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Mike Oldfield - Man On The Rocks CD (album) cover


Mike Oldfield


Crossover Prog

3.14 | 173 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars The first thing to say in this review is a health warning. If you are a person who believes that for a song to qualify as prog, it should be at least ten minutes long, and preferably twenty, or that any Mike Oldfield album that does not include at least one track of that length represents a sellout or abomination to all things prog, then it is fair to say that this new release is not for you. Do not waste your money, for you will be very upset and disappointed. Actually, best not to even read any further, go settle down, relax, and listen to some of that real prog.

For the rest of you, those open to the principle that a song based album can actually be pretty good and, well, like prog, this album might well be for you.

It is some six years since Oldfield's last release, and he had clearly entered a state of semi-retirement. However, the overwhelmingly positive response to his live appearance at the superb London 2012 Opening Ceremony, and, as clearly, the need to exorcise some inner demons that have been dormant for some time, persuaded the great man to sit down, write, get a band together, and release an album of entirely new material.

Band is the first thing, actually, to note about Man On The Rocks. It is an Oldfield band performance, rather than Oldfield doing it all. The man himself plays guitars and keyboards, but enlists the services of veteran bassist Leland Sklar (Phil Collins and CSN), drummer John Robinson (Eric Clapton), and, on vocals, Luke Spiller, of Derby indie rock band, The Struts. Yep, you read right, Oldfield has recruited an Indie singer to perform on one of his albums, which, if some comments are to be believed, represents a capital crime.

In fact, Spiller is one of the finds of the decade, and puts in one hell of a shift in on this. He has the full range, from the soft textures of the title track and Following The Angels, to the full rock pelt of Nuclear. Some have compared him to Freddie Mercury, and the comparison is not entirely a load of old spin. The way he works with Oldfield on the disturbingly catchy Minutes does, actually, invoke memories of another fine partnership Oldfield once had with a certain Maggie.

The music is fair mix of styles, from the pure, and instantly enjoyable toe-tapping, pop of opener Sailing, to the dark, heavy, and brooding Nuclear, via Celtic infused influences (similar to those found on Voyager) of Moonshine, Chariots, which could easily have found a way into a album such as Calling All Stations, and gospel influences on Following The Angels and the closer, I Give Myself Away.

The constant throughout is Oldfield's guitar work. If he had been the lead guitarist of a common or garden band, rather than the multi instrumentalist we know, I genuinely believe that we would be talking about him in the same reverential and hushed tones we reserve for the likes of Howe and Hackett. His (undoubtedly conscious) decision to restrict himself to guitars and keys allows him to shine, and this album contains some of the best trademark guitar bursts, licks, and riffs heard from him for many a year. I simply love the electric burst of Castaway, which screams and cries emotion.

I mentioned earlier inner demons. Well, the extraordinary title track, with its slow opening right to the bombastic rock pomp of the emotional outlets that follow, deals with his, and his late mother's, many addictions, the thoughtful Castaway with the fear of a child, Minutes and Chariots, with missing loved ones and separation (he is going through yet another separation and divorce), and, especially, the very dark Nuclear, the highlight of the album for me, dealing with emotional suffering, the riffs of which remind me of Blackmore at his rock peak, and put many so called heavy rock acts to shame. The other fine harder rock track is Irene, dealing with the hurricane that struck the island where Oldfield now calls home.

It is not, however, all doom and gloom. Following The Angels, the longest track at just over seven minutes, is a tribute to the Olympic Opening Ceremony, Sailing is about the joy of a life on the ocean waves, and a nice, gently performed, worship number in the closer, I Give Myself Away, written by William McDowell, a black gospel singer and preacher. I love the complex prog pop of Dreaming In The Wind, a tribute to an unknown man whose ashes were spread in the sea, but is more cheery than it might sound on reading. Actually, the word, in spite of some of the subject matter, that best describes this album is fun, in that Oldfield, I believe, had a great deal of fun and satisfaction in making it. It is not a "simple" pop album, it is the mature work of a great songwriter which grows on one with each and every listen.

Okay, so to a rating. Going back to the beginning of this review, this is not an Amarok, Bells, Incantations, or Ommadawn. It could be better compared to side two of Crises, or albums such as QE2 or Discovery, and stands up very well in comparison, so four stars for this, an album which I will play regularly for a long time. This review is of the single cd only. There is an extended version available with instrumental work.

His swan song? I know not, but, if it is, there are far worse ways to sign off.

lazland | 4/5 |


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