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Mike Oldfield - Hergest Ridge CD (album) cover

HERGEST RIDGE

Mike Oldfield

 

Crossover Prog

3.95 | 605 ratings

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thief
4 stars or, what happens when you're stuck in between two legendary albums.

Mike didn't fiddle about and quickly followed his landmark debut Tubular Bells with another tranquilizing record. Hergest Ridge, named after a hill looming over recently acquired cottage, clearly brings peaceful vibes to the table. The introductory theme succeeds in setting the tone for the album, with delicate interplay of whistled melodies, gentle glockenspiel and incredibly tasty mandolin lead. Slow, but consequential buildup culminates with solemn trumpet and reassuring guitar strumming. I like how Oldfield manages to pour out sweet melodies without sounding naive or self-indulgent. I believe the trick lies in timely placed contrasts, be it wailing guitar leads, uptempo sleigh bells or cloudy tubulars appearing in crucial moments.

I applaud Mike for improving compositional skills. I'm no expert on music theory, but transition between motifs is almost seamless and general flow is much, much smoother than it used to be. It's especially pleasing on Part One, where pretty much every idea comes at a right time, no filler, no hesitation. Fans of unraveling, self-referencing and "logical" pieces will surely like this one. Yet on the other hand, cohesion comes with a price - Tubular Bells is known for variety and numerous themes hiding around every corner. Hergest Ridge is also interesting, but obviously Mike didn't aim as high this time around.

You see, Hergest Ridge really conveys Herefordshire imagery, vividly painting grassy slopes, vast pastures and river valleys. Abundance of unplugged instruments and soft segments reinforces this picture, so even if I've never been there (admittedly), the music makes me think it's a calm place, sparsely populated and contemplative in its nature.

Part Two takes the same direction at first. One of my favorite moments comes 3 minutes in - that catchy, acoustic guitar melody accompanied by mandolin and female choirs, likely Sally Oldfield's work. For some reason it reminds me of Incantations, maybe the feel is somewhat New Agey. In any case, Part Two remains interesting throughout, but I have to single out that metallic, chaotic section at 9:30 or so. It probably depends on the mix and speakers, but the last couple of times I didn't enjoy it much, rather found it tiring and unimpressive. Especially the first minute or two - before guitar solo comes in - almost spoil Part Two for me. I'm all for sonic experiments, but some of them are destined to fail imho. Cacophony somehow gets "better" later on, but it's fair to say that section swallows up a big chunk of Part Two, as it ends at 15:00 or so.

Thankfully it all calms down before coda. That last bit of Hergest Ridge is very picturesque and emotional. Sally's vocal theme is brought back beautifully and symphonic tones shine so bright. As far as endings go, this one is decidedly more structured and rich than "Sailor's Hornpipe" from the debut.

It seems "structure" is a keyword to Hergest Ridge. Lavish melodies and explicitly British sceneries make this album more of an "Ommadawn's precursor" than "Tubular successor". Narratives aside, I believe it's a really precious piece of art, encompassing worlds of symphonic, prog, classical and even world music. Mike Oldfield moves skillfully between these genres, defining his unique style at the age of 20. Don't miss it, sit back, enjoy.

thief | 4/5 |

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