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Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells CD (album) cover

TUBULAR BELLS

Mike Oldfield

 

Crossover Prog

4.10 | 1147 ratings

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FloydWright
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Created in 1973, Tubular Bells is the contemporary of PINK FLOYD's Dark Side of the Moon, but while undoubtedly groundbreaking for its time in many ways, the album as a whole lacks the sort of timelessness of the PINK FLOYD album. This music is very pattern-oriented in the way of modern classical musician Steve Reich rather than relying on more traditional soloing. From a sound quality perspective, the mix seems very quiet and in some places the synths cause very odd effects, getting too buzzy for my taste, and sometimes even seeming a bit off key. On the positive side, I give OLDFIELD a lot of credit for being able to put so many parts together in synch with each other without modern technology at his disposal--it must've been a real accomplishment.

Part 1 is by far the strongest section of this album. To me this song seems to hang together very well as a long epic--it is generally upbeat in feel, but there is a creepy "Dies Irae"-like bit with some odd effects that I enjoyed for its change in mood. Another interesting aspect, unique thus far among the albums I own, is its reference to Chinese music, particularly in the way the mandolin is played. Throughout the whole album, that instrument is a favorite of mine. While I have albums with other types of Asian music, this is one I think is less frequently heard in the rock arena. The non-distorted guitar tone reminds me a great deal of the MOODY BLUES at times--very reminiscent of Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, and I'm not always a fan of it when it gets too prominent. Still, it's not as bad as the "distorted" guitar which seems too distorted to me.

It's odd how standard rock riffs can move in and out of this strange setting-their ordinariness makes it all the more striking, how it can go from "Moody Blues"ish into the totally bizarre. There are even some odd chord progressions around the 8-minute mark that I found myself wondering if they inspired prog-metal band OPETH later on. Odd connection? On the surface, yes...but when I talk about Part 2 it should make a tad more sense. Overall, while Part 1 doesn't seem to hang together in a "traditional" sense, the chorus repeats itself often enough that you still get a sense of cohesion. Uniting themes are there but must be carefully listened for at times.

The ending section of Part 1, where each of the instruments is singled out and brought forward in the mix, wouldn't fly today, but it's a neat curiosity to me, and I imagine it would've been mindblowing in its time to hear how the album was put together. I admit I'm impressed at how (for the most part) he was able to make the double-speed guitar sound natural. And it's also a nice climactic moment when the tubular bells themselves emerge in all their churchy glory. The choice to end with just the natural, acoustic guitar and gentle choir voices after all of that craziness is perfect.

The beginning of Part 2 is very relaxing, a bit reminiscent of how the Part 1 ended, and to my mind it's a plus that it's not too artificial-sounding. Unfortunately, the part around 9:30 where it intensifies a bit into a more orchestral sound starts to sound very fake and tinny. The timpani sound in particular is very dry, a la Berlioz in "March to the Scaffold". Without richer, more resounding elements, this wasn't the best idea. Still, has a good rhythm and drive to it as it gets more chaotic-reminds me of the kind of change SIGUR ROS did in the middle of track 8 on ( ).

However, this track has two major problems. First, the Piltdown Man.is that Klingon? It sure sounds like it. Is this the precursor to death-growls? Ironically, my complaint as a metalhead is that he needs to just go ahead and growl unashamedly like MIKAEL AKERFELDT of OPETH or something. The wolf-howl isn't bad, though. To me I keep feeling like the music during this Piltdown Man section, if that must be kept in, needs to be more intense and less MOODY BLUES cheery, more like it was before that section started. That guitar tone to me starts to border on country which starts to get aggravating..

After 16:30 or so, we get a PINK FLOYD-like journey with a Farfisa organ, rather like "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast" or the end of the studio version of "A Saucerful of Secrets", very calming once again like the beginning. Perhaps there was some sort of a direct influence? Had the album ended that way, I could've forgiven the Piltdown Man embarrassment. But no--there has to be a complete and total redneck hoedown at the end which didn't even fit the rest of the piece from a musical standpoint--it feels slapped on rather than well thought out as were the more intricate parts of the album. For that it is a severe disappointment. This album's really more of a 3.5.loses its 4 because of how many mistakes there are in the last song.

Looking at the credits, this was a one-man show. I give a lot of credit for managing that.though I think he could've used someone else's input or advice to stop him from doing the idiotic things he did that brought down the good parts.

FloydWright | 3/5 |

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