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Mike Oldfield - The Songs of Distant Earth CD (album) cover

THE SONGS OF DISTANT EARTH

Mike Oldfield

 

Crossover Prog

3.76 | 222 ratings

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russellk
Prog Reviewer
5 stars I don't know if everyone would agree that this album is progressive, but it is a masterpiece. It is also, sadly, MIKE OLDFIELD'S last great album.

'The Songs Of Distant Earth' is MIKE OLDFIELD'S fifth different album in a row, exploiting to the full his new-found artistic freedom away from Virgin Records' restrictive clutches. The album is inspired by Arthur C. Clarke's novel of the same name, but is much more than a soundtrack.

On this album OLDFIELD fuses sounds of the early 1990s to create the nearest thing to space rock he'd approached thus far. His influences ranged from the world music chants of ENIGMA (MICHAEL CRETU worked with OLDFIELD in the late 1980s) to the hypnotic beats and heavy sampling of the burgeoning techno/house scene, including the post-dance chill out room, which influenced much of his output from this point on. If such sources are off- putting to you, I would advise you to stay clear of this album. But if you're enamoured of early PORCUPINE TREE or mid-70s PINK FLOYD, this album will interest you and possibly enthrall you. Rising above the simple drum patterns and synths is OLDFIELD'S magnificent guitar, which has never sounded better, and once again recalls DAVID GILMOUR'S finest work.

MIKE OLDFIELD exploits his usual songwriting method of creating a few strong tunes and spreading them throughout the album, recalling them in various songs to give the album a sense of unity. This unity is augmented by the simple device of flowing all the tracks together. The first of the main themes is found in 'Let There Be Light', a beautiful track replete with luscious vocals, including a boy soprano. As an aside, you might want to check the gorgeous and enigmatic video that accompanied the track on the enhanced CD: it's available to view on this site (I can no longer get my copy to play, as my hardware no longer supports it). If you enjoy this track, you'll like the album. 'Supernova' is as described: a series of explosions set to music. 'Magellan' borrows, of all things, JOHN BONHAM'S world-destroying drum beat from 'When the Levee Breaks'. Somehow it works in this space-rock context. 'Oceania' and 'Only Time Will Tell' are two parts of one eight-minute piece, possibly the highlight of the first half of the album. Of note is the pulsing single guitar note that connects the two parts: it ought not to work, but like everything OLDFIELD tries here, it does. 'Prayer For The Earth' telegraphs OLDFIELD'S obvious ENIGMA connection, using as it does a Saami chant.

The album then steps up a gear. 'The Chamber/Hibernaculum' is a superb piece of music, the pseudo-Gregorian choral work magnificent in any context (and again reminiscent of ENIGMA), but simply breathtaking surrounded by such a rich accompaniment. 'Tubular World' reworks the original 'Tubular Bells' theme for the nth time, and this is the very best of them all, with the rhythm and samples building until the tune becomes a beast. But for me the album's highlight is 'Crystal Clear'. A gentle guitar-driven tune is followed by the countdown from a hypnotism recording, which OLDFIELD uses to launch into a magnificent guitar solo reprise of the song's main theme. MIKE OLDFIELD'S guitar solos are not full of arpeggios and technically difficult fingering: instead, like GILMOUR, they are lyrical, simple and above all effective, bringing a tear to the eye and a chill to the spine. This is one of his best.

'Ascension' summarises the album's themes, and brings the record to a climax in the OLDFIELD style, followed by the world-music denouement 'A New Beginning'.

This is one of the best space rock/New Age albums out there, and should be listened to by anyone with an interest in the genre. It's very much a mood piece: put it in your CD player if you want to chill out, not rock out.

russellk | 5/5 |

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