Midnight Oil – “Scream in Blue: Live” (1992)

December 31, 2009 at 8:20 am (David Fricke, Music, Reviews & Articles)

July 1992 Rolling Stone review by longtime Oil champion David Fricke…

 

Never mind the Puget Sound, this is real guitar nirvana: crisp, catalytic agit-twang, pregnant with steely menace, shivering with skittish vibrato and erupting in enraged screams of ice-pick feedback. Midnight Oil is well known for its eco-political agenda, but Scream in Blue – culled from live performances dating back as far as 1982 – is the first Oils album devoted to the band’s sheer, stampeding force.

Eschewing greatest hits (“Beds Are Burning” excepted) for enduring show-time fireballs like “Sometimes,” from Diesel and Dust, and the prophetic “Powderworks,” from their 1978 debut album, the Oils damn the popcraft and turn up the rage. Vocalist Peter Garrett, a daunting presence even in sensitive-ballad gear, has to fight hard to ride the tide of the band’s Live at Leeds-ish attack, in particular the vigorous dogfighting guitars of Jim Moginie and Martin Rotsey. He barely gets a breath in edgewise amid the torrent of flinty power chords, Rob Hirst’s mulekick drumming and the brassy choral hurrahs in “Read About It.” “Only the Strong,” recorded at a 1982 show in Sydney during the band’s first flush of super-stardom in Australia, is an archetypal Oils stage raver, spiked with stop-start rhythms and spooky a cappella harmony breaks, while Moginie’s and Rotsey’s guitars echo Garrett’s vocal psychodrama with their own saw-toothed howls of indignation.

The orange-flame incandescence of these performances will be nothing new to anyone who’s been torched firsthand at an Oils gig. Recent converts swung over by the more refined agitation on Diesel and Dust and Blue Sky Mining may be taken aback by the clatter of the damn-near-atonal opening title track and the desperate hammering of “Progress” (recorded at the infamous 1990 lunchtime protest show at the foot of Exxon’s Manhattan HQ), but they’ll get over it. The noise is contagious, and the sense of purpose coursing through it has its own locomotive tug. The album actually ends with an unlisted, acoustic studio reprise of “Burnie,” from the 1981 LP Place Without a Postcard, but don’t be fooled by the throaty introspection in Garrett’s singing. The theme, as always, is No Surrender, the only difference is in the volume. 

David Fricke

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