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Mike Oldfield

Crossover Prog

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3 stars WELCOME BACK MIKE!! We've missed you. :)

For any fans of Mike Oldfield specifically, you can stop reading right there without any spoilers and with the knowledge that Mike's long drought is over. I can't tell on a handful of listens if this record is truly as good as Incantations, Tubular Bells II or III, but I can tell you that it's definitely a contender, though probably not for the throne unless you really love classical music. There will definitely be some people for whom this is THE Oldfield album, though. It's at least good enough for some hardcore fans. This album contains Mike's most thematically complex work in a decade. Yes, it is classical music, but if anything the classical has submitted to Mike, not changed him. It's certainly prog-influenced, with many of the tracks showing classical arrangements that are very unusual for classical, average for prog, and typical of the old Mike himself. I'm sure Mike will be at least as annoyed as Vangelis to hear his sound described as "typical" anything, and I for one wish he would realize that his "typical" sound is as unique and precious a sound as one man can possibly have.

Karl Jenkins has also been subsumed by Mike. The vocals on this album show influences similar to Adiemus many times, though Mike's put more of a classical polish on them than Karl would usually pass along to the new-age crowd. What's more interesting is that Mike seems to have tapped into Alan Silvestri and David Arkenstone in spirit in a few places. I devour classical film soundtracks ravenously and I admit this album threw me for a bit of a loop hearing some of these instruments used in a distinctly non-Hollywood fashion from time to time. It was refreshing.

There is a subtle, one-too-many-times-through-the-sound-processor pall hanging over this album that put me off a bit on my first listen. It's nothing as bad as the digital timbre of "Songs of Distant Earth" which is by the way my favorite Mike Oldfield album (just beating Amarok). Thankfully that disappears very fast when the themes themselves command your attention. I was going to give it a 3.5, however while writing this review I realized it's definitely better than that so I'm going with a 4. I reserve the right to change my rating upwards later. ;) More than anything else I'm positively giddy to have several Mike Oldfield themes stuck in my head again for the next couple of days. It's been too damn long.

I'll go into more detail on each of the tracks below. If you are a Mike Oldfield fan I know of your taste for discovering his works on your own and I'm warning you not to read these spoilers - you'll have a lot more fun if you go into this without knowing what to expect.


First Movement

Harbinger brings us a new cousin of the Tubular Bells theme, and lets us know that this album is undoubtedly Tubular Bells IV, in spirit at least. It's rather nice to hear this theme come full circle back into the medium that inspired it originally. Mike develops this from piano, incorporating trumpets, big bass drums, resonating and impatient strings, before yielding to classical guitar offset with excellent harp work. Through the middle of the track a definite Hollywood influence creeps into the music whenever the trumpets and cellos kick in. The end of the piece finishes up in a calm, quiet place like something out of an Alan Silvestri movie (think Forrest Gump). We get two or three solid variations on the new Tubular Bells theme before the end. This is easily on par with Tubular Bells II and III.

Animus is a much more somber affair at first, painting a beautiful landscape of strings over which dances a deep cello, a classical guitar, and a series of haunting vocals. A sudden surge strikes in the middle, with thunderous piano and those Hollywood influences out in force again, restating several of the variations from Harbinger and developing them further. It winds down into a gentle bridge into Silhouette, which picks up one of the more subtle themes and gives it a well developed, slow, sure run on classical guitar, strings, harp, wind and piano. Much of this reminds me of the finale of Voyager (Mont St. Michael) in structure and execution. The final statement of Silhouette is a beautiful, almost march-like theme played on clarinet. Mark that clarinet theme as the first one I wish had been continued and developed more than it was! (Now I know it's a Mike Oldfield album).

Strong strings carry us on an earlier theme from Harbinger into Shabda, Achingly beautiful flute and guitar continue more earlier variations on the Tubular Bells IV theme (too many for me to keep track of with so few listens). The first of Karl Jenkin's influence appears towards the end of this track, bringing the sound of Adiemus into the works for Mike's true first crescendo. It's over far too quickly, a tease at best.

