Midnight Oil: Armistice Day – Live At The Domain, Sydney [Album Review] 0 237

Midnight Oil
Armistice Day: Live At The Domain, Sydney
Sony Music [2018]

Fire Note Says: The “Power And the Passion” lives on with this new burning live set from Midnight Oil.

Album Review: One of the best bits of news early in 2017, was that Midnight Oil had reformed, and was planning a global tour, including 13 dates in the U.S. Although, Australia’s Midnight Oil had made a strong impression on alternative music fans in North America in the early 80’s with albums like 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and Red Sails in the Sunset, their commercial breakthrough didn’t come until 1987 and the release of Diesel and Dust, with it’s AOR hit song, “Beds Are Burning.” It’s unusual for a strongly political song to do so well on U.S. charts, even more so one about the abuse of aboriginal land rights in the Australian outback, but the song’s high energy guitars, undeniable beat, and sing-along chorus became a global anthem. The Oil’s led by singer Peter Garrett was often outspoken on other political issues, especially around the environment, and the band went on to further success around the world until coming to an end in 2002, when he decided to run for political office in Australia’s federal government, where he served in several roles including Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts. So the announcement that the band would play 77 concerts on The Great Circle World Tour, playing on 6 of earth’s 7 continents was big news.

Thankfully, after 14 dormant years, someone thought that they should film and record one of the tour’s final dates, not just for posterity but also for those of us fans who were unable to get to city they were playing (speaking personally). Armistice Day: Live At The Domain, Sydney, was filmed for release both on DVD and Blu-Ray, and there’s an audio version, a 26 two-CD set (from which this review was written). One thing needs to be said right up front: this does not sound like a band of elder statesmen who once played in a rock & roll band, but took 14 years off to pursue other interests, and just got back together for a nostalgia tour, and to make some extra cash to cover their retirement. No, far from it. Midnight Oil in 2018 sounds just as potent, energetic and relevant as they did when I caught them on tour a couple times in the late 80’s. If anything, drummer Rob Hirst and guitarists Jim Moginie and Martin Rotsey are attacking these songs with brutal force for a hometown Sydney crowd, as if to prove the point that this has always been a band that embodied the spirit of one of their best songs, “Power And The Passion.”

And given the long time off, it’s important to point out that this is pretty much the original 5-piece band, with the addition of bass player Bones Hillman, who came on board in 1987, and an additional backing musician, Jack Howard of the band Hunters & Collectors, who added keyboards, trumpet and flugelhorn, and didgeridoo on tour and for this show brought along the H&C horn section for tracks like “Power And The Passion.” That last one is the long, wooden “drone pipe,” a traditional instrument of the Aboriginal people of Australia, comes in handing on songs like “Treaty,” where the Oils are joined by guest vocalist Yirrmal, an indigenous Australian artist.

Recorded on Armistice Day, November 11, 2017, and released a full year later, appropriately opens with the Midnight Oil song of the same name, the global celebration for the end of War to End All Wars, WWI, which is celebrated in the U.S. as Veterans’ Day. All the bands hits are here, as you’d expect, “Beds Are Burning,” “The Dead Heart,” and “Dreamworld” from “Diesel and Dust,” the title track from that album’s follow-up, “Blue Skiy Mine,” and it’s other singles, “Forgotten Years” and “King of the Mountain,” and a few other songs that got airplay outside of their homeland, like “Truganini,” “Redneck Wonderland,” and “Golden Age.”

But, of course, like most bands, Midnight Oil is most-loved and most successful in their native Australia, where fans are far more familiar with their complete 11 studio album catalog, so lots of the songs, lesser known here, got a great response from the hometown crowd, singing along with Garrett on “Power and the Passion,” “King of the Mountain,” “Ships of Freedom” and “U.S. Forces,” which of course is a song protesting U.S. policies, the CIA and “bombs and threats.” In many ways, the social justice themes of Midnight Oil’s music is captured in the lyrics of “Warakurna,” which state that “there is enough for everyone,” and an acknowledgement that the very land that they live on really belongs to the indigenous people who were there before the Europeans arrived, which is true in many places of the colonized world. While there’s no spoken commentary on the audio, no doubt one factor bringing Midnight Oil back at this time in the world’s devolution, is to speak out about concern over climate change, and the growing influence of nationalism, in that sense this band’s music is as timely and important as ever.

