On May 5th, Midnight Oil is set to re-issue their entire catalogue in a Deluxe Vinyl Box Set, along with The Full Tank and The Over Flow Tank CD-based collections that are sure to appeal to many Midnight Oil fans.
While I do consider myself to be a fan of this iconic Australian band, I must admit that I have never really focused my attention toward their albums. Various singles and compilations have always given me my Midnight Oil fix. However, with the re-issues on the horizon, I thought it would be a good idea to review their catalogue of albums in order to ascertain if these new releases are worthy of inclusion in my collection.
I'm not currently sold on the vinyl box set as it is rather plain, especially when compared to the Tank editions. However, one of the key issues to be considered is the cost. At AU$299 for each Tank edition and AU$499 for the vinyl box set, one must truly appreciate the majority of their work, not just the singles and compilations as I have in the past.
I find it interesting that the CD collection is AU$200 cheaper than the vinyl release. Some of you may point out the differences in artwork and sonic representation and that would be totally valid. Although I believe Steve Smart of Studios 301 in Sydney remastered both sets of releases from the original tapes, hence there will be some consistency in the mastering and quite frankly mastering efficiency trumps format comparisons. Plus, if I want the previously unreleased material, then that is only available with The Over Flow Tank release.
Throughout the coming weeks I will be reviewing each album from their catalogue while discussing my thoughts and the decision making process, ultimately culminating in declaring my final purchase decision when I review the final Midnight Oil album Capricornia. Until then, let's take a look at their 1978 self-titled release, Midnight Oil.
Midnight Oil while their first release under that moniker, was not the origin of the band as prior to this release they were known on the Sydney pub scene as Farm. Farm was originally formed in 1972 and while this self-titled release is significantly different in style and composition to their later albums, such as Diesel and Dust or Blue Sky Mining, there is a certain level of polish and musicality that comes through in this Punk/Progressive Rock release, proving that the many nights spent traversing the Sydney pubs certainly provided a worthy training ground. As I listen to this debut album, I can't help but feel the energy that the band must have had when performing live. To say that this is one of the greatest debut albums wouldn't be an understatement, but I know many who would disagree with my subjective opinion.
Recorded in the September of 1978, Midnight Oil heralded a singular single, Run By Night. While I don't feel that it is the strongest song on the album, especially in an era when radio play was an essential element separating success from obscurity, it is a solid punk-inspired rock tune that highlights the recognisable tonality of Garrett's vocal delivery.
Opening Midnight Oil, Powderworks is erratic, yet organised in composition. You immediately get the sense that this is a band that is very familiar with playing in garages and pubs. I adore the guitar soloing mid-song and while the song is rough around the edges, it isn't a bad entry for the album. That said, in the era of music streaming you would be forgiven if you gave the album a miss based on this introduction track. Perhaps I am being overly harsh as the song would be genuinely enjoyable for fans of the band, but I fear new listeners may not feel the same way.
Head Over Heels begins with a lovely guitar introduction that continues throughout much of the song. One element you will notice on Midnight Oil is the extended soloing. While some may not appreciate this showmanship, I find it to be suited to the songs and the overall sound of the album. Also of note is the layered instrumental backing. While it does force Garrett's vocals to be somewhat hidden in the soundstage, it is perfectly executed and my subjective feeling is that Head Over Heels is one of the strongest songs on the album.
Dust is a really interesting song. It is punk rock meets jazz. I know that sounds strange, but when you listen to it, you will understand what I mean. There is a distinct jazz fusion inspired feel to the song that is strangely compelling. The album wouldn't be complete without it and it is another highlight from this self-titled release.
Used And Abused speeds the album back up to punk rock speed. Musically I thoroughly enjoy this song, but I don't feel Garrett's vocals were well executed on this song. As a result, I honestly feel that it could have been left as an awesome instrumental only track as the electric guitar work is once again glorious.
Surfing With A Spoon is a gorgeous track with a beautiful minute-long introduction. As I reflect on this song, I have to admit that the entire composition is a masterpiece that certainly merges punk-rock/pop with progressive rock elements. It is not only one of the best songs on the album, but one of their greatest.
While I have already discussed the album's only single, Run By Night, I feel it is important to note how well this song fits into the tracking of the album. There really isn't a song out of place on the entire album and Run By Night certainly grows on you the more you listen to it.
Nothing Lost - Nothing Gained is a sonic masterpiece that compels you to listen to the album again. In my opinion, it is the best song on the album with a perfect beat and gorgeous electric guitar riffs. It doesn't get much better than this as Garrett's vocal delivery is also perfectly suited for this song.
Midnight Oil is an exceptional debut release that should be in everyone's collection. It is currently available on CD, the TIDAL Store, and iTunes. Streamers can listen to the album on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Spotify, and Apple Music. For those of you interested in the vinyl release, you will have to wait until the release of the Deluxe Box Set as there has been no news about this album being re-issued separately. Depending on how successful the re-issues are, I would assume it is likely that these albums will also be released separately, in order to capitalise on the 2017 concerts, just don't quote me on it!
This review was based on listening to the remastered edition that is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi. While I have never heard the original release, sonically Midnight Oil is appealing and doesn't cause listener fatigue when listening on speakers. Headphones, by comparison, will bring you closer to the recording, but it does tend to present a shallower soundstage that is a little more jarring. This is most likely a result of the remastering process rather than the original recording. That said, I find Midnight Oil to be one of the few rock-based albums that can be enjoyed at any volume level. Seriously, try to listen to AC/DC at any volume below 60%. Yes, it's doable, but the experience is lacklustre. That certainly isn't the case with 'The Oils' debut release.
Overall, I find that I am enamoured with Midnight Oil and if this album is any indication, the box sets are going to be well worth the investment.