Hurried, disorganized, and chaotic sounds appear now, rudely cutting the prior voices short. At last, Mike is shaking up what's on the table to see what falls out. The strings are busier than they've been in ages. Some brilliant classical guitar works its way into the mix. The Hollywood sounds appear for a moment and are instantly subsumed by the urgency around them, disappearing into Mike's style with a touch of humor. A triumphant new theme emerges on the trumpets, epic enough to be in any film or play at the Olympic games, but it cannot quiet the chaos, so it settles for drowning it out (and shaking your speakers). Tempest abruptly falls back into another Alan Silvestri moment, which is clearly the eye of Mike's storm at this point.

A reprise of Harbinger restates the original theme, almost daring us to guess where it will go next. Darker, this time, much more sinister in notes and instruments, with some vocals. The trumpets take over again and we are treated to a theme not far off from some of Danny Elfman's better, darker works.

A stately finish leads into On My Heart, the first vocal number. This must be Hayley Westenra, and she has a very lovely voice, singing in an opera-tinged style reminiscent of a Hollywood musical. I daresay this comes about where "Moonlight Shadow" fits in Mike's compositions, and it's a vast, vast improvement over his other efforts at vocal interludes. It fits perfectly as a bridge between the two movements.

Second Movement

Aurora opens with the kind of energy that tells you Mike's got an idea that excites him. Urgent, bright strings set the background for the opening, and the finest masterpiece of music on this album. This particular arrangement is every bit as good as anything in Mike's catalog, but reminds me most of Amarok's last movement. Karl handles the curve balls Mike throws his way here admirably. A flute joins, followed by strong classical guitar, trumpets, and more vocals, strings, and horns. Layer upon layer of music builds precisely in Mike's finest style. Another Alan Silvestri moment breaks through to give you a moment to breathe, and the vocals a moment for a fantastic but subtle reprise of themes from Harbinger and Animus. Mike Oldfield fans would be justified picking up the album just for this second movement because it finishes just as strongly. This theme WILL get stuck in your head (and put a sh*t-eating-grin on your face for days if you're an Oldfield fan).

The segue into Prophecy is somewhat sinister, like the tragic second movement of a musical. Trumpets give way to mournful strings and vocals, which serve as the backdrop for some interesting and complex piano work towards the end. Strings and trumpets take over in full force, developing the main trumpet themes further before dropping down into low strings for the reprise of On My Heart. Hayley's vocals carry the piece well with the barest accompaniment of strings.

Harmonia Mundi picks up the bright tone again, repeating what at this point has almost become the Hero's Theme variation. Flutes again restate the darker themes, but with a brighter hopeful tone, leading into more of the Adiemus-inspired vocal work. The classical guitar makes another appearance here. I'm reminded somewhat of Midsummer Night's Dream by Steve Hackett. High pitched piano then takes us into The Other Side, where Mike briefly channels David Arkenstone's better medieval tendencies. Empyrean breaks into full Olympic style, setting the stage for the finale. David Arkenstone's sound really shines through here, rolling drums and all.

Musica Universalis again brings back the urgent strings as Mike introduces a new theme for the finale. The Tubular Bells finally make their inevitable appearance, The buildup is fantastic, culminating in the Hero's Theme and a climax worthy of any classical soundtrack I've heard in years. Another calm Silvestri moment tinged with pianos seals the deal and wraps up Mike's best album in over a decade.

Another good sign. It's too damn short. Why can't I get a double-cd packed to the brim with music this good? /sigh

