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Mike Oldfield - The Songs Of Distant Earth CD (album) cover


Mike Oldfield

Crossover Prog

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Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
5 stars To boldly go.

Oldfield's most under valued album? Without a doubt, in my book this is simply wonderful.

As is implied by the title, "Songs of distant earth" has a space theme to it, although this does not by any means dominate the album. The structure will be familiar to all who know "Tubular bells", but the music is somewhat different. It is softer and more melodic, flowing easily from theme to theme.

I have seen the term new age used in reference to this album. For me though, that is a highly misleading appellation. While there is indeed a relaxing quality to the music, it is far more complex, dynamic, and varied than the type of music implied by the New Age connotation. Repetition is kept to a minimum as the albums moves from theme to theme. These themes blend effortlessly together to the extent that they form a complete piece, one is unlikely to only play a single track from this album.

Oldfield's guitar work never sounded better than it does here, one listen to the closing sections will convince you of that. Indeed the closing section is one of the most striking pieces of music Oldfield has even created, the tension building gracefully to a climactic conclusion.

While guitar is prevalent throughout the album, there is the usual diversity of sounds, including some superb female vocal harmonies. Apart from piano sounds, the keyboards are generally used to provide layers of sound, rather that as the lead instrument.

I cannot recommend this album highly enough. I love much of Oldfield's work, but this is undoubtedly where he created his masterpiece.

Report this review (#28465)
Posted Saturday, March 6, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars Mike OLDFIELD has been responsible for so many great recordings with "The Songs Of Distant Earth" representing in my opinion one of his highest achievements. OLDFIELD creates some pretty lush atmospheres which provides the required mood for his guitar trickery and play on vocal harmonies. This is a very spirtual album actually and contains some simply unbelievable melodies and musical moods for you to get easily lost in. OLDFIELD's definite guitar sounds accent this album throughout with the touch of a real master. "The Songs of Distant Earth" is a highly creative and original album from OLDFIELD who takes us deep into the depths of space or at least into the depths of our minds. Brilliant album worthy of your ears.
Report this review (#28468)
Posted Tuesday, March 16, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars There´s a slight rememerance of new age in this record, however, the impact of continuos music and changing frames inmmerse the listener into an ambient landscape, a good record from an old master, that keeps growing as a musician and as an individual.
Report this review (#28469)
Posted Sunday, May 23, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars It was as if Mike said"Well, if some of the music stores want to put me in the New Age section, Well I'll make one of the best "New Age" CDs ever!! Simply brilliant, flowing melodies. Some parts STILL give me goose bumps... especially "Crystal Clear" and "Supernova" I recommended this to a friend and said " It's kind of New Age, but not put-you-to-sleep-New Age.Turn it up!!
Report this review (#28472)
Posted Saturday, July 24, 2004 | Review Permalink
Chris S
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars I would have given this a five star rating had it not dated so quickley. I think the ' New Age' tag is an appropriate label but it does not diminish the extraordinary output on TSODE. It is a wonderful continuous work, probably Oldfield's last excellent album - now 10 years ago! The guitar work is sublime in parts. Highlights include ' Oceania', ' Only time will tell', Crystal Clear', ' Hibernaculum' and ' Ascension'. It was a great concept piece too and I am sincerely praying he gets back to concept based albums again before his retirement kicks in.
Report this review (#28473)
Posted Tuesday, August 24, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars This album is a masterpiece Mike has left me speechless.It is an absolute classic.This album is as good as Platinum.Mike is the god of music for me.I like this album because of the way it joins, he must have spent alot of time making this album.The best song of this album is either 'Crystal clear' or 'Oceania'.I recommend this album to anyone who likes Mike Oldfield.
Report this review (#28474)
Posted Friday, September 10, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars A Real Masterpiece, this album was the first I heard from Mike Oldfield, and it really got me.From this album, I started to buy and get all Mike's albums. Mike Oldfield is one of the best musicians and a prodigy for such intelligence and tenderness created in his albums. Miie Oldfield really sends you to an outer space journey into your heart, and feelings. If you're in the mood, you'll cry surely; if not, you will admire it. A must-have for fans and non-fans of Mikey. A delicious album to hear. The only bad thing about this album is that it has to finish sooner or later and leaves you with that sensation for more. EXCELLENT!!!!
Report this review (#28475)
Posted Friday, September 10, 2004 | Review Permalink
Carl floyd fan
5 stars I must agree with everyone else and say this is one of the most beautiful prog albums of the 90s. It is mostly instrumental with some very nice voices. If you want something that will blow you away, pick it up! It took a while to sink in for me and maybe its the same for others but you will soon appreciate this and be amzed. Very relaxing.
Report this review (#28476)
Posted Thursday, February 10, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is one of the most BEAUTIFUL things I've ever heard. I'm one of those listeners who listens with the right side of the brain. In a dark, quiet room, preferrably with headphones, this will lift the listener to another realm, the section containing "Magellan" being the high point. You hear all kinds of influences, from tribal rhythms, to the science fiction voices that come out of nowhere. Let it take you where it will.
Report this review (#35310)
Posted Sunday, June 5, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is a terrific album; by far Oldfield's best work. The melodies of subsequent songs are seamlessly integrated into the prevalent musical "themes" of the work. The production quality of the album is the best imaginable (hard to compare with its contemporaries) without Alan Parsons;) All in all, this is a worthy tribute to Arthur C. Clarke's book.
Report this review (#42315)
Posted Wednesday, August 10, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars As usual, when MO tries his hand at a different genre, he succeeds admirably. This is a very fine attempt indeed & the star rating relates only to its prog credentials, & it isn't very prog at all folks! It's difficult not to be moved by the combination of soaring synths, treble voice & Mike's trademark one-note guitar solo on "Only Time will Tell", for instance.

