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Mike Oldfield - Music of the Spheres CD (album) cover


Mike Oldfield


Crossover Prog

3.04 | 210 ratings

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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.
tszirmay | 3/5 |


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