Report this review (#149786)
Posted Friday, November 9, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars I am one of the few PA members who treads gently when discussing this legendary yet obviously challenged prog giant. I have such respect for this colossal wizard who did so much to bring prog into the mainstream and who, rightly or wrongly, kept the faint glow alight when music was patrolling the abyss of artistic morass. Yes, it's true there are a couple of very tepid releases in this man's massive discography (Tres Lunas, Guitars, Heaven's Open, Islands, Millenium Bell and that masterful pop album Earth Moving). Yes, he has stretched those tubular notes and that damn chord progression and milked for all its worth (it should have been the earth to alien message in Close Encounters). No one can ever accuse him of not TRYING to dabble in other styles (seemingly with mixed results) and "Light + Shade" wasn't as bad as some have judged it but all that is in the past. 2008 starts off with "Music of the Spheres", a massively orchestral interpretation and distant relative of his own cosmic classic, the "Songs from Distant Earth", one of his better recent records. If you like movie soundtrack music, than this is Oscar winning material (not that it means anything). This is music of the universe (Holst, Coltrane, Stockhausen, Absolute Elsewhere, Tangerine Dream's Alpha Centauri) that has no synthesizers, no electric stringed instruments and no drums, relying on the Sinfonia Sfera Orchestra, Mike supplies his distinctive classical guitar playing with guest performances on grand piano and lead vocals. Recording was done in Abbey Road studios and led by former Soft machine guru Karl Jenkins. There are 2 suites, the first starting off with the aptly named "Harbinger" a nice entrance with sweeping orchestrations where timpani and percussion, strings and brass collide, with that distinctive piano motif again. "Animus" shuttles in Oldfield's expressive picking with delicate fragility, majestically escorted by some elaborate piano cascades, the Sinfonia providing the grandiose backing. A very nice piece indeed and from now, on the tracks will flow like a musical river, "Shabda" introducing vocal choir work that has epic stamped all over it, "The Tempest" suggesting the power and fury of celestial explosions, with Mike's evocative instrument firmly in the spotlight and a reprise of the opener to finalize the voyage . Out of the left window, you can hear the brief but planet shattering "On My Heart" with a vibrant aria by Hayley Westenra that is an album highlight. The second section begins with "Aurora", a bright vocal driven violin accented arrangement that has a huge choir presence, "Prophecy" hinting at a more Middle Eastern theme, perhaps even a tad biblical if possible, with the piano taking on the solo spot (Concert pianist Lang Lang), a clever reprise of On My Heart" and then a relaxing foray into "Harmonia Mundi", where oboes, bassoons and horns collaborate in harmony with Oldfield's guitar, another highlight. "The Other Side" is dark, bleak and very brief until the "Empyrean" fanfare arouses the plebs, trumpets ablaze, flutes and assorted brass serenading the arrival of "Musica Universalis", the final and longest piece. This 6 minute recap simply highlights what this album is about: a classical orchestral symphony with occasional piano, vocal and acoustic guitar. Oh, a dash of tubular bells to remind everyone who and what this is. At least, no one will trash this as prog-pop fluff. Three luminescent orbs and a half-moon.
Report this review (#164663)
Posted Saturday, March 22, 2008 | Review Permalink
Queen By-Tor
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Musica universalis.

The ancient theory that every celestial body has an inner music. On this album, Mike Oldfield takes that train of thought and applies it to his already spacey music to create this piece of work. Mike (in the liner notes) claims that this album sounds like what it would sound like to release the music in all the Moons, stars and Suns in the universe. Excellent for a guy who writes long instrumental voyages to come up with a concept like this and base an album around it, but the challenge becomes if he can actually write something colossal enough to justify being compared to astral bodies. Enter the Sinfonia Sfera Orchestra, an astral body in itself of over 50 people to back Oldfield in his quest. This is the Music Of The Spheres.

Right off the bat we can notice the orchestra kicking right into something that sounds almost like the opening to Tubular Bells as part one of the album starts with Harbinger. Almost unfortunate is the fact that it seems like Oldfield was so concerned with conducting the orchestra he's left his guitar laying by his side, which we won't get to hear from very noticeably until his first solo segment in part c of part 1, Silhouette, in which he's accompanied by a soothing piano as he plays a softer part of the song.

It would be tedious both to read and write a second by second review of the entire album, so I won't. However I can sum up the album pretty quickly. What this sounds like is a very well organized orchestra playing a number for a large audience in a theater fronted by Mike Oldfield waving his arms in the air at the more cataclysmic parts of the songs and occasionally busting out the guitar for a couple soft moments. So all you out there looking to hear Oldfield rip on the guitar are in the wrong spot unfortunately, but assuming that most people will like the orchestra, then this album might just perk up your ear.