Incidently, if anybody out there is interested in investigating the so-called "new age" music further, may i humbly recommend "In the Gardens of Pharao/Aguirre/Spirit of Peace" by Popol Vuh, "Silk Road vols. 1 & 2" by Kitaro, "Invisible Views" by Neuronium and "Sea & Sky" by Stomu Yamashta.

Report this review (#43274)
Posted Thursday, August 18, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars The production of Mike Oldfield is very unequal. Inaudible things like "Heaven' s Open" (I always wondered whether the Michael of this album were really Mike or a distant cousin). And materpieces like the "Tubullar Bells". "The songs of Distant Earth" is in the same line. Very new age. But also very "science fiction" (I like it). How not to rove in stars with such a music. The work of prouction is neat. The melodies are true hoodoo. A splendid (very original) album.

Report this review (#46829)
Posted Friday, September 16, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is the #2 Oldfield album after Amarok. All songs on this one. Very impressive. He makes sounds that are newest for time. Very feeling of outter speace. BRAVE NEW WORLD. SO i think everyone should by this cd. Mr. Oldfield is so many talented. He can do anything. I cant know why he never the drums playing. He is very excelent on all music instruments. FOr 10 years I lived without this SOTDE. I will live the rest of my life with this close to me forever.
Report this review (#54456)
Posted Wednesday, November 2, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Truly his best Studio album; Songs of distant earth should be appreciated for what it is: an absolute masterpiece of music...Tracks that flow together seamlessly and with multiple influences that neither dominate or fade away too soon. I bought this in 1994 and never regretted my decision to be a true believer in Mike's musical vision. I cannot understand why more people spend their time listening to muzak than testing their musical understanding by trying to keep up with the maestro. Never one to get off on his own Ego; his work is emotional, honest and thought provoking...In short the world would be a better place if Mike was teaching at the royal academy of music in London!

There are far too many influences to mention on this CD; many different people that all like different types of music have heard this disc, post pub or club, and could not not resist asking who it was. You should see their faces when I say "Mike Oldfield"!

Do yourself a favour and listen to "Tubular World" and "Crystal Clear", not forgetting "Only time will tell" fact just buy a copy of the album and turn in up, turn off the lights and listen....

