Midnight Oil

[Powderworks] Breathe

pete mellor pete_mellor@hotmail.com
Fri, 17 Jan 2003 14:09:30 +0000

I found this review of breathe completely by accident when I was roaming 
around the internet.
I was trying to find out some more about Trina Shoemaker (the engineer and 
mixer for some of Breathe's New Orleans tracks and backing vocalist for 
Underwater) as she appears several times in my record collection. She has 
won Grammy's for her production of some Sheryl Crow stuff and worked alot 
with Malcolm Burn who has done some great stuff with Pattie Smith and 
Emmylou Harris and Bob Dylan. Then I found that the piano player on In The 
Rain is called Ethan Johns and is more than likely the multi-instrumentalist 
son of  Glyn Johns who produced many famous albums by the Who and such like 
and also produced Place Without A Postcard.

Small world.

Anyway, hope this review amuses. Breathe is one of my favourites and here's 
a reviewer who agrees.


I said I'd never listen to Midnight Oil again. Yes, their last album, Earth 
and Sun and Moon, was a great piece of pre-John Howard pro-republic, 
combined with enviro-passion and ever-growing spiritual consciousness. But 
even then, and certainly now, their political awareness (overtaken by the 
brilliantly bombastic political angst of Rage Against the Machine) and 
distinct lack of grunge or self-seeking angst surely left them with nothing 
to say to the younger, postmodern generation...

And that is how many critics dismissed Breathe, Midnight Oil's late 1996 
offering. But as Peter Garret sings on the album we live in an age where 
"the critic is king". I guess you have to have ears to hear-or ears not to 
hear-when the critics of popular culture are steering you from works of art 
in any discipline that may feed the spirit.

While Breathe won't appeal to the grungesters or the gangstas or the techno 
tripsters, those who can "open their ears" to this album's muted but 
nonetheless powerful message should do so.

Call it sacrilegious, but I have worshipped to "Common Ground" and "Time to 
Heal" as I've driven in my car-hands in the air, eyes closed. Now, of 
course, "if you worship and drive you're a bloody idiot", but, hey, I wasn't 
over the limit.

When on "Time to Heal" Garrett sings "where is the town that we lived in, 
brother, where is the sound of the church bell, sister?" in one sublime 
sentence he gets to the heart of the pillage of community which has occurred 
largely because of economic rationalism, and the crater in the Australian 
soul caused by our often irreligious outlook. It's the voice of the prophet 
crying succinctly in the wilderness.

Breathe contains a bumper crop of one-liners: "Where is the hope of a clean 
tomorrow? Hope only offers when justice is coming" - "It's hard to stay 
human and stay in the ring" - "Lift up your eyes, look to the heavens, could 
be a sign or a Seven Eleven, one day we'll see all the things they've been 
selling" - "The land lives longer if we listen to the earthbeat, our lives 
move forward if we listen to our heartspeak."

Gone on this album is the sloganeering and most of the anthemic thunder of 
'80s Midnight Oil. It has been replaced by a spiritual thread which weaves 
throughout, accompanied by a musical framework which throbs and undulates 
rather than crashes and clangs. This musical departure is due largely to the 
influence of producer Malcolm Burn (U2 producer Daniel Lanois's right-hand 

Environmental awareness remains a welcome factor on Breathe and a growing 
personal honesty, especially about spiritual matters, permeates the album. 
"In the Rain" and "Home" represent Peter Garrett's (if they were penned by 
Garrett, which one would assume to be true) most open discussion of his 
personal spirituality to date. While the rest of Breathe has a niggling 
pre-apocalyptic feel, these two tracks give room for a particular vision in 
this tenuous spiritual landscape.

On "In the Rain" Garrett sings: "Sorry I am for the hurt I caused. . .as I 
move freely to another place the debris I left behind comes back into my 
day. . .I plunged my hand into the motherload of love, in the rain calling 
on his name. . ." The song provides the individual platform of repentance 
that Breathe so subtly asks us all to consider.

The spiritual thread running through Breathe sews a garment of 
reconciliation: between God and humanity; humanity and itself, and humanity 
and the environment. And the second last "thread" of Breathe , a track 
called "Barest Degree", points to a master Weaver. The track appears to be 
written in the divine first-person: "Remember nothing you've been told, 
means anything to me, and everything you hold is mine in the barest 
degree"-could it be the Spirit of God, hovering over the face of a ravaged 
earth, whispering for his children to come home?

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