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Mike Oldfield - Five Miles Out CD (album) cover


Mike Oldfield


Crossover Prog

3.70 | 399 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars Inspired by his own love of flying and then recent gaining of a pilot's license, Mike Oldfield returned in 1982 with an album loosely themed around his experiences in the air - thankfully not just the mechanical aspect of physically handling a plane, but the very emotion of flight and the spirit of freedom and adventure it may bring. While still unmistakably Oldfield with its rich variety of instrumentation, the entire album has a more contemporary stamp than 'QE2', mostly due to the presence of more hard-edge distorted guitars and powerful drums. By now the strong undercurrent of riffing bands such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath was prevalent in rock and very much starting to... let's say 'infect' the progressive musicianship of the '70s, and Oldfield did not escape. But he does integrate those stylistic elements extremely well, presenting them as a feature rather than a basis, and never letting them overpower the complete picture.

It's worth mentioning here near the start that the mastering of 'Five Miles Out' is very quiet indeed - both the original vinyl and CD releases, including the recent remasters. So don't forget to crank the volume up a good few notches more than your average listening level. Press play, and...

The album starts with the epic semi-instrumental 'Taurus II', a classic side-length Oldfield masterclass which effectively takes the ideology of his early '70s compositions and forms a new, modern translation. Brimming with energetic playing, the piece runs through a wealth of ideas in what is almost a forerunner of 1990's earth-shattering 'Amarok'. The album's primary motif - a strident sequence of distorted fifths - serves as a bold opening before giving way to the second motif, a fast and complex guitar pattern here accompanied by a symphony of rattling drums and percussion that surely even Bill Bruford would approve of. From the outset there is a mixture of passion, tension and trepidation, as Oldfield creates one of his traditional journeys through very specific, interlacing but often conflicting emotions - is Taurus a character study of himself? - yet there is also an undeniable sense of confidence throughout, like rising to the challenge of facing this whirlwind of thoughts. At one point after an almost festival-like section, complete with eloquent bagpiping, the track bottoms out into an unexpected vocal interlude - beautifully sung by frequent guest Maggie Reilly, this gentle refrain adapted from the melody of 'Taurus I' acts as a kind of calm before the storm, with intimate words of guidance and of parting. This is most effective in the final line, 'Here's a song to take with you...' before the voice is lost in the wall of sound. Later, a more electronic facet is also revealed through use of the vocoder - a distinctive voice harmonising device which Mike clearly enjoys playing with here and on 'QE2'. On this track, he doo-waps with the vocoder, and joined by stabbing brass synths manages to create a rare but genuine lighthearted moment. Onward through exuberant melodies and further fiery jams, 'Taurus II' ends in a triumphant crescendo, and in exhaustion fades away in ripples of what sounds like a backwards dulcimer.

'Family Man' is certainly the odd 'man' out on the album, very obviously an attempt to create a successful single, and firmly entrenched in the style of the time: a straight-up 4/4 beat, dry blocks of synth, playful samples of waterdrops, and a slick vocal by Maggie Reilly. The lyrics, too, draw the piece towards mainstream mating ritual territory - not to mention away from the theme of flight/travel! - telling the story of a married man fighting temptation in the form of one very determined hustler. All of that said, the song is nevertheless far from terrible, with a satisfying build-up structure complementing the narrative, and Oldfield's free-form guitar work constantly underneath to set it apart from the average pop outing.

The third track, 'Orabidoo', is subtle and mysterious - a good indicator of how different the 'Five Miles Out' album is from anything else. The opening segment is so delicate that it's in danger of being the worst casualty of the quiet mastering, but close listening reveals a magical acoustic guitar and tuned percussion duet which harks right back to Oldfield's early improvisational genius ('Tubular Bells', 'Hergest Ridge', 'Ommadawn'). The music is almost like a memory of those times, distant and nostalgic. Then the main part of the track kicks off, a breezy song with a considered beat built upon complex synth-flute arpeggios. Mike himself sings the lyrics about the sights of flying, but the singing is low in the mix and heavily disguised by vocoder, making it more of an instrument than a voice and contributing to the ethereal quality of this piece. The mood changes halfway when the album's second motif from 'Taurus II' enters the scene in a dramatic cycle, through various instruments and just about every scale! Unlike the title track coming up, this change does not evoke the sense of sudden danger or hazardous flight conditions, but rather a motivation to push forward or take risks, which in turn leads to an awesome, uplifting guitar-led climax. The piece closes neatly with the same acoustic sparkle as it started, with Reilly singing a farewell song to one of the best-loved views seen on the journey.

Sitting near the end of the LP, shy and unassuming, 'Mount Teidi' is a piece often overlooked being in the shadow of its neighbouring tracks, but after many years' listening it has come to be one of my all- time favourite Mike Oldfield tracks. An intricate melody (the likes of which you could only ever get from Mike Oldfield) is introduced early on and gradually gathers up backing and harmony from layers of synthesizers and rolling drums. The tricky interplay between the lead instruments, bass line and sequencer somehow creates a very unique, adventurous and spirited feel, which smoothly grows in intensity, and the visits from Mike's sustain guitar (at 1.27, for example) are especially affirming. Putting its full meaning into words, and even pinning down the style of 'Mount Teidi', is still beyond me - but it's a special four minutes indeed.

The title track closes the album, and is lyrically the focal point of the flying theme, a song about a mid- air crisis. Like 'Family Man' it can be taken as a standalone single, but this one is unashamedly progressive rock and much more representative of the album as a whole, adopting the first guitar motif from 'Taurus II'. Maggie Reilly sings again, sharing the vocals with a Mike/vocoder combo, and there's an impression of various characters: Mike as the troubled pilot crackling through his headset, and Maggie as the ground control eager for the plane's safe return. Again the track has a strong narrative sense, and manages to move convincingly through several changes in its short length, reflecting the chaos and adrenalin of the situation. It all ends with the fading sound of the engines, and the listener is left to wonder whether the plane makes it through or not.

Definitely Oldfield's strongest album of the '80s, and only a half star off for the incongruity of 'Family Man'.

ThulŽatan | 5/5 |


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