Report this review (#56913)
Posted Friday, November 18, 2005 | Review Permalink
2 stars I was very surprised to see all the fuss about this album on the review list. To me "Songs of Distant Earth" is a bit dull. New age in a rather anonymous form. If you want to explore ambient or similar from this period I would suggest the Orb for example (which by the way has made a remix of Oldfield's "sentinel"). I would recommend plenty of other Oldfield albums before this one. If you feel a great urge to discover contemporary Oldfield, I suggest "Amarok" from 1990.
Report this review (#59350)
Posted Tuesday, December 6, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is a brilliantly melodious album. We all know how well he plays the guitar. In some albums Mike also 'showed off' his skills. But beginning from Tubular Bells 2, we find a Mike who is sure what he wants to make. This is an album without any show off-- its rather pure music. He restrained himself from applying his guitar licks and we find a calm and very passionate style of guitar playing from him here. This album heavily emphasises choirs and voices at the base level of the composition and that makes it sound different from other albums of Mike Oldfield. Anyone who has read Arthur C Clark's book of the same title will surely get visuals of a gigantic spacecraft approaching a world full of water, having very small land mass. But I can tell, anyone who has not read the book before can visualise a watery world.
Report this review (#68390)
Posted Sunday, February 5, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars An essential MO album! A must have for the serious afficiando. In fact, I'd say it's second best after Amarok. Here the songs and melodies flow much more pleasantly. It definately has a transcendent feel to it, invoking Biblical themes, space travel, African muisc, sampling and looping, and even Gregorian Chant - all done in just the right places and in just the right measure. He seems to have thought this album's concept out far more carefully than Earth Moving!!! I consider MO to be one of the most underrated musical genius' of our time. Of course, if I was recommending his music to a new listener, I'd have to tell them to start where it all began, namely TB, at least just for historical perspective. That would be the "gateway drug". If they didn't act all stupid after TB, I would lay some SOTDE on them and watch them really trip out. This album would make a steady user of MO out of them. And when they had finally built up enough tolerance in their system, I'd expose them to the hard-core stuff - AMAROK. But that comes later. This CD is a certifiable prog classic. It's gold, man. Dude, you ought to try this stuff!
Report this review (#95761)
Posted Thursday, October 26, 2006 | Review Permalink
2 stars It is important to any fan of Prog Rock to be fearless, to look for prog moments in non prog enviroment. But the other way around too. If you see that something is wrong with a recording you have to make yourself hear saying: "this is not prog, this is New Age music" and that is exactly what I am saying of this record. It is not by far the best recording from this truly amazing artist. It has even a section of "Opera chillout" in the second track. It is a record written to be heard as background music while you have a pleasant dinner with your girlfriend, with a cup of chilled Zinfandel in hand. So, if you are looking for genuine prog look somewhere else but not here.
Report this review (#119337)
Posted Sunday, April 22, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars I don't know if everyone would agree that this album is progressive, but it is a masterpiece. It is also, sadly, MIKE OLDFIELD'S last great album.

'The Songs Of Distant Earth' is MIKE OLDFIELD'S fifth different album in a row, exploiting to the full his new-found artistic freedom away from Virgin Records' restrictive clutches. The album is inspired by Arthur C. Clarke's novel of the same name, but is much more than a soundtrack.

On this album OLDFIELD fuses sounds of the early 1990s to create the nearest thing to space rock he'd approached thus far. His influences ranged from the world music chants of ENIGMA (MICHAEL CRETU worked with OLDFIELD in the late 1980s) to the hypnotic beats and heavy sampling of the burgeoning techno/house scene, including the post-dance chill out room, which influenced much of his output from this point on. If such sources are off- putting to you, I would advise you to stay clear of this album. But if you're enamoured of early PORCUPINE TREE or mid-70s PINK FLOYD, this album will interest you and possibly enthrall you. Rising above the simple drum patterns and synths is OLDFIELD'S magnificent guitar, which has never sounded better, and once again recalls DAVID GILMOUR'S finest work.

MIKE OLDFIELD exploits his usual songwriting method of creating a few strong tunes and spreading them throughout the album, recalling them in various songs to give the album a sense of unity. This unity is augmented by the simple device of flowing all the tracks together. The first of the main themes is found in 'Let There Be Light', a beautiful track replete with luscious vocals, including a boy soprano. As an aside, you might want to check the gorgeous and enigmatic video that accompanied the track on the enhanced CD: it's available to view on this site (I can no longer get my copy to play, as my hardware no longer supports it). If you enjoy this track, you'll like the album. 'Supernova' is as described: a series of explosions set to music. 'Magellan' borrows, of all things, JOHN BONHAM'S world-destroying drum beat from 'When the Levee Breaks'. Somehow it works in this space-rock context. 'Oceania' and 'Only Time Will Tell' are two parts of one eight-minute piece, possibly the highlight of the first half of the album. Of note is the pulsing single guitar note that connects the two parts: it ought not to work, but like everything OLDFIELD tries here, it does. 'Prayer For The Earth' telegraphs OLDFIELD'S obvious ENIGMA connection, using as it does a Saami chant.

