Midnight Oil frontman Peter Garrett has long been active in elective politics in Australia, and like any good politician, he knows that sometimes the most important thing is to get your message out to the masses, even it means speaking with a bit less force than might be your custom. While the hard edges and challenging angles of 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and Red Sails in the Sunset made Midnight Oil bona fide superstars in Australia, they were little more than a rumor in most of the rest of the world, and for their sixth album, Diesel and Dust, Midnight Oil made some changes in their approach. On Diesel and Dust, there's less in the way of bruising hard rock like "Best of Both Worlds," nothing as eccentric as "Outside World," and very little as esoterically regional as "Jimmy Sharman's Boxers," while the production favors the tuneful side of the band's songwriting (which, truth to tell, was always there) and buffs away some of the group's harsher edges. As a result, Diesel and Dust isn't an album for hardcore Oils fans, but as a bid for a larger audience, it was both shrewd and well executed -- it was the group's first real worldwide success, going platinum in America and spawning a massive hit single, "Beds Are Burning." While the album lacks the kick-in-the-head impact of their earlier work, Diesel and Dust also makes clear that the bandmembers could apply their intelligence and passion to less aggressive material and still come up with forceful, compelling music, as on the haunting "The Dead Heart" and the poppy but emphatic "Dreamworld." And as always, there was no compromise in the band's forceful political stance -- most of the album's songs deal openly with the issues of Aboriginal rights (hardly an issue pertinent only to Australians), and one of Midnight Oil's greatest victories may well be writing a song explicitly demanding reparations for indigenous peoples, and seeing it top the charts around the world. And the closer, "Sometimes," may be the finest and most moving anthem the band ever wrote ("Sometimes you're beaten to the core/Sometimes you're taken to the wall/But you don't give in"). Diesel and Dust is that rarity, a bid for the larger audience that's also an artistic success and a triumph for leftist politics -- even the Clash never managed that hat trick this well.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming