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Mike Oldfield - Music of the Spheres CD (album) cover


Mike Oldfield


Crossover Prog

3.04 | 210 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
2 stars Alas.

So MIKE OLDFIELD has turned his hand to writing music for an orchestra. It's a laudable ambition, tried again and again by rock stars, and every single time it's been a failure. But surely not OLDFIELD: he's a genius at composing and arranging compelling melodies. How could a combination of his brilliance and the grandeur of an orchestra possibly fail?

There ought to be a dictum printed on the foreheads of all successful rock stars: Adding orchestration to rock music is OK, but never, never, never even THINK of adding rock musicians to an orchestra!

I approached this recording with no little apprehension. At least he wouldn't fall for the trap of beginning the album with an orchestral version of 'Tubular Bells' opening theme, and thankfully I won't have to endure those once wonderful but now cringeworthy bells at the end of the last track. He's got beyond that, having remade Tubular Bells officially three times and unofficially at least ten. But what would he do with the vast palette provided by an orchestra - and two talented soloists? (One of whom went to school with my older son - go HAYLEY!)

Well, he under-uses the orchestra. His compositions are mostly tedious, sometimes worthy, but never great. He never masters the strings, let alone the woodwind and brass sections. The sections that work the best are those led by his guitar or the drums. And I'd thought he would be better than this: I've often argued with friends that OLDFIELD, of all musicians, would have the imagination to provide us with a truly beautiful blend of rock and orchestra. But no, it's almost all orchestra, and it's very, very thin. Classical-lite.

Here's another way to look at this. His 1977 album 'Incantations' made extensive use of strings and woodwind, with wonderful stabs of brass, but firmly in a rock music context - and it worked. This album, however, simply does not stack up against either the 'classic' orchestral works of the past or the current crop of creative classical composers.

And oh, he begins the album with the Exorcist theme. This is beyond cliche and into serious irritation. And it's reprised as early as the sixth track! 'Tempest' is quite good, the repetitive strings reminding me of his work on 'Incantations', as does 'Aurora' - except when it reverts to yet another reprise of the Exorcist theme. HAYLEY WESTENRA is under-used, but her guest slot is very sweet, as one would expect, and there are some truly beautiful harmonies late in the song. Harmonia Mundi promises much, but is interrupted by a pastoral version of - the Exorcist theme. Horrifyingly, the album closes with - I can hardly type the words - a rehash of the bells.

My disappointment is beyond expression.

It reminds me of a 'Goodies' episode in which they started a pirate radio station with only one record. No. 1 on their hit parade was 'A Walk in the Black Forest'. No. 2 was the B-side. No. 3 was 'A Walk in the Black Forest' played at 78rpm ... and so on ...

Two stars because I'm perhaps letting my disappointment override the sweetness and beauty of the album. But in my heart of hearts it's a one-star album.

russellk | 2/5 |


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