Photo by Daniel Boud.
One of my favorite things, especially as I get older, is veteran artists who grow with you, and who refuse to rest on their laurels. R.E.M. did it. Marillion do it. The Church do it. James do it. There are many others who do it. Midnight Oil are one of them. Their latest album, Resist, is their 13th, stretching back to 1978, and only their second since a long hiatus between 2003 and 2017.
It’s easy to focus attention on frontman Peter Garrett. His imposing stature, booming vocals, and animated delivery, coupled with the band’s poetically political lyrics and his years as an Australian MP and cabinet minister, means it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of what a tight unit the band is, and what a talented group of songwriters it possesses. Midnight Oil made their early name with an energetic fusion of punk and pub rock. Over the years, they ushered additional elements into their sound, including jangle rock and electronic underpinnings. Resist draws from all of this, showing the full palette of sounds that the band is capable of. The album-opening title track opens with an almost hymnal bit of organ, before bursting into a driving, anthemic verse and chorus. It’s a classic bit of Midnight Oil, and deftly highlights guitarist Jim Moginie’s gift for steady, underrated melodic songcraft. It’s also a state of the global union, decrying blindness to our many emergencies, declaring that in a world ever more aflame, “we’re all refugees.”
Age has not sapped the fire from this passionate band. They are, as they have always been, focused on issues of the environment, nuclear disarmament, Australian Aboriginal rights, and Australian politics. As with Manic Street Preachers, this is not a band that writes many conventional love songs. Resist pulls no punches, declaring, in clarion voice, that as a species, we’re still doing it wrong. Things aren’t getting better. It’s an album with an ever-present sense of urgency, but one that also offers hope. The majestic, slowly building “We Resist,” and widescreen penultimate track “We Are Not Afraid” find strength in facing fear, and steeling ourselves for the fight that’s ahead if we are to not only improve, but survive, as a species in the age of climate change and political extremism. The effortlessly melodic, bluesy stomp of “At the Time of Writing” (courtesy of Moginie and drummer Rob Hirst) urges us to band together, even as the band catalogs the challenges we face and excoriates those who pay no attention, make no apologies, and take no responsibility for the social and climate related straits we have put ourselves in.
“We better get together
Or we’ll end up on the roof with a shotgun
Because a chance, we only got one”
Another of Midnight Oil’s strengths, and one of the things that makes their best songs so memorable, is their unwavering appreciation of Australia’s natural beauty. This love for their country’s landscape is a renewable source of energy for their drive to preserve it. “Tarkine” is full of admiration, but also regret over what has been lost.
“Well I lost myself, when I walked through you
All that I have now
Is a souvenir of you”
The song’s acoustic strum, with electric guitar squealing in the background, evokes a hike through awesome landscape, with your head filled with wonder but also an undercurrent of worry you can’t quite shake.
In announcing Resist, Midnight Oil also detailed one final tour which would mark their retirement from live performance. In the same breath, they mentioned that they will continue to make music together. Resist is the work of a fervent, relevant, and driven band. It could have been one hell of a swan song. Instead, it’s both a high-water mark and a pledge to keep pushing forward and speaking their truth—time marches on, but the work is never done. | Mike Rengel