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Mike Oldfield - Heaven's Open CD (album) cover


Mike Oldfield


Crossover Prog

2.48 | 173 ratings

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5 stars Mike Oldfield's Heaven's Open record is an album that was heavily criticized when it was published back in 1991 due to diverse reasons. First of all, the artist had a couple of arguments with his then record label Virgin Records and recorded this last album for them in quite a hurry just to join a new label and release his long awaited "Tubular Bells II" record. One can hear several passages on Heaven's Open where the musicians criticizes his record label, for example when a female voice sings the following passage in the perfectly entitled opener "Make make" : "Mona Lisa, you can stop seacrhing, don't you know we're not Virgin". At another moment, one can hear Mike Oldfield mumbling the word "asshole" in the ending of the closing "Music from the balcony". There are though some other reasons why this album is maybe one of the most complicated ones in the large discography of the British multi-instrumentalist. Five out of six songs are rather short and less progressive as usual because they focus on quite catchy hooks. For the first time ever, the vocals are mostly performed by Mike Oldfield himself and he took singing lessons over several months prior to the recording of thie album. Many fans disliked this change of style and didn't appreciate the vocals. Concerning the only instrumental piece on the album, many people described it as being too chaotic, others felt it was too repetitive after a while. To make clear that the artist would break with his usual habits, he even released for the first and only time a record under his full name "Michael Oldfield" instead of the usual "Mike Oldfield".

I grew up with this record and have listened to this album many times of the last two decades and I have to disagree with the critics. It's by being completely different than usual, by radically breaking with his own musical past and by experimenting with more commercial sounds that Mike Oldfield happens to be more progressive as on many of his critically acclaimed releases. This album here comes as a big surprise from him. Each one of the six songs is quite unique and different and they all have their catchy moments you won't soon get out of your mind without forgetting about the artist's signature trademarks such as the charismatic guitar tones.

"Make Make" is the opener and first single of this release and the mixture of clean male vocals and dramatic female vocals in the pre-chorus works very well. The song is definitely catchy enough to grip your attention and still has some sound effects to sound different from a usual pop song.

The first true highlight though comes with "No Dream" that has a very calm and laid back atmosphere and shows a very versatile and probably the best ever vocal performance by Mike Oldfield. The emotionally driven guitar solos towards the end put tears in the eyes of any fan.

"Mister Shame" convinces with an amazing chorus featuring convincing clean male vocals and several female canon vocals in the background. Some sound samples, a couple of signature guitar chords and a pumping bass line make this song maybe the most energizing one on the entire record. The opening sequence is though clearly influenced by another mastermind of progressive rock music being Peter Gabriel which isn't a negative thing at all. The beginning in fact makes me think a little bit of Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" single or other tracks from his solo album "So".

"Gimme Back" is more of a laid back track with some truly danceable reggae influences. Instead of a chorus, one gets an epic and almost folk influenced melody that connects the different verses. Simple guitar licks, a lot of organ and keyboard sounds as well as a slow rhythm section make the whole track quite catchy. This track is maybe the most unusual song Mike Oldfield has ever written in his career and if his name wasn't written down on the disc one would not believe this song would come from him.

"Heaven's Open" is one of the most amazing tracks if not the best song that Mike Oldfield has ever written in my humble opinion. The track opens with an emotional piano melody and amazing guitar licks carry this song over four minutes and a half of pure magic. The vocals are perfectly imperfect and convince with pure emotions instead of technique. The lyrics are very spiritual or religious without sounding pretentious at all. The positive words perfectly fit to some enthousiastic string samples and clarinet passages that are integrated in this track. This song definitely has a very romantic vein, too. Let's also mention one of the most crazy and emotional guitar solos Mike Oldfield has ever performed that appears towards the stunning ending of this energizing masterpiece.

The final "Music From The Balcony" is almost twenty minutes long and features several passages that all come back after a while. I don't know if the title is influenced by Shakespeare but teh track makes me in some weird way think of the famous balcony part in "Romeo and Juliet" . The calmer passages could stand for the two lovers waiting for and seeing each other, the jungle sounds could be an interpretation of the surrounding nature of the garden and the heavier parts may be a hint at the more dangerous and emotional parts of that scene where the lover is close to get discovered by the approaching nurse. In the end, this is only a personal interpretation and maybe the artist wants to tell us something completely different but the fact that this song can lead to this sort of reflection proves how intriguing it is.

The whole track thing starts with some sound samples and very calm piano melodies before a hectical free jazz passage suddenly kicks off to interrupt the beautiful harmonies. These kind of sudden changes after hypnoting minutes of tranquility are frequently used and make this track probably more unpredictable than any other Mike Oldfield song before. After a while, a weird part comes along with jungle noises and some electronic samples that lead to a rhythm orientated passage dominated by some hectical guitar parts. Strange computer voices also appear from time to time. After a while a calmer part comes in that is interrupted by the previous hectical jazz parts that surprisingly lead back to the calm opening melody.

After that a more bass orientated part sets in and some big band passages come across after half of the song has passed. The whole thing leads to a more and more jazzy part with an amazing saxophone performance before the track goes back to the jungle part and the calm opening melody once again. Then comes another calm and introspective passage driven by a piano part, some string passages and a versatile drum performance before a more orchestral parts sets in. After this, we get back to the jungle sounds and the big band section.

Having passed three thirds of the track, a calmer passage sets in that is hectically interrupted by the agressive jazz parts once again and some heavy drum fills. This part plays once again a lot of the opposite tones of heavenly soft and hellish heavy moments. Towards the end, we get again a calmer passage build up around the opening sequence that leads to an epic ending where orchestral parts, emotionall driven guitar sounds and heavy drumming fusion with a big bang. The final fade-out leads us than back to the jungle parts with some hectic saxophone and bass clarinet parts that make me think of a hard bop performance which is a jazz subgenre.

In the end, we get a quite stunning, diversified and mysterious instrumental song over almost twenty minutes and five versatile but short and commercially orienteted songs on one of the most diversified records ever done by Mike Oldfield who took a lot of risks by releasing this album. Many negative critics should though give this album another chance more than twenty years after its release and take into consideration the difficulties around the artist and his record label that hevaily influenced this angry and offensive record that radically broke the habits. I have always been fascinated by the quite direct attitude of this album, by its honest emotionally driven energy and by its artistic courage and I still am today. In my humble opinion, this is the best record Mike Oldfield has ever done and the album is still in the top twenty of my favourite albums ever.

kluseba | 5/5 |


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