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Followup to Diesel and Dust is worthy protest rock
on October 18, 2003
The social and corporate protest of Midnight Oil extends to their followup to Diesel And Dust. However, the sound is kind of muted compared to that superlative work. The lyrics, however, have evolved in poignancy and speak volumes more than the other album.
Heralded by a wailing bluesy harmonica, "Blue Sky Mine" tells the story of a worker who has ethical, anti-corporate principles, "but if I work all day on the blue sky mine/there'll be food on the table tonight". More than that, the company deceives its shareholders by fudging the books. "Who's gonna save me?" cries the worker plaintively, but there is hope: "In the end the rain comes down/washes clean the streets of a blue sky town."
An aborigine can't believe that despite the hypermart malls, industrial technology, and ATMs, that he can see the "Stars Of Warburton" waiting for him. He wishes for buffalos, wallaby stew, sandstone cliffs, all hallmarks of his culture. Warburton is not only a town, but the name of an aboriginal reserve located in the east end of West Australia province.
An eerie sound reminiscent of Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight" is prevalent in "Bedlam Bridge". The instrumentation later picks up, but the title place is the gateway to "a place that knows no poverty/a town without pollution." That is in contrast to the upscale apartments, where one sees "the golden ghetto's creeper."
"Forgotten Years" has a strong guitar riff and pace bringing back the "diesel and dust", and it's a story how the older generation of aboriginals fought in World War II, lost the rights to their lands ("contracts torn at the edges/old signatures stained with tears") had it tougher than the younger generation, who have it easy. This is a call to never forget those years, "the hardest years, the darkest years/the roarin' years, the fallen years". The best song here.
The somber "Mountains Of Burma" criticizes "a government that has axes in its eyes" and hopes years of activism, from workers marching on May Day, to females fighting for equal pay, won't give way to complacency. What do we indeed do when "bills fall due for the industrial revolution"?
"King Of The Mountain" decry the destruction of land for the benefit of the sugar cane industry. There's a poignant verse of the destruction sung in rapid-fire punk anger: "I can't take the hands from my face/there are some things we can't replace."
The slow "River Runs Red" is downright depressing and condemns corporate ravishment of the land: "So you cut all the tall trees down/you poisoned the sky and the sea/you've taken what's good from the ground/but you left precious little for me." And the force behind it is the dollar. The song rises to a crescendo with the chorus repeats: "River runs red/black rain falls/on my bleeding land."
"Shakers And Movers" is a worrying but catchy Byrdsy song about what's done in the name of the "great god of development" Key line here: "Tomorrow's child takes concrete footsteps/and they'll drink champagne or be damned."
"One Country" is Garrett at his philosophical best. The song lines are mostly age-old questions that have been debated by intellectuals for years: "Who hands out equal rights/who starts and ends that fight" or "Who'd like to change the world", "Who gets to work for bread". And in typical Dylanesque style, he says "don't call me the tune, I will walk away." This hints that we have to figure it out for ourselves. But "One country/one understanding" is what it amounts to.
The narrator of the somber final track "Antarctica" is a snowplow that at one point says "There must be one place left in the world/where the skin says it can breathe/there's gotta be one place left in the world/it's a solitude of distance and relief."
Blue Sky Mine may not have the punch of Diesel And Dust, but that is replaced by more pressing concerns against the sugar industries exploiting aboriginal lands and environmental rapine that takes place in the name of the "great god of development." A great companion to Diesel And Dust.