face value (especially if they’re holding tickets to upcoming tours by the Rolling Stones or the Who), but if Midnight Oil does pack it in after this, they’ll certainly doing so on a high note. The band’s name comes from the expression “burning the midnight oil,” which refers to someone who’s worked much harder than they were asked to or expected to, and that certainly fits. On the aforementioned “The Barka-Darling River”, they sing “Good people, good people are forgotten.” Peter Garrett and Midnight Oil are among the good people who never will be.

Written by: Richard John Cummins

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