Back in December 1999, The Dead Heart came across the news on the official Midnight Oil Web Site revealed that the band was busy mixing acoustic performances from 1994 to be released sometime in mid-2000.
Last month, March, saw a further announcement on the site, as well as a number of band "friends" speaking up, regarding this development. The latest announcements revealed that not only were the band mixing material from acoustic gigs in 1994, but they were also to include material culled from the long sought-after Unplugged session recorded in April 1993. To top off the news, four new tracks are expected on the album - the track "Say Your Prayers" (released originally on the "Liberdade" East Timor benefit album, which came out in late 1999) and three other tracks recorded in the same sessions.
The album is reported to be titled The Real Thing, although no reason was given for it's title. (Rumours of it being sponsored by the Coca-Cola Company will no doubt abound...)
By late 1994, the Oils had been touring for quite some time. Earth and Sun and Moon had been released in the first half of '93, and the band had embarked on a huge world tour during that year. '94 saw more of the same, the world tour culminated in Europe around the start of September.
At this stage the band hit the road again for another few weeks on an "Intimate and Acoustic" tour. The band held a five-night stint at the Sydney Metro from Thursday, 29th September to Monday, 3rd October. From somewhere amongst those five nights songs have been selected for inclusion on The Real Thing. What songs were chosen is not clear yet. Assuming this album will be a single CD affair, there are a maximum of 75 minutes to play with here. About 20 minutes will be lost to the four new tracks, so we've got 55minutes or so to stuff with the acoustic material. I'm estimating that at least half of that time will be dedicated to the Metro performances - so we're looking at about 25 to 30 minutes of music.
I have no set list for any of the Metro shows, but it's highly likely that they featured half a sets worth of ESM material, and the other half the old favourites. (This is a guess based on other acoustic performances in 1993.) Regular run-outs were given to Warakurna, Blue Sky Mine, Forgotten Years, The Dead Heart, Beds Are Burning and Sell My Soul. The songs for Earth and Sun and Moon were recorded "live" and so were well suited to live performance, however there were a few regulars - Truganini, My Country, and In The Valley are notable.
The Unplugged Show was recorded in New York City on either the 16th or 20th of April, 1993 (depending on who you believe - MTV or the fans). It was first aired on MTV on June 3rd, 1993. Nine songs were broadcast as part of the show, 4 from ESM and 5 "classics", although there were in fact 18 recorded. The list below indicates what songs were performed - those marked with an asterisk (*) were broadcast on MTV.
The Unplugged Show is one in big demand. No official release of it was ever made, and as such copies of it can fetch a fairly high price. Bootlegs are available ("Emotional Truth"), and other bootlegs flaunt the Unplugged name possibly to draw in an unsuspecting buyer. The availability of Unplugged tracks on The Real Thing will no doubt serve to boost sales.
Amongst the broadcasted songs a couple of tracks particularly stand out. The Dead Heart featuring Adam Plack on dijeridu was an excellent rendition, and My Country was full of energy, however the most poignant track was without doubt the stripped-down version of In The Valley. Peter Garrett sang this to the accompaniment of Chris Abrahams at the piano (with some backing vocals later in the piece by Rob Hirst). This was a beautiful version of an amazing song, and undoubtedly deserves a place on the forthcoming album.
There's not much can be said of the new tracks. Say Your Prayers is an excellent track with a pounding rhythm. The brass accompaniment adds volumes to the song. The three other tracks scheduled for inclusion are a mystery to me at this stage.
I do have my reservations about the inclusion of the new tracks on an otherwise acoustic album. Unless they're toned down to fit the acoustic sound of the other songs it will take some ingenious work to prevent them from sticking out like a sore thumb. The fact that they will be studio songs mixed with live acoustic tracks does not help much either.
The Oils were playing a lot of great acoustic tracks at the time of the Metro shows, and while I'm glad to see some new material heading our way, I'd be happier with a full album of acoustic material. Maybe the band want to give us a double-CD affair. My personal preference would be to see a new EP (the first since Species Deceases in '85) of the four new tracks, followed by The Real Thing as a standalone album.
Regardless of the way in which this album is delivered, some things remain the same - it's fresh Oils, it's live material, and it's the Unplugged show. It's only been about 18 months since Redneck Wonderland was still fresh, but I'm longing for another release already. It'll be good to hear from the boys again.