The style that always comes to mind when I listen to this album is a soundtrack for something of fantasy like a movie or video game. This is actually a good thing in my books, because the music is actually pretty easy to follow along with, and thanks to the two long segments of the song (something like he did back in the Tubular Bells/Hergest Ridge/Ommadawn days) being broken up into even shorter segments the album seems to flow a bit better as the tracks just blend into one another while still maintaining their own unique segments.

Standout parts of the album include the opener Harbinger the apocalyptically-folky Tempest, the jumpy Aurora (if this were a soundtrack it would be used just outside a town as the journey begins) and the coda Musica Universalis which brings the album down to a fine point by expressing the theme of the entire album in one track. The longest track on the album, Musica Universalis is another reminder of Oldfield's glorious 70s days and becomes a blend of the sound unique to this album while bringing over some familiar themes from Tubular Bells. The song starts to really pick up around the middle mark until it slows again and prepares for the song's climax right near the end. And then it's all over.

Mike Oldfield has constantly evolved as an artist over the years and this latest offering shows him at a dynamic point. Working with a full on orchestra to create music that is attempting to sound like astral bodies. Does it work? Yes and no, the album doesn't have any full on segments that reach stellar heights, but it does manage to keep an even pace and likability that makes the album worth while. Recommended for people who don't mind when Oldfield lays down the guitar for a bit and anyone who likes to hear an orchestra at the command of the great composer who is Mike Oldfield this one gets 3 stars. Good! But not essential by any means.

Report this review (#165548)
Posted Wednesday, April 2, 2008 | Review Permalink
2 stars Alas.

So MIKE OLDFIELD has turned his hand to writing music for an orchestra. It's a laudable ambition, tried again and again by rock stars, and every single time it's been a failure. But surely not OLDFIELD: he's a genius at composing and arranging compelling melodies. How could a combination of his brilliance and the grandeur of an orchestra possibly fail?

There ought to be a dictum printed on the foreheads of all successful rock stars: Adding orchestration to rock music is OK, but never, never, never even THINK of adding rock musicians to an orchestra!

I approached this recording with no little apprehension. At least he wouldn't fall for the trap of beginning the album with an orchestral version of 'Tubular Bells' opening theme, and thankfully I won't have to endure those once wonderful but now cringeworthy bells at the end of the last track. He's got beyond that, having remade Tubular Bells officially three times and unofficially at least ten. But what would he do with the vast palette provided by an orchestra - and two talented soloists? (One of whom went to school with my older son - go HAYLEY!)

Well, he under-uses the orchestra. His compositions are mostly tedious, sometimes worthy, but never great. He never masters the strings, let alone the woodwind and brass sections. The sections that work the best are those led by his guitar or the drums. And I'd thought he would be better than this: I've often argued with friends that OLDFIELD, of all musicians, would have the imagination to provide us with a truly beautiful blend of rock and orchestra. But no, it's almost all orchestra, and it's very, very thin. Classical-lite.

Here's another way to look at this. His 1977 album 'Incantations' made extensive use of strings and woodwind, with wonderful stabs of brass, but firmly in a rock music context - and it worked. This album, however, simply does not stack up against either the 'classic' orchestral works of the past or the current crop of creative classical composers.

And oh, he begins the album with the Exorcist theme. This is beyond cliche and into serious irritation. And it's reprised as early as the sixth track! 'Tempest' is quite good, the repetitive strings reminding me of his work on 'Incantations', as does 'Aurora' - except when it reverts to yet another reprise of the Exorcist theme. HAYLEY WESTENRA is under-used, but her guest slot is very sweet, as one would expect, and there are some truly beautiful harmonies late in the song. Harmonia Mundi promises much, but is interrupted by a pastoral version of - the Exorcist theme. Horrifyingly, the album closes with - I can hardly type the words - a rehash of the bells.

My disappointment is beyond expression.

It reminds me of a 'Goodies' episode in which they started a pirate radio station with only one record. No. 1 on their hit parade was 'A Walk in the Black Forest'. No. 2 was the B-side. No. 3 was 'A Walk in the Black Forest' played at 78rpm ... and so on ...

Two stars because I'm perhaps letting my disappointment override the sweetness and beauty of the album. But in my heart of hearts it's a one-star album.

