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Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells CD (album) cover


Mike Oldfield


Crossover Prog

4.11 | 1154 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars As much as it is tempting to be all revisionist and downplay the achievement of this album, it's only right that 'Tubular Bells' seminal influence on the progressive, folk, ambient and world music genres be acknowledged with a resounding five stars.

This oddity, comprised of two sides of instrumental music, one track per side, reached number 1 on the British charts and stayed in the charts for over five years, paralleling the success of PINK FLOYD'S 'Dark Side Of The Moon' - and, to me, it is every bit the equal of that much-lauded disc. There are those who argue that MIKE OLDFIELD is not a progressive artist, and he has been given the perjorative 'New Age' label. It's enough to note that within the first few minutes he makes use of timing in 15/8, 3/4, 4/4, and 7/8. By turns eerie, joyful, edgy and triumphant, the first side culminates in an eight-minute piece in which OLDFIELD runs through a tune using consecutive instruments, overlaying a building bass line. This dramatic conclusion is one of the premier moments in '70s prog, and is certainly one of the most well known. 'Plus ... tubular bells!' cries the announcer, and the bells ring in chills as OLDFIELD rounds off the first twenty-five minutes of music.

Like any dramatic piece of music, familiarity can breed contempt. It's easy after thirty-four years to forget the profound impact this music had on many members of a generation. When reviewing such a familiar and much-loved album, I try to listen to it with 'fresh ears': the act of writing this review has refreshed the sweep and grandeur of the music. I'm also aware of the album's sonic inadequacies, but these are more than corrected on the numerous remakes (including the 25th anniversary edition and the 2003 version).

Side two is pleasant enough, with long ambient sections sandwiched by some outstanding melodies not fully realised until the superior 'Tubular Bells II', but the reason to buy this album is the first side. One of the more difficult things about this album, and MIKE OLDFIELD'S music in general, is his offbeat sense of humour, expressed here in the grunts and screams of 'Piltdown Man.' OLDFIELD can't sing in tune, and this cheesy offering, halfway through side two, was the nearest he'd get to vocals until his third album. His prodigious talent on the guitar is showcased on 'Sailor's Hornpipe', the last section of the album.

So MIKE OLDFIELD found his voice, and a sophisticated and mature one at that, at the young age of nineteen. Of course, he'd been a professional musician for years before convincing Richard Branson to back this album, so this isn't really a first effort. But the enormous success of this record was, in an artistic sense, the worst possible thing that could have happened to this shy, reclusive man. I contend that he spent the rest of his career trying to emerge from the shadow of those damn tubular bells, and, of course, he never rediscovered this level of success. MIKE OLDFIELD will always be defined by this fifty minutes of music.

russellk | 5/5 |


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