May 2, 2008 / 7:43 PM / 10 years ago

Aussie rockers Midnight Oil dusting off old albums

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - If there’s a silver lining when a rock band breaks up, maybe it’s that the members have more time to contemplate reissue projects.

<p>The Australian rock band Midnight Oil pose in this publicity photo for their 1987 album "Diesel and Dust" and released to Reuters May 2, 2008. Guitarist Jim Moginie is leading an ambitious reissue project, beginning with the aforementioned album. REUTERS/Sony BMG Entertainment Music Archives/Handout</p>

This is the case with Midnight Oil, the politically inspired Australian rock band that enjoyed an unlikely international hit 20 years ago with a concept album about Aboriginal rights.

The band’s 25-year run ended after imposing vocalist Peter Garrett announced in 2002 that he was quitting to pursue a career in politics. The surfing skinhead is now a member of Australia’s new center-left federal government.

His comrades kept busy with various musical endeavors, but now guitarist Jim Moginie is leading an ambitious reissue project, beginning with the aforementioned album, 1987’s “Diesel and Dust.” The disc, which features the hit single “Beds Are Burning,” has been remastered, and a bonus track called “Gunbarrel Highway” appended.

The band also has included a DVD documentary of its 1986 tour of the harsh Australian outback. The trek, during which the musicians viewed first-hand the abysmal poverty of Australia’s Aboriginal people, as well as their cultural achievements, inspired the tunes on “Diesel and Dust.”

“When you think about us singing about dispossessed indigenous people, you wouldn’t think that would be a record that anyone would want to hear,” Moginie, 51, told Reuters in a recent interview. “But it turned out that they did. There’s hope for the world yet.”

The album, the band’s sixth release, went to No. 1 in many countries, and peaked at No. 21 in the United States. “Beds Are Burning,” which receives U.S. radio airplay to this day, hit No. 17 on the pop chart.

MUSICALLY PALATABLE

While the lyrics were decidedly forthright, “Musically, I think we managed to make it reasonably palatable and simple in a way that anyone could enjoy it,” said Moginie, who wrote or co-wrote most of the band’s songs. “It had a good beat, wasn’t too messy or complicated or ragged. It’s pretty focused.”

He said plans are in the works for a follow-up documentary that will retrace the band’s steps in such desert settlements as Kintore East and Yuendemu, which were both immortalized on “Beds Are Burning.”

“The same problems are still there,” he said. “The petrol sniffing’s still pretty rampant, same poverty.”

In the meantime, he is working on a reissue for iTunes of the band’s 1982 breakthrough “10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1,” which featured tirades against their compatriots’ political apathy, the American military and colonial arrogance.

Moginie and that album’s producer, Nick Launay, also have shot a documentary about the making of the album.

“We did find a bunch of cassettes with some demos on it,” Moginie said. “It’s really interesting to listen to. It was quite surprising.”

He hopes both projects will see the light of day within the next 12 months.

With Garrett rocking the halls of power, Moginie often gets together for writing sessions with drummer Rob Hirst and guitarist Martin Rotsey, and has “vague ideas about doing something in the future” with them.

But it would take a lot to bring one former Oils member back into the fold. Bass player Peter Gifford left after the band’s extensive touring to promote “Diesel and Dust.” He is now the Lamborghini-driving owner of a company that makes micro bikinis and lingerie, Wicked Weasel.

“He’s quite the ex-rock star actually, much more than the rest of us,” Moginie said. “We’re still chipping away at the coal face, whereas Giffo‘s, ‘Nah, nah. I‘m finished with that. I’ll just become a bikini millionaire.”’

Reuters/Nielsen

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