Report this review (#165566)
Posted Thursday, April 3, 2008 | Review Permalink
2 stars I'm always interested in hearing Mike Oldfield's newest material, because I do love the way he plays guitar, secondly because I credit Tubular Bells as the album which helped me awaken to music and consider it more than just background ambience, and most importantly, as with any brilliant musician, there exists a chance that he will recapture his past creativity, or even more excitingly, excel himself and progress into new territory. Alas, this album holds no surprises.

In lieu of any exciting songwriting, our budding multi-instrumentalist chooses to lavishly swamp his album in a beautifully rendered orchestral atmosphere and it has to be said that the quality of the sound itself approaches perfection. Having been so moved by his debut, I didn't wish to see the man reduced to recording technical demos, yet I can't find another positive thing to say about Music of the Spheres.

The music has been molded into a roughly forty-five minute package, split down the middle in a similar way to the double suites of his more creative works but further divided into movements. These early retro and classical hints prove telling as, as soon as we press play, we are treated to a simple, spacious pattern for piano and strings that sounds suspiciously like the famous Tubular Bells ostinato! That should certainly be a casual fan pleaser but because I was so underwhelmed by his subsequent Bells albums, it struck me as more of a death knell. So, here we go again? I didn't want to consign the album to a bad review as early as this, so at first, I pressed Stop and decided to continue tomorrow. If I was playing this one for laughs, here's where I would write, Now I regret waking up at all, because all the morning brought was further disappointment.

The sum of the work here can be regarded as a standard film score, replete with scenic references, all with quite an urgent desire to manipulate you, i.e, this movement should make you feel cowed by majesty, this one should evoke wistfulness and this one represents you soaring above a snow-capped mountain line clinging to the back of the majestic King of the Eagles. If every Hollywood soundtrack you've ever heard has struck you as poignantly as the first, then you'll cherish this, but if you're a little more jaded when it comes to having your puppet strings jolted in such a formulaic way, you'll react to Music of the Spheres much more stoically. At the last, this is not a return to form but a simple recycling of better, timeless ideas.

Report this review (#165783)
Posted Saturday, April 5, 2008 | Review Permalink
Chris S
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars OK a new Oldfield album. essentially this is a classical/new age affair although I would have to say it is more new age in feel than a regular classical piece of music. Put it this way Tony Banks and the ' Seven Suite is far more classical sounding as an album than Music of the Spheres. Yet overall it is not bad. It does not return MO to the studio release greats of previous years but it is still worth getting if you are an Oldfield enthusiast. Another important point being this is also music for a soundtrack The Space Movie.

It does return to a conceptual theme because of this but at times the music seems disjointed as opposed to delivering a full on concept as say Songs Of Distant Earth would. ' Harbinger ' is a luke warm opener with some typical MO keyboards and Silouette' and Shabda are great pieces in a similar vein to 'Blackbird' and ' Rocky' from 'Light and Shade'. Hayley Westenra contributes vocals on the beautiful ' On my Heart' and for me the second half of the album really becomes more solid and highlights definitely would be ' Harmonia Mundi' and 'Musica Universalis'. Always welcome from Mike Oldfield a new studio release and this album makes pleasant listening. I get the impression though that the classical challenge for Oldfield he could have done blindfolded. IMHO his greatest challenge ahead from studio output will be recreating a true progressive conceptual work again along the lines of ' Ommadawn' or even ' Songs of Distant Earth' Two and a half stars!

Report this review (#166907)
Posted Monday, April 14, 2008 | Review Permalink
2 stars Mike goes classic?

This release has been several times postponed and finally saw the light in 2008. The big man wrote this piece of music which will end up as an orchestra piece of work (with added piano and acoustic guitar).

There are some fine moments like the opener "Harbinger" which leans on the path of "Tubular.." and some moving classical guitar sections as well. Very much in Hackett's style like in "Silhouette" and "The Other Side". Some nice folk as well with "Harmonia Mundi". Very harmonious indeed.

The overall mood is very, very quiet and some parts are not really interesting to my ears ("Tempest"). Mike also had the project to tour to promote the album, but so far there are no specific commitments any longer on that matter.

