Stacks: Midnight Oil – “Back on the Borderline”

I wrote about the strangely forgotten dance rock band Midnight Oil for Stacks:

Perhaps the greatest document of what made them so special is Oils on the Water , the name given to a televised concert from Goat Island in Sydney Harbor. This show, from January 13, 1985, is peak Oils, with frontman Peter Garrett at his most strident and the band at their finest balance of pop hooks and punk fury. The setlist is mostly from their best album, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and it’s only slightly lesser follow-up, Red Sails in the Sunset. It’s a veritable pre-Diesel and Dust greatest hits; “Best of Both Worlds”, “When the Generals Talk”, Kosciuszko”, U.S. Forces”, “Power and the Passion”, “Don’t Wanna Be the One”, “Read About It”, “Short Memory”, and “Back on the Borderline” all made it onto 2012’s Essential Oils.

Picking a track from that killer line-up was incredibly difficult. “Short Memory” is one of my all-time favorite Oils tunes, it’s constant pulse and haunting keyboard line the perfect amplifier to the horror of Peter Garrett’s litany of mankind’s atrocities. Pairing similar moods of music and lyrics was one of Midnight Oil’s common approaches; the other was not to amplify their screed but to contrast the sweetness of the music against Garrett’s polemics. for example, the sweet and catchy music is a fine foil to the imperialist message of “U.S. Forces”. Regardless of the compositional style they chose to employ, the common thread of Midnight Oil’s music is that they almost always get the head bobbing or the body moving. Rare is the artist that makes you want to dance while the world burns.


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