The album then steps up a gear. 'The Chamber/Hibernaculum' is a superb piece of music, the pseudo-Gregorian choral work magnificent in any context (and again reminiscent of ENIGMA), but simply breathtaking surrounded by such a rich accompaniment. 'Tubular World' reworks the original 'Tubular Bells' theme for the nth time, and this is the very best of them all, with the rhythm and samples building until the tune becomes a beast. But for me the album's highlight is 'Crystal Clear'. A gentle guitar-driven tune is followed by the countdown from a hypnotism recording, which OLDFIELD uses to launch into a magnificent guitar solo reprise of the song's main theme. MIKE OLDFIELD'S guitar solos are not full of arpeggios and technically difficult fingering: instead, like GILMOUR, they are lyrical, simple and above all effective, bringing a tear to the eye and a chill to the spine. This is one of his best.

'Ascension' summarises the album's themes, and brings the record to a climax in the OLDFIELD style, followed by the world-music denouement 'A New Beginning'.

This is one of the best space rock/New Age albums out there, and should be listened to by anyone with an interest in the genre. It's very much a mood piece: put it in your CD player if you want to chill out, not rock out.

Report this review (#139071)
Posted Wednesday, September 19, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars In terms of absolute rating on PA, this album is Mike's best one. Rather strange.

In terms of my rating, it is not. It is of course much better than works like "Earth Moving" or "Heaven's Open", but by no means does it match his great debut trilogy. But that's only my opinion.

There are indeed some wonderful musical moments like "Let There Be Light" which can cope with his best work or Ascension. On the other end, there are lots of ambient and ethnic music, tranquil and soft passages which are the ones you can get from this offering like "Supernova" or "Magellan". "Oceania" being my favourite one.

The problem starts with "Prayer for the Earth". Indeed a native chant which is quite dull and repetitive and if one makes abstraction of the excellent "Lament For Atlantis", there are not too many great parts to remember till the end of this album.

A personal comment about this album : I was listening it in my car and my wife told me "I didn't know that you liked such type of music". At this point of time ("Hibernaculum"), I told her : "Neither do I. These monastery likes "vocals" have never been appealing to me. Being Oldfield or anybody else's ones.

And even if another of his "Tubular" investigations are rather satisfactory, I can't really say that we are closing the gap between a good album and a masterpiece one. It is indeed obvious that Mike is trying to reproduce his true masterpieces. Just listen to "Crystal Clear" and compare it to the genuine "Tubular Bells" to be convinced. Still, three stars for this good work.

Report this review (#161985)
Posted Saturday, February 16, 2008 | Review Permalink
The Crow
4 stars Excelent and genuine Oldfield's new age album...

Based in an Arthur C. Clarke novel, this album really makes you dream, travel through the stars and imagine this weird and diverse history. And this is along with Tubular Bells III, the last great album that Oldfield made. The production is just incredible, you will need a lot of listenings to apreciate the amount of details this album hides. The album is low paced, except some epic fragments wich will make you goose bumps... The dominat key are the keyboard and electronic elemnts, except the omnipresent Oldfield's guitars. The typical 90's new age is mixed with some original Oldfield's element and etnic influences, making a really stimulant and fresh mixture. Just marvellous!

Best songs: Let There be Light (good guitars), Magellan (great ullean pipes!), Lament for Atlantis (etnic and epic track), The Shining Ones (precious...), Crystal Clear (another great guitar work...) and Ascension (proper ending).

Conclusion: great Oldfield's album, and one of the best new age works I've heard... And of course, this album shows another Oldfield's face, and his incredible ability to work with synthethisers, keyboards and all kind of sound effects. Really recommended.

Report this review (#165261)
Posted Friday, March 28, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars Mike Oldfield`s Songs Of Distant Earth endeavours to musically extrapolate interstellar space travel as postulated in Arthur C. Clarke`s 1986 novel of the same name which first appeared in short story form in 1958 in the science fiction magazine IF. At the time of it`s release in 1994 the work with it`s desolate atmospheric soundscapes, choral vocal harmonizations and forlorn guitar lines were praised by Clarke himself if that`s an indication of the grandeloquent images conjured by this pristine and immaculately produced recording.

Unfortunately Oldfield`s ambitions are only partially realised here and come under scrutiny by becoming a bit too redundant, clinical and lacking in dynamics and when placed on a graph it sort of flatlines out about halfway through without really intensifying. This is not to say that it doesn`t have it`s moments, but those familiar with Oldfield`s previous work will recognise many worn out Oldfield devices such as oversampling, over-synthesized sounds ( such as bagpipes ), and the Tubular Bells theme which makes yet another appearance this time masquerading as Tubular World, which is admittedly one of the better variations, if only we were not subjected to it for the kazillionth time! Some tracks contain effective moody elements such as the haunting auras construed on The Chamber and The Sunken Forest or the subtle rhythmic world beat feel of The Shining Ones and Magellan. These otherwise individually wonderful pieces would stand out better as part of an audio visual presentation such as a slide show or documentary on sea or space exploration.

