First the commercial question. Midnight Oil had an unexpected hit in 1988 with ”Beds Are Burning,” a song from their last album that proposed that Ayers Rock, a sacred site in their native Australia, be given back to the aborigines. They’ll always be an impressive band, because of their blistering music, their political conviction, and even their look: Lead singer Peter Garrett (an ex-lawyer who once ran for the Australian Senate) is bald, gaunt, and gigantically tall. But is there anything in Blue Sky Mining that might match their past chart success?
The encouraging answer is yes: At least two songs, ”Bedlam Bridge” and ”Forgotten Years,” jump out with all the spark you expect from a radio smash.
But otherwise the album can be tortured and often obscure. ”Bedlam Bridge” seems to be a portrait of some unnamed city, uneasily poised between corruption and hope. Or at least that’s what I deciphered after squinting at the printed lyrics. And still I don’t know what many of the song’s disconnected images might mean.
Which is too bad, because the music is poetic in one important way the lyrics can’t match: It’s coherently poetic. It’s also rich, deep, and often bracingly severe. In songs that seem to be about the environment, you can all but hear the groans of the ravaged earth. You can hear the winds of Antarctica, the only continent (I think this is what they’re telling us) with unpolluted air. You even can hear rising voices of hope.
But then you keep stumbling over those lyrics. Midnight Oil, as always, is a band with grand ideas — which don’t yet seem to be fully born. B