Touring with an orchestra is not an easy affair and it is financially quite risky. The Sinfonia Sfera Orchestra featured on this album counts no less than approximately ninety (yes 90!) musicians.

If you are into classical music (this album was nominated for "Classical Brit Award" and finished in the second position) this work might please you. For others (like me), it will convey a nice and peaceful spirit for sure.

Two stars.

Report this review (#225410)
Posted Thursday, July 9, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator / In Memoriam
3 stars The Orchestral Non-Tubular Balls?

Like The Orchestral Tubular Bells, Music Of The Spheres has Mike Oldfield with an orchestra, unlike the former, this isn't an orchestral adaptation of an Oldfield piece, but rather a original orchestral album. If you compare the two albums, Spheres beats T.O.T.B. hands down. I do have to wonder if Mike was contemplating a Tubular Bells IV when he started this project. It opens very similarly to Tubular Bells and I hear bits throughout the piece reminiscent of it.

There is an actually concept behind the album. It's Mike's interpretation of music that's made by celestial bodies that people can't hear.

You have to give Mike a lot of credit for making both spectacular albums along with disappointments. He gets a silver for this though not a gold and of course if your prog has to have rock, it isn't here. In a rather large discography, I rank this one towards the top.

Report this review (#275783)
Posted Wednesday, March 31, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars Karl Jenkins (Adiemus), Lang Lang, y Mike Oldfield... Hasta el momento su ultimo disco y si, orquestal, pero que no ha hecho hasta ahora el Sr. Oldfield?? Desde Trance isleño hasta flamenco e incluso influecias celtas y africanas, me sorprende que este disco sea uno de rating mas bajo en PA, pero quienes son los criticos para determinar la potestad interna de este gran compositor?? Oldfield no sirve porque no hizo otro Tubular Bells, Ommadawn o Amarok? Eso se llama evolucion, eso se llama creatividad pura y talento en bruto, nada mas. Las ganas de cada critico balurdo que se atreve a darle puntajes al arte en este sitio de hacer un "pobre" album como los que hace este señor...

En fin... El Sr. Oldfield mas acompañamiento orquestal tomando en cuenta el concepto o la percepcion propia del compositor sobre la música de las esferas, que es la música no escuchada producida por la revolución de los planetas o algo asi, lindas y sencillas composiciones perfectamente orquestadas por el Sr. Jenkins y hermosos arreglos al piano interpretado por Lang Lang. Pienso que Mike se encontro en una encrucijada y honestamente se pregunto: "que me falta por hacer?" ... Mike se arriesgo y lo logro, tomando en cuenta que hablamos de un musico de "rock".. Por eso Oldfield es, sera y seguira siendo una de las mentes mas creativas y originales en el ambito musical.

Report this review (#395711)
Posted Sunday, February 6, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars I know that most Mike Oldfield fans have been waiting for a follow up to the innovations he began in "Amarok" and that "Music of The Spheres" doesn't present new themes etc. Well, at least it wasn't Tubular Bells 4! Musically, it probably isn't what most would expect from the great composer at all. This is entirely orchestral with very little guitar. Although the little guitar featured is a splendid bit of classical guitar. I can't help but notice some borrowings from one or two of his earlier pieces, especially the opening "Harbinger" is reminicent of TB1. There may well be some adaptaions of other pieces here too. All that said, eighty plus percent of it is simply gorgeous. After about six or so listens, many of the melodies began to send shivers down my spine. The strings are lovely as are the choir parts. In conclusion, we do not have a great step forward for Mike, but this offering contains plenty of elegant, soothing music. it was his best album for years.
Report this review (#769551)
Posted Tuesday, June 12, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars The best Tubular Bells sequel.

