HERGEST RIDGE -- Virgin VR 13.109: Hergest Ridge. Personnel: Oldfield, composer, guitars, mandolin, organs, percussion; June Whiting, Lindsay Cooper, Oboes; Ted Hobart, trumpet; Chili Charles, snare drums; Clodagh Simmonds, Sally Oldfield, voices; Choir and strings conducted by David Bedford.
STAR'S END -- Virgin VR l3-114: Star's End. Personnel: Bedford, composer, Mike Oldfield,
guitar, bass guitar; Chris Cutler, percussion; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Vernon Handley.
Don't be fooled by the superficial similarities between these two albums. Both Bedford and Oldfield have contributed to each other's discs, and both records present performances of single works, each over 40 minutes long, utilising full complements of strings, brass (Star's End) and choir (Hergest Ridge), But there the resemblance ends. Oldfield is a real charmer, and in Hergest Ridge he's come up with a gem of contemporary light pop. But he can leave his buddy Bedford home next time as far as I'm concerned.
In its own way, Hergest Ridge is one of the most evocative albums I've heard in a long time. Oldfield has the singular ability to paint landscapes with music. This scene is stately, orderly, English, and very green. There are more different greens in the British country-side than most Americans could imagine, and Oldfield conjures up every last one of them. Just as all the greens are really only shades of one green, Oldfield pulls this off with only a couple of melodies, unadventurous harmonies, simple rhythms and arrangements. Sweet and charming, the tunes roll on effortlessly and endlessly. The magic is in the combinations of sounds -- electric with acoustic, keyboard with string, treble with bass - and in the effective, sometimes exquisite, use of the choir and percussion. There's a rightness to the succession of colours and dynamics which surpasses predictability and approaches inevitability.
Remarkable as the album is, it nonetheless has its limitations; things move slowly and unhurriedly, and the uniformly legato texture of the background provided for the changing lead instruments tends toward monotony. There's only one section I'd call rocking, and it runs on far too long. If you like your music teeming with innovation and excitement, pass this by. But if youve always wanted to direct your own technicolour film in your minds eye (perhaps a modern recasting of a Child ballad? It's that English), then settle in with this record for an hour or so. