Sounds like an Ending: Midnight Oil, 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 and Red Sails in the Sunset
Last Day of School
Praise for Sounds Like an Ending
“I used to think I was some kind of Oils’ authority. Then I read this book. Glen’s the real expert. This is insightful and really entertaining.”
Jeff Apter, author of High Voltage
“This is intelligent, insightful and at times dryly amusing writing that does what the finest commentary should by brilliantly putting the music in the context of the life, times and events surrounding its creation and – most importantly – dragging you back to the recordings and songs armed with fresh insights.”
Stuart Coupe, author of Roadies
In 1982, Midnight Oil was a band in trouble. Their last album, Place Without a Postcard, was supposed to be their big breakthrough but it hadn’t worked out that way. So they found themselves in London, feeling the pressure of recording what was a “make or break” album.
Members threatened to leave, others had nervous breakdowns and the ANZ bank manager back home was sweating as he watched the overdraft he’d approved for the band get bigger and bigger.
If this album went the same way as the last one, it could be the end of Midnight Oil. Out of the crisis came 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1, an album that changed everything for the band. It entered the charts and stayed there for more than three years. They started playing bigger venues – and they were able to pay back the bank manager.
Two years later, they headed to Japan to record the polarising Red Sails in the Sunset. It managed to do what 10-1 couldn’t – give the band their first No1 album. But again the band found themselves facing the possibility it could all be over, courtesy of lead singer Peter Garrett’s tilt at federal politics. If he wins, the band loses.
In Sounds Like an Ending, journalist and author Glen Humphries takes a track-by-track look at these two albums and the times and turmoil that fuelled them. That includes wondering whether the 10-1 title was a sly dig at a certain Australian music TV show, finding out the stories behind some of the songs and explaining what’s really happening on the cover of Red Sails in the Sunset.
Read an excerpt
You know that feeling when someone puts down something you really, really like? That combination of shock and outrage, followed by a burning desire to prove to that person just how wrong they are how the thing you like is truly, truly awesome? Well, that’s where this book started. From a desire to defend Red Sails in the Sunset from those who were inclined to put it in the “Psst, this album’s a bit shit” pile.
Because those people are so misguided. Red Sails in the Sunset isn’t shit. Not even a little bit. While a lot of albums can feel dated due to being very much a product and a reflection of their time both sonically and in their subject matter, Red Sails still stands up today. It’s the sound of a band very much in their own bubble and doing what feels right for them, rather than trying to reflect what else is going on in the world of music. It still sounds weird, sometimes strange and gloriously different; unlike anything else that was released in the mid-1980s. The album has a sense of timelessness some of their other releases lack – it really could have been recorded at any time in the 30-odd years.
And yet there is hate for this marvellous release. Those in and outside the band view it as a mis-step in their career. How an album that gave the band its first No1 can be viewed like that is a mystery to me.
The authors of The 100 Best Australian Albums claim “the experimentation overpowered the songs”. In his recent book on the band, Michael Lawrence says it’s “an orgy of studio trickery” and gives album track Bakerman the only one-star grade out of the band’s entire recorded catalogue.
Even the band’s main songwriters seems to have little love for it. Rob Hirst said “it wasn’t nearly as focused as its predecessor”, while Jim Moginie says the Red Sails album sounds like a band short on good songs – “… we didn’t really have the goods”. Though he also acknowledges some people really like it so he wouldn’t put it down.
The band itself put Red Sails in the Sunset down with their next release. The four-track EP Species Deceases was designed to be the opposite of Red Sails; instead of spending an age in the studio, they went in and laid the tracks down in a few days. Even the short and sharp nature of an EP seems to be a backhander directed at the “studio trickery” of Red Sails.
And so I was inspired to do something to stand up for the Sails. I threw 10-1 in here as well, partly because these two albums are how I discovered the band and are still how I see the band today. The two releases are an undeniable pair – the band at its most expressive and experimental. Additionally, 10-1 provides you with a road map to show how the band got to the place to make and release Red Sails.
Sounds Like an Ending is available in both paperback and Kindle versions.
Australian readers can buy a paperback copy from me – signed by yours truly – via this Paypal link ($20 + $6 postage). Overseas readers can get it via any of the online retailers below.