Jim Moginie, Alas Folkloric (EMI, 2006)

As far as I'm concerned, no rock band of the past thirty years has produced as much quality music as the Australian band Midnight Oil. Their combination of strong melodies, a tireless commitment to principle, and furious energy produced a series of great albums between 1978 and 2002. Almost all of the attention people have given to the band focuses on Peter Garrett, their tall, intimidating, opinionated, and profoundly unstylish singer who currently sits on the front bench for the opposition party in the Australian Parliament. But that paints a misleading picture, as the bulk of Midnight Oil's songwriting and the heart of their sound came from drummer Rob Hirst and guitarist/keyboardist Jim Moginie. With Garrett committed to politics full-time, the remaining band members have pursued other projects. Bones Hillman was last seen playing bass with Russell Crowe and the Ordinary Fear of God. (Yes, it's that Russell Crowe.) Hirst has a number of side projects, most notably The Ghostwriters, and he recently recruited guitarist Martin Rotsey for another group of his called The Angry Tradesmen. That has left Moginie to produce the first true solo album from any Midnight Oil member, called Alas Folkloric.

The album opens with the aggressive "All Around The World," with guest appearances from Hirst and Rotsey. Hirst's manic drumming gives this angry lament of the state of world affairs the feel of vintage Midnight Oil, but while it's one of my favorite tracks on the CD, I couldn't help wondering how this would have sounded with Garrett singing lead instead of Moginie. Otherwise, Moginie refrains from sounding too much like his former band. A number of the songs aim for an ambience reminiscent of many Daniel Lanois-produced recordings, most notably the beautifully eerie "A Curse On Both Your Houses." On the upbeat side, "Outer Space" is brilliant power pop with a psychedelic twist, and an obvious choice for a single. Despite clocking in at less than a minute, the turbocharged instrumental "Zero to 110" shows that Moginie can still rev it up with the best of them.

On the whole, Alas Folkloric is a very worthy effort from an elite musician whose contributions to some of the best rock and roll in my lifetime generally go overlooked. Moginie's voice lacks the confidence and polish of somebody more accustomed to singing lead, but it has sincerity to it and a distinctive character that serves these songs well enough. This album probably won't get a whole lot of attention here in the U.S., and I doubt Moginie and his backing band The Family Dog will cross the Pacific any time soon, but fans of quality rock should get to know Jim Moginie. At the very least, anybody who liked Midnight Oil should make the effort to get this CD.

As an added bonus, the version of Alas Folkloric I purchased includes the four-song 1996 EP by Fuzz Face, a project which featured Moginie and frequent Midnight Oil producer Nick Launay. This disc is over-the-top loud, which some listeners will enjoy a lot more than others. It's noteworthy in a historical context, because it reflects the sonic experimentation that Moginie would bring to Midnight Oil's 1998 CD Redneck Wonderland, the most musically challenging (and my personal favorite) of their albums. The opening song "Mr. Doomsday" is especially a keeper.

Overall grade: B+


topbeagle said...

Would recommend "Blue Sky Mining?"

smg58 said...

Would recommend pretty much everything of theirs, maybe not Breathe or Bird Noises as much as the others. But sure, Blue Sky, Redneck, Diesal and Dust, Species Deceases, that's all essential.