Full Tank/Overflow Tank Midnight Oil Sony Watching Midnight Oil be born, shrug off their caul, flex adolescent muscles and grow to maturity, where they became the guardians of an unlikely mix of sweaty hard rock, social conscience, political rage and environmental fervour, is the stuff of a David Attenborough documentary. Or it might be, if you could pin them down to a single genus.
The mutations of a career that technically dates at least as far back as 1972, as documented here with a scrappy jam by a trio comprising teenagers Rob Hirst on drums, Jim Moginie on guitar and Andrew James on bass, and calling itself Schwampy Moose, have been many. Midnight Oil nerds, who are just about the nicest kind of nerd in the rock ’n’ roll stratosphere, have been licking their chops in anticipation at this box set of practically everything the band’s ever done.
For the entry price of $250 you get the full back catalogue: that, of course, is the starting point, and I recommend simply putting aside a weekend for a sequential listen starting with the 1978 debut “blue album” and finishing on 2002’s Capricornia, with a total of 11 LPs and EPs in between.
The band’s evolution is laid out sonically and, for listeners old enough, in vivid memories beginning with the beer barns of northern Sydney and the slaughterhouses of the classic Oz Rock circuit, heading through concert halls, arenas, deepest remote Australia and international acclaim.
It will also be a journey through decades of Australian history, of land-rights battles and imperialism, of the Wittenoom asbestos mine and debates about media ownership and control, and of singer Peter Garrett’s extraordinary career, from whirling dervish rock star to federal government minister and back. But for $400 you also get the Overflow Tank extras (separately $255), for which you will need at least another weekend. Here is pure gold: previously unreleased videos, including a fascinating documentary where British whiz-kid producer Nick Launay walks track-by-track through the making of the masterful album that, under his slightly eccentric stewardship, was the band’s breakthrough, 1982’s 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
There is much to dig into, across eight DVDs and four CDs: unreleased demos, classic concert footage, the historic 1994 Ellis Park concert in Johannesburg after the dismantling of apartheid, the traffic-stopping bandit gig atop a flatbed truck outside the headquarters of Exxon in New York, after the grounding of the Exxon Valdez tanker that filled Prince William Sound, Alaska, with oil. Rex Tillerson was at Exxon then, eventually becoming chief executive, and as the Oils return to perform sold-out US gigs on their Great Circle world tour, he is Secretary of State in an America threatening to collapse from within.
There will always be a need, it seems, for Midnight Oil and their urgent grasp of the world.