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Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells III CD (album) cover

TUBULAR BELLS III

Mike Oldfield

 

Crossover Prog

3.38 | 147 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Best Oldfield work since QE2

Forget the people braying about Mike releasing yet another Tubular Bells brand album because this has little to do with the TB brand. Except for some brief snippets of the original themes to qualify it for the TB marketing department, this is a creation of new and beautiful songs that stand on their own better than any Mike release since the early 80s. I will start out by saying that my cynical side would have thought "there's no way Oldfield could make an album this good, this late in the game." Well, he proved me wrong.

Mike has done the seemingly impossible here. He has crafted a highly commercial album with elements of new age, dance beat electronics (stay with me here), pop, and rock. I normally would prefer real drumming to programming as much as the next progger, but here the elements chosen by Oldfield work beautifully in unison, producing a stunning album that is emotional, sophisticated, and polished. Unlike some of the truly unmemorable works Mike has sprung since the early 1980s, here he appears to be really trying to find the magic. And he does. Gorgeous, fluid guitar leads both electric and acoustic are peppered throughout most songs. Melodies are highly memorable and sound very well constructed. Beautiful, moving piano sections are featured as are the most haunting and lovely female vocals. The much decried Ibiza dance beats Mike was obsessed with at the time not only don't spoil the party, rather they succeed in giving TB3 a certain exotic, rather seductive touch. For this is a vastly different offering than some of Mike's long instrumental excursions or trial and error experiments (like Amarok). This one is concise and measured, accessible, and yet satisfying.

The music is oddly comforting and spiritual somehow, while the sections with vocals have a very haunting, timeless passion about them. Amar's vocals in pieces like "Source of Secrets" and "Jewel in the Crown" are very beguiling to me, like siren song. With Oldfield's perfectly executed guitars playing off these vocals the result is spectacular. Not only are the songs good but he pays attention to the flow of the album, with big exciting beginnings and endings, and natural sounding transitions from mellow to energetic in between. A bit of new age does enter the picture here but not nearly as much as "Song of Distant Earth." Whereas that album could put you to sleep TB3 offers enough excitement to keep you going, in fact it out and out rocks in some parts. He absolutely wails and crunches in tracks like "Outcast" and the different guitars are so carefully layered and blended that it's a joy to deconstruct the various parts, yet there is still passion and fun in what he's doing. "Serpent Dream" is one of the finest short solos Mike has ever done, alternating from an ethnic flavoured acoustic bit to a thrashing electric "serpent" which transitions perfectly into Rosa Cedron's heartwrenching vocal for "The Inner Child." (The live version can make you cry with its beauty.) When her vocal climax marries with Mike's galactic lead lick it just slays me. He brings it back to Earth with a delicate nylon string guitar. "Man in the Rain" truly is a "Moonlight Shadow" clone to the point of sounding like a slight reworking, yet it only adds to the box of charms---he just can't derail himself here as he has on past works. More nice instrumental work follows with the piano on "Top of the Morning" and the spaced out "Moonwatch." The climax of the album called "Far Above the Clouds" is quite clever with a young child almost recreating some kind of 2001 experience of discovery which brings us back to the inevitable tubular bells.

I would say that if you can deal with the programmed use of percussion and you've enjoyed Mike's past work, you should love this beautiful album. If you really dislike such programmed beats then it may wreck things for you, but again, I typically don't either and I still thing TB3 works beautifully. It's not the kind of material that needs a powerhouse human drummer. The only thing that improves TB3 is seeing the live DVD concert of the album, which is even better than the studio album because it breathes more and the performers are amazing to watch. I urge you to set aside your preconceptions that the "TB" title brings to this project and think of it as a stand alone project---I second Easy Livin' that this album is one of Mike Oldfield's finest recordings, and perhaps his very finest since the 1970s. But if you can only approach this album via comparisons to the original Tubular Bells you may well miss the boat. 4 1/2 stars.

Finnforest | 4/5 |

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