I have always found that modern musical liturgies based on novels, historical events or legends such as Rick Wakeman`s thematic works on English legend & lore or Triumvirat`s takes on ancient Rome tend to run the gauntlet through the land of cheese. While I wouldn`t go that far with The Songs Of Distant Earth but when placed under the microscope it does lean more towards the unobstrusive New Age music you would hear in a waiting room in a dentist`s office. In this respect it ineffably acheives a certain relaxing transcendental ambience and if all is not lost here hopefully Mike Oldfield`s Songs Of Earth will stimulate the curiousity of any uninitiated listener to delve further into the colossal world of Arthur C. Clarke arguably the greatest science fiction writer of our time. Simply not enough happening here to arouse too much prog rock excitement unless you are a die hard Mike Oldfield fan. At the same time, it has to recieve accolades for it`s excellent production and continuity and definite appeal for a more AOR audience.

Report this review (#187138)
Posted Monday, October 27, 2008 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
3 stars I can fully understand those who think this is a masterpiece; this is a whole piece of music, very well integrated and flowing perfectly from beginning till end and introducing several themes along the way; the main theme(s) comes back towards the end building up to a great climax; the guitar work is among Oldfield's best and the production values are very, very high.

However, the programmed drums that runs through much of this album gets boring after a while (I just don't like this type of drums!), and many of the vocal passages give this music an Enya/Enigma sound and feeling that I just can't get into. Is this New-Age music? Well, not really but you could probably call it New-Age-with-electric-guitars.

Favourite moments are the bag pipes in Magellan and the guitar work in Ascension.

This is a good album, and one of Oldfield's better ones, but hardly a masterpiece of progressive rock. (Maybe a masterpiece of New-Age-with-electric-guitars, though, if that was a genre).

Report this review (#190236)
Posted Sunday, November 23, 2008 | Review Permalink
2 stars It's one of the top-rated releases in Mike Oldfield's entire catalogue, on these pages scoring higher than even his seminal "Tubular Bells" (the 1973 original, and its many sequels / remakes). But to a more impartial pair of ears "The Songs of Distant Earth" is, as you might have suspected from the starry- eyed title, a tepid New Age concept album unlikely to sway anyone not already a confirmed Oldfield fan or apologist (who I assume contributed the most enthusiastic reviews listed here).

New Age music might be described as a sanitized degradation of the more daring cosmic voyages made by progressive-electronic pioneers like KLAUS SCHULZE and EDGAR FROESE, and Oldfield's 1994 album is a textbook example of its kind. The music shows the same cloying sweetness, the same numbing over-reliance on blissful synthetic strings and bland electronic rhythms, the same soporific arrangements (designed as if to facilitate a beginner's class in yoga stress management), and the same trite thematic embrace of pseudo-scientific cosmology.

The album was inspired by Arthur C. Clarke's novel of the same name, but despite a glowing endorsement by the author himself it's a long way from what anyone would call hardcore science fiction, not with softball New Age track titles such as "Lament For Atlantis", "Prayer For the Earth", and "Oceania" (the latter complete with meditative surf-and seagull sound effects). Clarke's original book had an intergalactic narrative set in the distant future, but Oldfield's interpretation can be heard as a soundtrack to the embryonic formation of the Earth, musically tracing the untold early ages of our planet from creation to civilization.

It's an ambitious concept to be sure, but hardly an original one: keyboardist JAN HAMMER followed the exact same thematic path, in less time and with more effective results, on his debut solo album "The First Seven Days", released twenty years earlier. Oldfield's album even begins with a similar reference to the biblical creation, borrowing from NASA the famous Christmas Eve broadcast of Apollo 8 in lunar orbit, a reading from the book of Genesis. And it ends with an African tribal chant, meant to (presumably) represent the ultimate arrive of hominids in Olduvai Gorge.

This last track is titled "A New Beginning", but its placement at the climax of the album suggests that the advent of humankind was the glorious apex of a 5-billion year evolutionary process: a particularly vile ethnocentric conceit in perfect harmony with shallow New Age thinking. Heck, the dinosaurs were around for tens of millions of years longer than we can ever hope to be, and if not for a stray comet striking the Yucatan Peninsula they might still be the dominant species on Earth.

