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Mike Oldfield

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Mike Oldfield Music of the Spheres album cover
3.04 | 209 ratings | 12 reviews | 18% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential

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Studio Album, released in 2008

Songs / Tracks Listing

- Part One:
1. Harbinger (4:08)
2. Animus (3:09)
3. Silhouette (3:19)
4. Shabda (4:00)
5. The Tempest (5:48)
6. Harbinger (reprise) (1:30)
7. On My Heart (2:27)
- Part Two:
8. Aurora (3:42)
9. Prophecy (2:54)
10. On My Heart (reprise) (1:16)
11. Harmonia Mundi (3:46)
12. The Other Side (1:28)
13. Empyrean (1:37)
14. Musica Universalis (6:24)

Total Time 45:28

Line-up / Musicians

- Mike Oldfield / classical guitar, co-producer

- Hayley Westenra / soprano vocals (7,10)
- Lang Lang / piano (1-3,5,6,9)
- Sinfonia Sfera / Ad-Hoc full orchestral & choral ensemble
- Richard Stutt / orchestra leader
- Karl Jenkins / orchestrations & conductor, co-producer

Releases information

CD Universal Music Classics & Jazz ‎? 4766206 (2008, UK)

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MIKE OLDFIELD Music of the Spheres ratings distribution

(209 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(18%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(29%)
Good, but non-essential (31%)
Collectors/fans only (15%)
Poor. Only for completionists (7%)

MIKE OLDFIELD Music of the Spheres reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by tszirmay
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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.
Review by Queen By-Tor
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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.

Review by russellk
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.

Review by laplace
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.

Review by Chris S
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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!

Review by ZowieZiggy
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.

Review by Slartibartfast
COLLABORATOR 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.

Latest members reviews

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. Bett ... (read more)

Report this review (#1949439) | Posted by thief | Wednesday, July 18, 2018 | Review Permanlink

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 mu ... (read more)

Report this review (#1718306) | Posted by Walkscore | Saturday, May 6, 2017 | Review Permanlink

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 a ... (read more)

Report this review (#769551) | Posted by Frankie Flowers | Tuesday, June 12, 2012 | Review Permanlink

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 isleņo hasta flamenco e incluso influecias celtas y africanas, me sorprende que este disco sea uno de rating mas bajo en PA, p ... (read more)

Report this review (#395711) | Posted by padovanlj | Sunday, February 6, 2011 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#149786) | Posted by EvilNight | Friday, November 9, 2007 | Review Permanlink

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