Oldfield has made a number of sequels to his first album, Tubular Bells. Some are named as such (Orchestral TB, TB II, TB III, Millennium Bell, and TB 2003). Some of these are essentially replicas of the original (TB 2003, Orchestral, etc), some have virtually no musical relation to the original (Millennium Bell), while TB II is a weird alternate-universe rewrite of it (as I mentioned in my review) and the main theme of TB III is similar to that. But Mike has also recorded other songs/albums not labelled with the TB moniker that have very similar melodies to the original TB. The main theme of "Crises" is like this - it is VERY similar to the main theme in the original TB. 'Music of the Spheres' fits this latter pattern and more. The main theme on this album (the track is called "Harbinger" here) is VERY similar to the original TB theme, and it re-appears throughout the album, which largely takes the form of one long continuous piece broken up into sections with different names based on their main themes. Looking back, I wish Mike had just made one TB sequel - this one (although I also like "Crises"). It seems to me this is the most musically-honest sequel. Lacking the pretense of TB II or TB III, or the crass commercialism of Millennium Bell, 'Music of the Spheres' is a work of serious music that both harkens back to TB but also presents a lot of new musical ideas that are clearly Oldfield. It doesn't seem like Oldfield cashing in, nor Oldfield ripping himself off, but instead Oldfield being himself but taking his music to new levels. The album is recorded by a Symphony Orchestra, with Hayley Westenra added on solo vocals, and Lang Lang on solo piano, along with Oldfield on classical guitar. The sound quality is amazing - it wraps around you and is so inviting to the ear. Much of the music here is very good, the vocalist is great, and one can listen to this quite enjoyably all the way through. Saying this, the album is not very "exciting" (ie it is a touch boring), but my main gripe is that Oldfield's guitar contributions are quite scant. Oldfield is such an amazing and original guitar player, it would have been great to hear him play more on this album. But he appears at any length on only a few tracks. It just leaves you wishing for more guitar. So, while I consider this to be Mike Oldfield's best album since 'Amarok', it doesn't break 4 stars. After multiple listens, I give this album 7.2 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to 3 PA stars. Nonetheless, the best Tubular Bells sequel in my opinion.

Report this review (#1718306)
Posted Saturday, May 6, 2017 | Review Permalink
2 stars I never believed in classical music with rock elements, at least not in the long run. For certain there are examples of succesful songs merging two esthetics, but to have an entire album/symphony with such underlying philosophy? I don't think one could justify it with Moody Blues or Pink Floyd. Better examples of this approach are "Concerto for Group and Orchestra" (or "Sarabande"), and even if I admire the effort and enjoy its parts, as a whole it failed to achieve its goals. However, it seemed that Mike could pull it off, and "Music of the Spheres" is the closest he ever tried. The concept of musica universalis is a good excuse to merge contrasting genres. And who's better than Oldfield to take the challenge? He was so succesful with pairing folk instruments, electronic beats and distorted guitars for decades, right?

Understandably, the leading instruments are classical guitar and grand piano, most of the time. Although Mike doesn't play the latter, he had much more experience with it than with strings or brass. And you can hear it on this record, unfortunately. Brass instruments appear rarely, oboes and clarinets play secondary role as well, and strings... well, I'd just say they're not leading too often and mostly serve as a backing track with very basic moves.

I also don't see too much of a development here. Individual movements offer some delightful melodies ("Animus", "The Tempest", "Empyrean" or beginning of "Shabda"), but they don't reinforce one another, synergy between them is very limited. I really miss the mastery of classical music paragons, the mastery of arrangement, revisiting memorable motifs and epic buildup. "Music of the Spheres" is too modest in this regard.

What do I like here, then? In my opinion there are no serious blunders ruining the experience. As I said, there is a fair share of charming melodies (add "Silhouette" to the list), guaranteeing the listener will sit through 40+ minutes with ease. Especially if he's having something else to do in the meantime - once again Mike Oldfield delivered a calming, even soothing collection of music. So it's a bonus, I see myself revisiting "Music of the Spheres" from time to time just its peacefulness.

But in the same time, I'd like it to have more hooks, diversity, more memorable parts and - most importantly - a strike of genius that Mike's capable of. Instead I have a bunch of "Classical Lite FM" compositions with underused orchestra that I could easily live without. Oh well, this might be too harsh: I honestly applaud "The Tempest" and see true beauty in there.

A two star record with (sparse) four stars moments.

Report this review (#1949439)
Posted Wednesday, July 18, 2018 | Review Permalink

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