Oldfield's music likewise offers nothing new, being too often reminiscent (if not downright derivative) of something VANGELIS might have written a full decade beforehand: listen to "Lament For Atlantis", or the song "Magellan", for proof. The music itself is often pretty, and sometimes effectively grandiose, but most of it is completely smothered under a too-lush and generic production job, for the most part erasing every trace of the human hands actually playing each instrument.

Mike Oldfield is clearly a gifted musician and composer (he typically plays the majority of instruments himself on all his albums), but you might never know it from music this sterile.

Report this review (#203933)
Posted Saturday, February 21, 2009 | Review Permalink
Queen By-Tor
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars Songs of new age.

If there was ever an album that could really be called 'new age' from Mike Oldfield, then it's probably this one - and in that regard it has its merits, for sure, but as a prog album stacked up against his classic work, this one's got nothing on the crowd. It's a song cycle of sorts, harking back to the days when he would write one song per album, but of course, being in the days of cd, each song section is split up from the rest and given its own title. Make no mistake though, this may be one hour long suite, but it's boring... boring as hell in fact. This is the kind of album that you put on to make yourself fall asleep at night, and while it does have some of the most beautiful melodies and soundscapes around the repetition of them and the pointless meandering of the songs makes you want to reach for the skip button, only to realize that the next song is exactly the same.

This is not like the Oldfield of old. Back in the days of Ommadawn the guy was actually able to hold an audience's attention with a 40-minute long song, and even Amarok was able to do the same with a 60-minute suite. This one is more atmospheric and, well, new age than those ones. Kind of like elevator music for a science museum, or the kind of thing you get stoned to and wonder about the answer of life, the universe and everything. It's background music, not the kind of thing that will grab you by the throat and demand that you listen to it.

Still, with all the bashing, there are some classic moments on the album. In the sections where Oldfield actually shows his talented chops there are some of the most hauntingly beautiful moments that he's ever recorded. The There Be Light is an amazing start to the album as Oldfield uses the soundscapes to his advantage and from the blue beyond plays some of the most gorgeous and tear jerking riffs imaginable. It's difficult to actually describe the beauty of this song. Tubular World also catches attention nearing the end of the disc, it's almost electronic in a sense, but manages to reprieve the Tubular Bells theme once more over the mystical soundscapes.

In the end, this is the disc you want to buy if you want to zone out for just over and hour. It's not demanding (minus two tracks) and it's highly repetitive. Definitely not Oldfield's best by any stretch of the imagination, but still an interesting experiment in terms of the construction of sound. Ultimately it's only recommended to the fans, as others would probably rather use it as a coaster. 2 stars out of 5 - as stated in my review for another new age album, Jon & Vangelis's Private Collection - long, airy, forgettable.

Report this review (#207861)
Posted Friday, March 20, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars New age space music in the literal sense

Here we have the perfect soundtrack for a film about drifting through space on a ship. Or perhaps for shots taken by the Hubble telescope. Or perhaps just relaxing in your home with some background music. "The Songs of Distant Earth" is Mike Oldfield composing an album in honor of Arthur C. Clarke, whose work has inspired Mike greatly. It also marks perhaps his closest successful embrace of new age music to date.

With a flowing suite of songs that sound exactly like the album cover makes you think it will--either cover, there are two different ones--tSoDE is a soft and serene journey to the great blue expanse of space. Titles like "In the beginning," "Supernova," "First Landing," and "Ascension" all give you the correct idea of where you are heading. Gentle keyboard and effects-laden guitar textures aplenty wash over you and float you away, to the low key programmed beats in the background. The melodies are dreamy and spacelike, with Mike's expressive guitar playing as good as it always is, if significantly toned down in aggression content. Mostly his playing is just pleasant and calming and "ice-blue" if one wants to describe sound with color. Various vocals provide similarly calming, meditative chants and wordless heavenly choirs along with sampled extracts from Apollo 8 and self-hypnosis tape. Children's voices and adult spoken words can be heard from time to time, as if they are calling one from afar. The whole experience is one that is fairly unique. I love some of the simple piano leads that drop here and there, which to me represents simple humanity in the sea of stars and space themes. From a "prog-rock" standpoint the album could be pretty disappointing to old time Mike fans, as mentioned this is a much different album than those from the 70s. It does not quite reach the emotional and interesting heights of the superb TB3 which came a few years later, but it is good for the subset of fans who appreciate new age music.