But finally, like any other rock band, it’s the music that matters, and Midnight Oil delivers. Much of the time this band rocks, and rocks hard, as heard in the brutal riffage of “Redneck Wonderland,” the torrential bass line of “Stand In Line,” the dominating combination of Hirst’s driving snare beat, and the interwoven guitars of Rotsey and Moginie, but they keep things interesting throughout with artful additions like Garrett’s harmonica on “Blue Sky Mine” and “Truganini,” “Kosciuszko,” which starts off like an acoustic folk song but then is taken over by drums, or the lengthy piano break in “Short Memory.” In 2017, Midnight Oil was as vital as ever, and they’ve announced more tour dates for summer of 2019, evidently that “Power And the Passion” lives on.

Key Tracks: “Beds Are Burning” / “Blue Sky Mine” / “Power And The Passion”

Artists With Similar Fire: U2 / The Tragically Hip / INXS

Midnight Oil Website
Midnight Oil Facebook
Sony Music

– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Quincy Newcomb has found work as rock critic and music journalist since the early 80's, contributing over the years to Billboard Magazine, Paste, The Riverfront Times, and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Brian Q. Newcomb
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Stars: There Is No Love In Fluorescent Light [Album Review] 0 439

There Is No Love In Fluorescent Light
Last Gang Records [2017]


Who: Veteran indie pop band from Canada.

Sound: Indie pop with a heart and a head.

TFN Final Take: Stars is like a well-worn glove that is comfortable, reliable, but lacking in surprise or unpredictability. There is nothing wrong with that; they are still great at what they do. And what they do is construct a song, engage you, and give you space to reflect on what you’re hearing. My standout track is “Alone,” which has a chorus that stuck with me. The song takes its time to unfold and then slowly recedes into silence. “Real Thing” is another good one that throws an off-speed pitch for a chorus. Per usual, established fans will find a lot to like in the latest album and new fans will hopefully take advantage of Stars’ great catalog.

Stars Website
Stars Facebook
Last Gang Records

– Reviewed by Matthew Heiner

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Quincy Newcomb has found work as rock critic and music journalist since the early 80's, contributing over the years to Billboard Magazine, Paste, The Riverfront Times, and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Fallon: Sleepwalkers [Album Review] 0 409

Brian Fallon
Island Records [2018]

Fire Note Says: A surprisingly joyful outing, Sleepwalkers makes clear that while Brian Fallon is certainly interested in evolving, it’s not likely that he ever really will.

Album Review: Brian Fallon occupies a singular place in today’s rock and roll landscape.

Like fellow folk-rock travelers Dave Hause and Chuck Ragan, Brian Fallon is the former lead singer of a punk rock outfit with a cult following that survived the band’s heyday, and like any front man who strikes out on their own, he’s trying to find that musical sweet spot between nostalgia and progress; between what’s safe and what’s next.

But unlike his peers, Fallon has long been caught in a swirl of Springsteenian mythology and anticipation of rock and roll greatness; his evolution into the Next Savior of Rock and Roll ™ has been foretold by favorable critics for over a decade now. But after five records with The Gaslight Anthem, one with The Horrible Crowes, a rare EP with Molly and the Zombies and two solo releases, Fallon, now in his late thirties, has made one thing clear to detractors and champions alike: while he’s certainly interested in evolving…it’s not likely that he ever really will.

That hesitation is more apparent than ever on Sleepwalkers. It’s a surprisingly joyful outing, littered with light, jangly, up-tempo tracks, crunchy classic rock guitars and soaring organs, but even as the record emerges as Fallon’s most progressive and experimental to date, it doesn’t stray far from the consistent songwriting structures, blue collar themes and honest poetry that Fallon has dependably delivered for years.

