For me, Midnight Oil has always represented a slick, over produced sound of the 80s and early 90s that I’ve never been able to get on board with. For a band that has such strong views on such serious issues, the too-clean sound seems to contradict the raw, gritty message that they’re trying to convey. There’s nothing edgy about the super polished sound, with every single drum beat, guitar note and vocal cleaned up and engineered to within an inch of its life. And that overall sound, along with the bombardment of their music on the radio in my formative music listening and taste defining years, has always made me avoid them. But I also recognise the huge impact they’ve had on Australian music and thought it was time I gave Midnight Oil a go by giving their fourth album a spin, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
With Outside World, it’s like the Oils are trying to prove all of the above preconceptions correct and almost tell me not to bother listening any further. Everything is so precise and pristine, it’s hard to imagine real people played any of it. It’s also flat out boring.
Things really pick up though with Only the Strong. It has a bit more realness to it. The drums are a little less booming, the guitars actually have a hint of attitude and Garrett’s vocals have real power and passion… See what I did there?
Then comes the double shot of Short Memory and Read About it, two of the radio friendly unit shifters that were shoved down my throat so much as a kid, that I admittedly have no perspective on whether or not I might actually like them if I heard them for the first time now. They’ve just been too run into the ground for me to have any objectivity. The same can be said for US Forces and Power and the Passion when they pop up a few tracks later.
Scream in Blue sounds like it only exists because either Jim Moginie or Martin Rotsey got a new guitar effects pedal for Christmas and wanted to make sure they used it. That is, until it turns into a weird piano based crooner. This is possibly the farthest away from the kind of song I would usually like, but within the context of this album, its weirdness and the total surprise it gave me, make it possibly may favourite track on 10 to 1.
The weirdness doesn’t payoff so much though with Tin Legs and Tin Mines, which sounds like it’s straight from the original cast recording of the soundtrack to a terrible stage musical about some hot button issue.
So I’ve done it, I’ve listened to my first ever Midnight Oil album from beginning to end. I tried to approach it with an open mind. Really I did. But all 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 did was reaffirm all the negative things I’ve thought about the band over a lifetime of having them forced on me through radio airplay and best-ofs lazily thrown in CD players by friends of friends and old dudes.
It’s such a perfect encapsulation of an 80s sound I’ve always hated. I have a feeling though, that if I saw them play these same songs live, without all the layers of artificial perfection, I’d probably like them a lot more. Or maybe hearing them stripped down would just highlight how much lipstick was slapped on that pig in the recording studio. We’ll never know, I can’t imagine myself ever paying money to see Midnight Oil live. Have they even played live since the 2000 Olympics? I don’t care enough to google it.