For the consistency and obvious effort Mike put into the project, for the beautiful vocals and guitar, I can give this 3 stars. But it is not a title I turn to often and mainly only when looking for something very relaxing to play in the background.

Report this review (#244018)
Posted Saturday, October 10, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars This Mike Oldfield album is one of the best examples what the quality "new age" music is. Extremely polished sound slow, almost meditative rhythm, nice melodies, often based on folk/world music, well balanced music. You can feel yourself very safe, comfortable and possibly even happy with no big reason, listening to this music.

I was attracted by "new age" music somewhere in eighties for a very short time, and very soon realized that this formula is endless boring soundtrack for elevators. But to tell true, Oldfield is professional musician, so even in this field he can produce quality product.

In many places this album reminds me music of "Enigma"or "Deep Forest", but Oldfield is always a step ahead of them both.

If you like "new age" music, this album is "must have" for you. If you are not fan of pop- meditation, just take any other album of more alive music.

Report this review (#266487)
Posted Tuesday, February 16, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars Ok this Modern and "New Age" version of "Tubular Bells" represented a kind of compromise- being obviously not equal to his most famous jewel, but it was so pleasant after all!! Well actually it could have been his first occasion to "update" the style of his album "Incantations" for instance (in a sort of "minimalist-format" but with symphonic elements inside); instead Mike Oldfield kept on using the style of the "New Age music", which could have been also more commercial in comparison to his old works, so the Discographic Label of course preferred this latter choice, above all for the sale reports...but coming back to the present "The songs...", it was in the vein of his previous "Space" and "New Age" works, in the most polished manner, but without the versatility of "Ommadawn" for example (otherwise this latter lacking of the quality compositions which characterized his early albums) as well as his cleverness in the use of the electronic effects, like within the modern "AMAROK"...nevertheless you can find a lot of simple music phrases, floating everything away, both the listener and the soft (but never suspenseful) guitar textures too, which made "The songs of Distant Earth" closer to the normal listener and a bit distant from the intelligent crossover prog genre, still now!

It's not completely essential, being anyway worth checking out at least, especially for your pretty and sometimes beautiful moments of "soul tranquillity" if you're into this specific sensation, you could either add an half star or definitively refuse it as a boring music product...however, more or less extremist in your music preferences inside the prog world I suppose, make your own choice!!

Report this review (#278965)
Posted Thursday, April 22, 2010 | Review Permalink
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl,Neo & Post/Math Teams
5 stars First of all this is a 5 stars album. I have heard discussions about being it more newage oriented than prog. In the false-folky sections it could remind to the native american chants that had a boom in the period of its release, but there's a reason behind.

The concept is inspired to a novel by Arthur C. Clark (2001 Space Odyssey, The City and the Stars, Rama just to mention some titles), and this omonimous novel is one of his best.

So let's follow the story:

Our sun is unexpectedly turning to a Nova when the generational starship Magellan is launched to another stellar system with hybernated people who should make the human race survive. When sun explodes, the starship is distant enough, and the explosion is seen only by the few people awake from hybernation in that moment. This is what the first 3 tracks are about.

After hundreds of years the magellan lands on a planet quite entirely covered by water: Oceania, just to discover that after their escape from earth a way to go faster than light was discovered. They took all that time to reach a planet just to find it already colonized by people escaped years before them. They are on that planet since generations and have built a flower-power-like society and their own culture. We are at about track 8.

The Magellan people tries to integrate with the local culture and with the new world's ecology but at the end they find that integration is not possible without disturbin and maybe destroying the delicate equilibrium reached by the locals. At the end they decide to leave, going back to the Magellan and restart their journey hoping to find a new world.

The story is full of regret for the lost Earth and hope for a new beginning (the last track).

I think Mike Oldfield has been able to represent all of this with the music. This is not a soundtrack to a novel. This is an alternative way to tell the same story.

I apologize for omission or mistakes about the story. This is what I remember of a novel read 20 years ago.

With a concept like this, how could it be not prog? They are two masterpieces, the book and the CD.

Report this review (#285981)
Posted Friday, June 11, 2010 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
3 stars An interesting album from Mike Oldfield and many feel this was his last great one.The inspiration here is from Arthur C. Clarke's book "The Songs Of The Distant Earth". His more famous novel was called "2001:A Space Odyssey". The book we're concerned about here though was Mike Oldfield's favourite novel and so this album is really a tribute to it. In the book the oceanic planet of Thalassa is where the story is concentrated, so you can appreciate that the music here is about space and sea. Hence we get lots of synth washes but this one lacks the many instruments we hear on Mike's earlier albums.This is more simplified with a World Music and spacey atmosphere standing out.There is some narration and samples too.

