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Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells II CD (album) cover


Mike Oldfield


Crossover Prog

3.57 | 292 ratings

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5 stars And here it is: MIKE OLDFIELD phase three, all fresh and shiny and with a new record company ready to promote him. Ironically, Virgin had hounded him for more than a decade to produce a sequel to 'Tubular Bells', but he held out, having become increasingly angry at their treatment of him. WEA were the happy recipients of what must have been a marketer's dream. For once the buying public got it exactly right, for this is even better than the stellar original.

Every note here is crafted with loving care: unlike 1973, MIKE OLDFIELD had the time and the money to make it sound exactly the way he wanted. And even before 'Sentinel', his reworking of the famous opening theme, is half-finished, you know he's got it exactly right. Smooth as cream, deep as a well, cool as cavewater. His guitars never sounded so good. The timbre of his acoustic makes me want to weep, and his crying electric fills each track with pathos. TREVOR HORN helped produce the album, and his legendary behind-the-desk ability makes this an audiophile's treat.

This is not a copy of the original. He finally did that in 2003. This is a free reinterpretation, with each piece reflecting the mood of the original, but the tunes and rhythms altered or even completely different. Here we have a decade's worth of creativity sandwiched into one album. Individual tracks are given names here, giving the various parts a personality, and he's polished each one until it shines. 'Sentinel' begins with nice but nondescript piano - a tease, everyone's expecting the famous notes - and here they come. But the track is much more than just the piano theme. He drenches it in the most beautiful liquid guitar, with ominous chords filling the background. Female vocalists - just the right side of cheesy - guide us through the track, along with bass with a vibrato sound straight out of CHRIS SQUIRE'S notebook. We even have our first sighting of the famous bells, underlining the climax to the track. Oh yes. This is real music, not just a money-making exercise.

'Dark Star' increases the tempo: for those familiar with the original, you are suddenly reminded of this album's derivation. 'Clear Light' expands on 'Sentinel's' themes, a gentle exploration until the three minute mark when the bells return, reminding us again who is the king of musical grandeur. The track finishes with another example of his skill with bending notes until his guitar weeps. The minimal 'Blue Saloon' reinterprets the blues section of the original record, another welcome change of pace. 'Sunjammer' is the heavier guitar section, here rendered with real power. The main theme returns, heralding the final sequence ...

A 'Red Dawn' heralds the climax with shiny acoustic guitar and excellent ethereal female vocals from SALLY BRADSHAW. The finale follows the pattern of the original, but with a different bass rhythm and main tune, making this a much jauntier, more upbeat affair. ALAN RICKMAN (of Professor Snape fame) acts as MC, introducing the various instruments as they get their turn to play the tune. Partway through the listener realises there are at least three separate tunes blended together to make this music - shades of MOZART. The digital sound processor is the only misstep. The tubular bells, when they arrive, are spectacular: clearly OLDFIELD has put a lot of thought into this moment of musical catharsis: he raises the intensity again and again, then finishes with a snappy rhythm and a last burst on that masterful guitar before bringing us gently back to earth.

OK, you've got the message. This album is a stunner. But the original 'Tubular Bells' had an achilles heel: side 2 was too ambient for most tastes. OLDFIELD addresses that here, and I find I prefer this side to that which has gone before. 'Weightless' is a simple repeating harmonics pattern with wordless vocals and that weeping guitar, and what follows is moment after moment of emotional discharge. I could list them all, but suffice to say that throughout the eighties we got one moment per album: here we get one moment per minute. 'Weightless', 'The Great Plain' (a wonderful celtic theme played on a banjo!) and 'Sunset Door' (an oh-so-delicate shimmering tune of lilting, break-your-heart beauty) are all magnificent, but surpassed by the bagpipes on 'Tattoo'. Bagpipes cane be the best or worst of instruments; here they shine. Goosebump territory. 'Altered States' is cheesy, but so was the caveman section on the original. The album flows to a gentle finish, the shimmering guitar of 'Maya Gold' bringing us to 'Moonshine', a kick-the-heels banjo romp.

This record couldn't be any more different to his previous album, which was itself diametrically opposite to 'Amarok' before it. Clearly OLDFIELD is enjoying the taste of freedom, and his music benefits. And the album to follow is every bit as good ...

If your idea of great music is blood and death, don't buy this. I enjoy a good romp amid the gore myself on occasion. But if you want to hear heavenly beauty transcribed for your ears, this is the place to go. The cheap synths and sub-standard pop of the eighties is gone, replaced by this shining thing. Welcome back, Mr. OLDFIELD.

I'm angry about one thing. Virgin's poor dealings with OLDFIELD delayed this landmark of creativity by a decade or more. If only they'd played ball, we might have been given so much more ...

russellk | 5/5 |


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