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Mike Oldfield - Hergest Ridge CD (album) cover


Mike Oldfield


Crossover Prog

3.95 | 619 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars With the intensity of the spotlight on him, after the phenomenal 'Tubular Bells' Mike Oldfield retreated into the English countryside; now acknowledged, financially liberated, but far from healed, and with much more music to make. At this time he would create his second masterpiece, 'Hergest Ridge', again born from the depths of both his wonder and fear of life, but this time tempered with moments of pure peace and serenity. This review is based on the original release, thus far only available on vinyl, and not the slightly inferior 'Boxed' remix which is featured on all CD releases.

The album opens abruptly with the sustained chorus of pipes, an eerie, almost magical sound that introduces the listener to the piercing consciousness of Oldfield, built upon by the tinkling of percussion before the main melody of the record emerges. The theme is a strong one, optimistic and self-reinforcing, very much a tale of time, and goes on to be explored through some of Oldfield's most gentle instrumental changes. Through waves of horns, then acoustic guitar, the piece floats along majestically with a solitude and clarity that just seems to drag in the 1976 remix, before reaching a stark moment of upset, and then back to peace in a simply beautiful acoustic guitar/oboe/trumpet section. Here, around the middle of part one, you know you are listening to something truly unique and intriguing when the flow crashes down into a pulsing bass riff and ripples of bright synthesizer which create an atmosphere of mystery, curious searching. Effortlessly, this drives further on into the long climax of the first side, which builds with the festive leisure of sleigh bells and dreamy pipe organs, before the final, exultant, choral reprise. The piece ends fading in the way that it began, the pipes this time having the distinct echo of farewell.

Part two's subtle introduction showcases Oldfield's superb acoustic guitar picking style, in what is quite a delicate, mournful passage. After a short time, however, confidence is found, and the strummed guitars start to take over, as if embarking on a journey, told by a new melody of surpassing, overcoming. This becomes emphasised by the choir, which again was too thick and present in the mix on 'Boxed' but here drifts quietly beneath the other instruments with a natural reverb. In much the same way as part one, uncertainty awaits this journey, as the main theme returns on a lone organ and the piece shifts into darker territory once more, with uneasy staccato organ playing and that searching flute. Unexpectedly, this erupts into the power chord frenzy of what Mike's fans know as the 'thunderstorm' section of 'Hergest Ridge'... this is an extended, relentless struggle of layered distorted and fuzz guitars; frustration and stress but with firm timing, suggesting that there is still a measure of control and defiance within the chaos. At last, as the storm just becomes unbearable, the album returns to one final serene chapter of acoustic guitar, strings and choir... a summary, and perhaps a reference to a future time that looks back on all that has gone before. The last moments of 'Hergest Ridge', however, as the music slowly dies away, are discordant and bleak, before a very deliberate close.

This album still ranks as one of Mike Oldfield's finest achievements - surpassing 'Tubular Bells' - full of rich emotion, unique texture of instrumentation, and extremely gifted performances. This is music of a quality that sadly is not really made anymore, and must be heard to be understood. He was to sing on his next album, "so if you feel a little glum, to Hergest Ridge you should come" - and while it is not all hope and light, it is indeed the clear sound of truth, of home.

ThulŽatan | 5/5 |


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