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Mike Oldfield - Return to Ommadawn CD (album) cover


Mike Oldfield


Crossover Prog

4.07 | 427 ratings

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3 stars *Almost* four stars.

While Mike Oldfield has made many sequels to Tubular Bells, it took him 42 years to make the first official sequel to Ommadawn, his masterpiece. In many ways, this is the album we have been waiting for Oldfield to make for almost this long. It is structured into two 21-minute halves (labelled part 1 and part 2), just like his first three albums. And like those, it moves through a series of themes that build and shift, leading to minor musical climaxes. There is a lot to like about this album. First and foremost, we finally get to hear Oldfield play lots of guitar! (I really liked Music of the Spheres, but the one flaw with that album is the paucity of guitar solos. One has to go back to his 'Guitars' album to get this much guitar playing). Another thing I really like about this album is that it is not over-laden with instrumentation (which was a problem with many of his albums from 'Incantations' onward). Much of this album is quiet, allowing the guitar-playing to shine through. Also, unlike Tubular Bells II (which I just reviewed) this album is not a copy of the original, although it clearly refers to the original in a few places (see below). But overall, this music is new and original (unlike TB2, which is like a carbon copy of TB1 from a parallel universe). The sound quality is great, too, very clear. On the whole, a pleasurable listening experience.

On the downside, the music quality is mixed, and not all the melodies are that hot. I have listened to this album now about 10 times, and while my first reaction was very positive, over time the variability in quality has become clearer. So, this is not on par with the original Ommadawn, which for me has maintained its very high level of musicality. Part 1 (side 1) is the better one here. It actually begins with a theme and sound that could have come from Hergest Ridge, then moves into a acoustic guitar pattern that harkens back to, but does not mimic, the original Ommadawn theme. One of the better themes on the album is the one that starts with a repeated bass/electric guitar line of classic Oldfied at just before the 3 min mark (again, more akin to Hergest Ridge than Ommadawn), and taking us to just after 8 mins. After a few other themes, around the 13 min mark, a new theme beginning with African Drums (ala the original Ommadawn), some acoustic and electric solos, starts and takes us to just before 19 mins. This theme has background choir-vocals that are very similar to the original Ommadawn (indeed, they sound like the original Ommadawn theme sung backwards), and this section ends with a similar electric-guitar solo pattern to the end of side 1 on the original Ommadawn. This is the only part of 'Return to Ommadawn' that comes sufficiently close to the original that one could use the term "sequel". After that section, Side 1 ends with a very nice, quiet, flute/acoustic guitar theme. I would give Part/Side 1 8.1 out of 10.

Side 2 is the weaker half of this release. Many of themes sound like more mainstream celtic melodies, with pretty standard chord progressions. The theme that begins at roughly the 2 minute mark sounds like another Oldfield theme, but not anything on the original Ommadawn. I like the section that begins at roughly the 5 min mark, with the Irish/African drumming, the pulsing bass line and the electric guitar solos, lasting about two minutes. The themes that comes after repeat the ones that began this side, and stretch them out for much of the rest of the side (with a short acoustic interlude at around the 15-min mark). The album ends with a theme that is musically much more like the Sailors Hornpipe ending on the original Tubular Bells than the On Horseback section of the original Ommadawn. However, Oldfield briefly repeats the "Hey and away we go" children's-choir vocals from the original Ommadawn/On Horseback ending here, perhaps to make clear to the listener that this part is meant to remind one of that section. Also, at the beginning of this final section, we hear Oldfield say "on horseback? I would rather be HERE", apparently referring to his current abode on the Bahamas (the fold-out photos are of his backyard where he lives there). I personally wish he hadn't including this brief voice-over, as it seems to dismiss or at least put into doubt the original 'On Horseback' section from the original Ommadawn, and does so in an elitist way (how many of us can afford to live in the Bahamas?). But apart from that, the ending is actually not that musical, and the whole side has a few too many standard (major-key) chord progressions, making it more like 'Voyager' or his other albums from the 1990s/2000s. I give Side/Part 2 a score of 7.2 out of 10 on my 10-point scale.

Taken together, this is among the better Oldfield albums of the last 30 years. Just how does it compare with the rest of Oldfield's catalogue? Is it the best album since the original Ommadawn? Well, I went back and listened to his back catalogue to try and place this one. I think it is slightly better than 'Music of the Spheres' (which was his best album, in my opinion, since Amarok). It is better than 'Guitars', although it shares a lot of features with that album (but on 'Return' everything segues together, which 'Guitars' was missing/needing). It is better than 'Songs of Distant Earth', even though it is almost as new-agey. It is far better than any of the Tubular Bells sequels. It is better than 'Discovery', even better than 'Crisis'. I don't think it is better than 'Amarok', but it is close (Amarok, interestingly, is also a sequel of sorts to the original Ommadawn, although it is quite a bit more different from Ommadawn than 'Return'). However, it is definitely NOT better than 'Five Miles Out', nor 'QEII', both of which had more original and more compelling musical statements, even though both of those albums are among those over-laden with instrumentation. (And of course, it is not better than any of Oldfield's first four albums). I would place this somewhere around Oldfield's 8th or 9th best album (out of roughly 27 albums). On balance, I give this 7.6 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to high 3 PA stars.

Walkscore | 3/5 |


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