As usual, he wears his influences right on his sleeve, tossing lyrical and thematic shout outs to classics like Etta James, The Beatles and The Clash alongside more contemporary artists like Florence and the Machine, Counting Crows and other familiar Fallon favorites along the way. He summons a vintage Jersey Shore Sound infused with soul, rhythm and blues and doo-wop; the warm organs and plucky, reverb-drenched guitars of “If Your Prayers Don’t Get to Heaven” and “Come Wander With Me” lend those songs an air of mystery and drama, while the percussion dares listeners not to tap their foot to the rhythm. A distinct, gospel and Motown-tinged vibe permeates nearly every track, binding them together to create an intoxicating environment of sound tailored for both somber reflection and shameless dancing; a record comprised of “melancholy songs that somehow [make] us feel a whole lot better,” as Fallon sings on lead single “Forget Me Not.”

On Sleepwalkers, as on each of his records, Fallon rarely strays from writing two types of songs: ones about the stories of struggling everyday people, and ones about the agonies of love and death. “Proof of Life” and “See You on The Other Side” are distinctly members of the latter camp, with “See You on the Other Side” finding the songwriter at his most lyrically vulnerable since The Horrible Crowes’ heart wrenching 2012 release Elsie. “And when we both grow old and there’s nothing left to say / I want you to know that I loved you all my days / and when we close our eyes on this lifetime / I’ll see you on the other side,” Fallon tells his lover, summoning the plain spoken ghost of Leonard Cohen to elicit the most complicated emotions with the simplest selections of words.

“Little Nightmares” is a bit of a fake-out, starting herky-jerky and disjointed before bursting into a thrilling headlong sprint that doesn’t let up until the song reaches its zenith. It’s followed by the title track, a genuinely bizarre brass-lead number that finds Fallon at his wackiest; there are few places fans won’t follow Fallon, but this track will push even his most loyal listeners to their limits as it unfurls like a needlessly beefed up B side from Tom Waits’ Closing Time or The Heart of Saturday Night. “Neptune” would be standard Fallon fare if not for the delightfully hokey bass-drums-and-organ main riff that throws the song out of its predictable rhythm and laces it with an unexpected, creepy fun. Cohen’s subtle lyrical touch again appears in spirit on “Watson,” on which Fallon croons “I worry when I get old I’ll be lonesome / chasing all the umbrellas in London,” lyric-checking The Magnetic Fields and treating listeners visual, evocative Fallon storytelling at its best and its least dramatic – an accomplishment for which this heavily romantic and typically indulgent songwriter deserves great praise.

But while Fallon’s lyrics are more poignant and restrained – and thus to greater effect than usual – Sleepwalkers, like its predecessor Painkillers, is almost unbelievably overproduced. Fallon’s best work is marked by abject vulnerability, honesty and rawness, and Ted Hutt makes many of the same mistakes Butch Walker did on Painkillers by smoothing over most of Fallon’s wonderfully rough edges. That being stated, it’s clear that Hutt’s instincts are a far stronger match for Fallon than Walker’s ever were, and overall, his approach encourages Fallon’s best habits, even if moments of real emotion are blunted in the process. It’s possible that Fallon would be best served in the future by working with a fellow punk traveler like Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace or Blind Melon guitar player Christopher Thorn, whose work on Chuck Ragan’s 2014 release Til Midnight captured all of Ragan’s raw strength and none of his weaknesses.

It’s not likely that Sleepwalkers will convert any new hardcore believers, but there’s more than enough feel-good rock and roll nostalgia, evocative writing and fun, finger-snapping rhythms to earn Fallon’s follow up a spot in any record player. Though Fallon may never end up meeting the soaring expectations adoring fans and favorable critics have thrust upon him, he has produced an incredible body of work in the meantime, and Sleepwalkers’ careful progress and safe genre experimentation lands itself a strong position in that discography.

Key Tracks: “If Your Prayers Don’t Get To Heaven” / “Come Wander With Me” / “See You On The Other Side”

Artists With Similar Fire: Dave Hause / Matthew Ryan / Jason Isbell

Brian Fallon Website
Brian Fallon Facebook
Island Records

– Reviewed by Dylan Gallimore

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Quincy Newcomb has found work as rock critic and music journalist since the early 80's, contributing over the years to Billboard Magazine, Paste, The Riverfront Times, and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Brian Q. Newcomb

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