Midnight Oil’s breakthrough in the United States came with “Beds Are Burning,” off Diesel and Dust. That’s a fine album, as are many in Midnight Oil’s catalog, but Red Sails in the Sunset is the album I reach for most often.
Sunset preceded Diesel by three years, and while both albums are excellent representations of the band, Sunset is rawer and a more interesting piece.
The album’s first track, “When the Generals Talk,” is a bit of an oddity due to drummer Rob Hirst taking lead vocals for the track. It is precisely what you want from alt-rock in the early 80s – a strident, angular, thrill-ride of a song.
The only cut that seems out of place, and could be lost with no harm done, is “Bakerman.” This cut is a frumpy, horny-heavy interlude that lasts less than a minute. It’s not so bad as to harm your enjoyment of the album, but it’s unnecessary.
“Who Can Stand in the Way” puts the album back on track. This one has a solid groove under Garrett’s critique of unrelenting progress, interspersed with a harsh synth and percussion sting, before closing out with a bit of acoustic guitar breakdown.
That leads into Hirst’s second track doing lead vocals. “Kosciusko” kicks off with energetic acoustic guitar before going into a full-tilt electric shuffle. In some ways, this reminds me of XTC’s Drums and Wires period, but with Andy Partridge’s “barking seal” voice replaced with Hirst’s more conventional delivery. The guitar and bass, though, would feel right at home in a lost track from the Drums and Wires sessions.
Sunset, like Drums and Wires has a ton of adrenaline to spare throughout the album. It also effortlessly glides between jangly guitar to string-sweetened crescendos within the space of a single song.
This is probably the first album I owned that also has liberal use of a didgeridoo on a track. “Helps Me Helps You” starts off with the trademark drone of a didgeridoo, joined with spare percussion and acoustic guitar accompanying Garrett’s slightly echo-y/processed vocals before the song moves into high gear.
Some of the critics slammed Garrett for being too earnest or serious, but I don’t see it. Impassioned, certainly, but his delivery is just what the material needs.
The album has its quirky moments that fully remind the listener that, yep, “this is an 80s album.” But it’s still fresh and interesting today. If you have Spotify, Google Play Music, or another service, fire it up today and have a little trip back down memory lane.