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Mike Oldfield - Ommadawn CD (album) cover

OMMADAWN

Mike Oldfield

 

Crossover Prog

4.35 | 892 ratings

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ThulŽatan
Prog Reviewer
5 stars An extremely special album, where Mike Oldfield gathers all he had learned from his previous two works and somehow surpasses them both in this elaborate, dramatic, moving, and - quite frankly - perfectly executed masterpiece. As a child I was introduced to the final section of 'Ommadawn (Part Two)', the edit usually referred to as 'On Horseback', and while oblivious to the rest of the music that precedes it I found the song simply magical... a delicate madrigal straight out of another world of joy and freedom, imagination so natural to the young and so captivating to adults who can still remember it. From here, my love of Oldfield's music was born.

It all begins with a mysterious temple of pendulum-time bass, guitars and koto, with the grievous sounds of the organ and a subdued choir. It seems like an atmosphere of primordial meditation, and then emergence, signalled by the massive sound of the gong, as 'Part One' builds on its enigmatic melody and comes to life. The piece moves on into a festival-like section clearly influenced by his interest in friendly, traditional melodies ('In Dulci Jubilo', 'Vivaldi Concerto In C') and led by a guest player on recorders. Indeed, the whole album is enhanced by some superb playing from a much larger number of additional musicians than on his first two recordings, including his brother Terry and sister Sally. Halfway through the side, the music seems to 'restart' with a gentle new current that evokes a real feeling of peace through fluttering movements and a new twist on the main theme. And then, at 9.46 a key change marks the beginning of some of the finest music on earth... a miraculous electric guitar run brims with energy, confidence, overcoming, and leads the way towards the purgatorial conclusion of side one. Here, a hypnotic ensemble of African drumming drives forward a period of uncertainty and growth, ultimately to a terrifying main theme reprise that erupts in a fury of pounding bass, desperate choirs, screaming guitar stabs, and the chilling clang of tubular bells. The piece was described by Oldfield as a way of forcing his emotional 'rebirth', and with focused listening these moments of primal, vital urgency can certainly be heard, before at long last the struggle is won and the drums find themselves alone, petering out into time.

The terrain of 'Part Two' is no less intriguing, starting boldly with a veritable sea of overdubbed electric guitars, all strumming and trilling in unison to create an impenetrable sense of weight, travail, pushing onward. The clear tones of pipes eventually cut through and allow the piece to fade slowly into restful contemplation, as light acoustic guitars wander sparsely and freely. This calm is fortified when Northumbrian bagpipes enter and cast off a song of long, lazy notes, which reaches a satisfying, measured conclusion before the piece veers off into a more sorrowful passage. Oldfield's searching acoustic guitar accompanies a beautiful lead pipe here, setting up a bridge of longing and transformation in a spacious, ethereal style similar to that which opened the album. Then, to mirror the powerful rhythm found at the end of the previous side, the African drums quickly return with a beat equally as energetic, this time providing solid backing for an exuberant guitar solo. The climax of side two, this section stands not as a wild purge, but as a celebration. There is then a few moments of complete silence to reflect, before the enchanting acoustic guitar melody of the horse song comes in. Mike himself speaks the verses in his frail voice, recounting simple perceptions of both the everyday and perhaps something deeper, and then sweeps in with an anthemic chorus about the freedom of riding away from it all on horseback. The sentiments are uncomplicated and even childlike on the surface, echoed by the children's choir in the last chorus repeat, but the beauty of the music, and the passion with which Oldfield commands his instruments, is as strong here as on the rest of the album. His classic soft electric guitars harmonise behind the vocals, tuned percussion tinkles away, and the background is awash with rich synth strings. Capturing an atmosphere that's quite unique, this segregated conclusion to Ommadawn is one of truth found through hope and sadness, trial and simplicity.

Once again, Mike Oldfield knits together a whole spectrum of ideas drawn from the extremities of his personal experience, but this time manages to achieve more overall coherence than before. Through a greater complexity of emotions and perceptions, and continued inspired performance, the album presents some gripping material of immense power, and like 1990's 'Amarok' stands as a creative peak for this instrumental genius.

In my world, it would be a crime not to own and cherish this recording.

ThulŽatan | 5/5 |

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