Midnight Oil: Diesel and Dust (Legacy Edition)

Midnight Oil was the first band to teach me that a singer doesn’t need to sound polished, slick or appealing to be good. I could have learned that lesson from Bob Dylan, but the first Dylan performance I consciously encountered was "We Are the World". What an indictment on my generation.

The first time I heard "Beds are Burning", I thought, "Who the hell thought it was a good idea to give Peter Garrett a microphone?" Then my friends subjected me to the entire album, and eventually I gave in. The music was so urgent and awesome that I found myself championing the band.

When Sony Legacy remastered Diesel and Dust, I played it in excess all over again.

Diesel and Dust is a relatively uncluttered album. The band’s previous two efforts — their first international releases for a major label — were overproduced and experimental. Red Sails in the Sunset employed found sounds and synthesizers, never interfering with the band’s sturdy rock foundation.

But a tour of the Australian interior forced the band to say more with less, trading their electric guitars for a quieter tact. Diesel and Dust still sports some nice polish — the guitar effects on "Sell My Soul" are remarkably ethereal — but the arrangements were streamlined, the band’s performance focused on getting its message across.

That message can be easily summarized in the chorus of "Beds are Burning": "The time has come to say fair’s fair / To pay the rent, to pay our share".

The remastering of the album is wonderfully unobtrusive. Every snare hit and guitar riff gets boosted, but none of the original dynamic range is squashed. I wish the remastering of The Joshua Tree by U2 had been handled with the same care.

"Gunbarrell Highway", a b-side from the "Beds are Burning" single, gets tacked on the end of the disc, and it fits well with the original album. It doesn’t sound miscellaneous or half-baked.

The Legacy Edition also includes a DVD of the documentary Black Fella/White Fella, which I have to confess I haven’t given a spin. (Oops.) Yeah, I’m just too enamored with the album’s new sound.

If Diesel and Dust is one of your favorite albums, the Legacy Edition is a terrific upgrade. The remastered sound is terrific, and the songs sound as vital now as they did 20 years ago.