Released in 1987 (1988 in the US) Midnight Oil‘s Diesel and Dust was one of my favorite of the 1980s. It opened up both a sonic and political world that I deeply associate with a kind of popular coming of age, it is delivered with the earnest belief that music can change the world, and for that alone it was unbelievably compelling to 17 year old me. I talk a bit about the VHS tape of their impromptu performance in front of Exxon’s NYC corporate offices to protest the Valdez oil spill, a major event in 1989 and an environmentalist awakening for many a Gen-Xer I am sure.
But the major theme of reconciliation with the aboriginal population in Australia is the lifeblood of this album, and the attempt to not only wrestle but compellingly communicate this struggle and legacy of anguish is everything. It is far from perfect, but there is a spirit of anger and guilt, culpability and disgust that come across quite adeptly. And while bands like INXS, AC/DC, and Crowded House came from Australia, you got the sense from their music, much like Men at Work, that Midnight Oil was Australia—and unlike Men at Work they were mad as hell and weren’t gonna take it anymore!