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Mike Oldfield - Discovery CD (album) cover

DISCOVERY

Mike Oldfield

 

Crossover Prog

2.78 | 253 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

thief
2 stars Deeper and deeper in pop rock rabbit hole.

"Crises" brought Virgin Records fresh dose of smash hits with "Shadow on the Wall" and immortal "Moonlight Shadow". The plan was to double down next year with a new batch of successful singles; Mike followed the plan. Inspired by alpine landscapes and Lake Geneva - immediate surroundings of his new home in Switzerland - he delivered a good number of pleasing, inoffensive songs right on schedule. Thus "Discovery" was born.

Once again we're treated with all sorts of guitars, dreamy layers of Fairlight/Oberheim synthesizers and crystalline Maggie Reilly vocals. Ex-Triumvirat singer Barry Palmer teamed up for half of the songs and done a decent job, especially for a guy who lost voice during the recording week. The public opinion thought the same; the album quickly went up in the charts and even turned Gold/Platinum in Germany, United Kingdom, France and Spain.

But aside from commercial success in the day long gone, what "Discovery" really brings to the table?

It begins strongly with fan favorite "To France", one of the most recognizable songs of the era - at least in Europe. Maggie really leads the charge with lovely, though a bit sappy vocals. The rhythm, background, guitar synths and dainty acoustic solo round out the composition and make promise: this album's gonna be soft, simple, but pleasant in its own way. "Discovery" lives up to these expectations for the most part. "Poison Arrows" is catchy and even rocking at times, though it swallows its own tail at the end. "Crystal Gazing" sounds like mid-80s Kate Bush which is good, but it tends to cross the line between 'sweet' and 'saccharine' quite often. Maggie and Barry shared vocals on "Tricks of the Light", although they've only met after the album had been completed. Straightforward, average song, not much to write about honestly.

The title track fools us a bit because the strongest parts are the musical cues straight from "Five Miles Out" - not the album, but song itself. Actually the resemblance between the two is striking, although this one is less edgy and lacks the magical touch. I'd rather name it "Five Miles Out (Faint Memory)"... We're halfway through the album, 'just hold your heading true' folks.

After this point the formula starts wearing down and I find myself losing interest steadily. "Talk About Your Life" takes the 'sugary' route once again and doesn't really stand out in any way. Now I only remember it reused the most prominent melody of the album (the one from "To France") and tried to ramp up emotion at the end, but missed the point. "Saved by a Bell" might just define the term 'forgettable' and ultimately proves to be the weakest link here.

"The Lake" saves the B-side a bit, though I was expecting more. A twelve minute instrumental from Oldfield usually means we're in for a musical journey across mythical lands and emerald oceans; the water theme is (obviously) strong in this one, but not as breathtaking as expeditions of "Taurus" or "Crises" brand. With that being said, there is a good deal of pleasing melodies and 'background atmospheres'. I enjoy the abstract intro with 'droplets', the main theme breaking in at 1:45 or bold guitar licks around 5 minute mark. I also like the positive, but quite timid finale. So it's not that the music is disappointing: it just feels like a melting pot of separate ideas, lacking a common denominator or logical interludes. For this reason "The Lake" is a bit less than the sum of its intriguing parts.

I appreciate how 1979-83 albums tried to maintain the healthy balance between progressive and pop elements, but I also think that approach was abandoned later, "Discovery" being the first example. I don't mind spinning Mike's radio hits once in a while, but it's definitely not the reason why I grab these albums in the first place. The vision of "Five Miles Out" or even "Crises" is mostly gone while sweetie lil' tunes dominate. While it's listenable enough to make for a charming road trip, it pales in comparison with uplifting journey high above the clouds experienced on "Five Miles Out". Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I like such comparison: "Discovery" is Volkswagen in Swiss Alps, while "5MO" is Lockheed Electra aircraft gliding above Pacific Ocean.

"Discovery" is not a bad album per se, but soft tunes get dull sometimes. It doesn't really live up to its mysterious album cover, somewhat reminiscent of "Ommadawn". I can't really give it more than 2.5 stars (rounded down on Progarchives), in other words: mixed results.

I recommend checking out "The Lake", "Crystal Gazing" and perhaps title track. If you remain excited, go ahead and grab it. In other case please explore earlier Oldfield albums or jump straight to 1990s. Since I've already reviewed "Islands" and "Earth Moving", I can assure you it's not gonna get much better until "Amarok", save for "The Wind Chimes" suite (you might disagree on this one).

thief | 2/5 |

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