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Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells CD (album) cover


Mike Oldfield


Crossover Prog

4.11 | 1153 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars The original album in what appears to be an ongoing franchise was an odd piece of music even in the free-wheeling 1970s. And today it's no less hard to understand how such a curious mishmash of mood and style could have been a huge international success. A good deal of credit (to Mike Oldfield's chagrin, I'm sure) goes to William Friedkin, who wasn't yet familiar with the music of TANGERINE DREAM when he filmed "The Exorcist".

Approaching such an influential work with fresh ears might have been difficult, but here's a shameful confession: until recently I never actually heard the entire album, start to finish (the ubiquitous popularity of the thing was reason enough for a teenaged Prog Snob like me to shun it back in the '70s). So what's my belated first impression? There's a lot to admire here, but the album strikes me as nothing more than a novelty item: a one-man studio band of only loosely related themes and ideas, designed and organized for no other reason except to showcase the multi-instrumental prowess of the composer.

This becomes more or less explicit in the climactic passage of Part One, where each of Oldfield's instruments is introduced in sequence. Every addition to the short, repeated motif is identified by 'master of ceremonies' Vivian Stanshell, building in gradual layers to an ecstatic apotheosis of sound with the final appearance of the percussion named in the album's title. It's a dramatic finale, to be sure, but it properly belongs at the end of Part Two, where it might have provided a more fitting resolution to the album than the tongue-in-cheek "Sailor's Hornpipe".

Part Two (the original album did not employ sectional sub-titles) has to then re-engage the listener's interest from scratch, an easier proposition on a vinyl LP needing to be flipped over. This latter half flows together in a calmer, less thematically disjointed fashion, despite the comic relief caveman grunts (a comment by Oldfield on Neanderthal rock 'n' roll manners in the 1970s?) And then there's the unexpected nautical non-sequitur of an ending, recalling the soundtrack to an old AAP cartoon.

One thing is certain: record buyers must have been more adventurous back in the '70s. But in the long run the overwhelming success of the album might have done Oldfield more harm than good: he's been dragging it around like a gold-plated ball and chain for over three decades now. Still, it remains an essential artifact (for better or worse) of the era. And I can (now accurately) say no self-respecting Proghead should miss it, if only for historical perspective. Better late, so forth.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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