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


Mike Oldfield


Crossover Prog

3.73 | 282 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
2 stars It's one of the top-rated releases in Mike Oldfield's entire catalogue, on these pages scoring higher than even his seminal "Tubular Bells" (the 1973 original, and its many sequels / remakes). But to a more impartial pair of ears "The Songs of Distant Earth" is, as you might have suspected from the starry- eyed title, a tepid New Age concept album unlikely to sway anyone not already a confirmed Oldfield fan or apologist (who I assume contributed the most enthusiastic reviews listed here).

New Age music might be described as a sanitized degradation of the more daring cosmic voyages made by progressive-electronic pioneers like KLAUS SCHULZE and EDGAR FROESE, and Oldfield's 1994 album is a textbook example of its kind. The music shows the same cloying sweetness, the same numbing over-reliance on blissful synthetic strings and bland electronic rhythms, the same soporific arrangements (designed as if to facilitate a beginner's class in yoga stress management), and the same trite thematic embrace of pseudo-scientific cosmology.

The album was inspired by Arthur C. Clarke's novel of the same name, but despite a glowing endorsement by the author himself it's a long way from what anyone would call hardcore science fiction, not with softball New Age track titles such as "Lament For Atlantis", "Prayer For the Earth", and "Oceania" (the latter complete with meditative surf-and seagull sound effects). Clarke's original book had an intergalactic narrative set in the distant future, but Oldfield's interpretation can be heard as a soundtrack to the embryonic formation of the Earth, musically tracing the untold early ages of our planet from creation to civilization.

It's an ambitious concept to be sure, but hardly an original one: keyboardist JAN HAMMER followed the exact same thematic path, in less time and with more effective results, on his debut solo album "The First Seven Days", released twenty years earlier. Oldfield's album even begins with a similar reference to the biblical creation, borrowing from NASA the famous Christmas Eve broadcast of Apollo 8 in lunar orbit, a reading from the book of Genesis. And it ends with an African tribal chant, meant to (presumably) represent the ultimate arrive of hominids in Olduvai Gorge.

This last track is titled "A New Beginning", but its placement at the climax of the album suggests that the advent of humankind was the glorious apex of a 5-billion year evolutionary process: a particularly vile ethnocentric conceit in perfect harmony with shallow New Age thinking. Heck, the dinosaurs were around for tens of millions of years longer than we can ever hope to be, and if not for a stray comet striking the Yucatan Peninsula they might still be the dominant species on Earth.

Oldfield's music likewise offers nothing new, being too often reminiscent (if not downright derivative) of something VANGELIS might have written a full decade beforehand: listen to "Lament For Atlantis", or the song "Magellan", for proof. The music itself is often pretty, and sometimes effectively grandiose, but most of it is completely smothered under a too-lush and generic production job, for the most part erasing every trace of the human hands actually playing each instrument.

Mike Oldfield is clearly a gifted musician and composer (he typically plays the majority of instruments himself on all his albums), but you might never know it from music this sterile.

Neu!mann | 2/5 |


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