Actually the first track "In The Beginning" is an extract of an actual event when Apollo 8 was orbiting the moon on Christmas in 1968. We can hear astronaut Bill Anders quoting the book of Genesis.The space transmissions continue in the background of the next track "Let There Be Light" while a beat with guitar, vocal melodies and synths help create atmosphere. "Supernova" is very spacey as you might imagine.The other track I really like is "The Sunken Forest" where we can hear water sounds and spacey synths. Lots of atmosphere here as well.

I do think this is a well thought out album it's just different from his first three classic albums. I'll be the first to say this one doesn't measure up to those three records but this would be in my top five of Oldfield albums.

Report this review (#300752)
Posted Monday, September 27, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is a fantastic album, and a concept based upon Arthur C Clarke's excellent Songs Of Distant Earth novel which deals with space travellers/pioneers having to deal with the fact that Mother Earth has been destroyed.

I don't think there are many albums where Oldfield has sounded so focused and created such a coherent narrative that takes its listeners from start to finish in the manner of the novel itself.

Some of his guitar work, especially, is supreme, and for fans of what is called New Age music, the choral and female vocal passages, married with the ambient synth effects and decidedly Celtic feel to much of the music, are a joy to listen to. You will also hear more than a few Native American influences in here.

You feel in the music the emotion and the panging for Lost Earth, but also the realisation of space as the final frontier for the survival of mankind as a species, thus looking forward.

There is barely a poor moment on this, and Oldfield really does take you to a higher plain listening to it.

How to rate it, though?

This is an excellent album, and amongst the finest pieces of work this incredibly talented musician ever produced, and that is, of course, saying something. There are moments of soaring beauty contained within this, but it just, to me, falls short of the masterpiece rating of five stars. I could, for example, have done without the repetitive announcements on Only Time Will Tell, which detract a little bit from some of the extremely good Native American vocalisations. Prayer For The Earth, which follows, is far better for just allowing us to listen to a gorgeous, lilting, prayer allied to some ambient keys and acoustic guitar.

Therefore, a very strong four stars, but 4.5 in reality. Very highly recommended.

Report this review (#342851)
Posted Saturday, December 4, 2010 | Review Permalink
Prog-Folk Team
2 stars Long before track 12 of this new age disk, called "Tubular World" for obvious reasons, the sense of deja doom lingers about this disk like too many helpings of Manischevitz wine at Passovers past. It's all too sweet coming from the man from whom fans will always expect something more. To be sure, we expect more than a rehash of those famed bells, but we could forgive this for sentimental reasons. What is less easily excused is the sense that artists like DEEP FOREST, ENIGMA, and RUBAJA and HERNANDEZ were doing this earlier and, apart from a few guitar hero moments, better. Even performers like B TRIBE and AFRO CELT SOUND SYSTEM were able to interject a little more of their own perennially mellow personalities into efforts that appeared a bit later. Whereas on "Five Miles Out" Oldfield was one of the first to blend world beat, ambient and progressive rock, on "Songs of Distant Earth" he is more follower than trend setter, and even as a follower he is...behind.

All that said, this could appeal to fans of any of the aforementioned groups, or even PAT METHENY when he goes all masculine chanty on us, or ENYA before she really took off: in fact, "The Chamber" is 2 minutes of utter bliss highly reminiscent of her work on "The Celts", and unfortunately carried too far on "Hibernaculum". For the rest, it's mostly pleasant but totally unremarkable.

Perhaps a read of the novel on which this is based would yield dividends, but I have a few other items I want to get to first, so it is with disappointment that I conclude that "Songs of Distant Earth" will likely remain coldly distant from any emanating musical source for at least a few more revolutions.

Report this review (#443136)
Posted Thursday, May 5, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars This concept album based on the Arthur C. Clarke album of the same name finds Oldfield playing David Gilmour-esque guitar over a serene, somewhat New Agey musical backing, with occasional speech samples in the style of Amarok slipped in here and there to offer a narrative. To be honest, I don't think it's very successful as a concept album, not least because the mood evoked by the tracks sometimes flies in the face of what is supposed to be happening in the story - the destruction of Earth seems just as blissful and relaxed as any other incident. But as an album of relaxing background music with a bit of progressive teeth to it, it's actually rather pleasant. A nice album, but not a great album.
Report this review (#1077667)
Posted Saturday, November 16, 2013 | Review Permalink

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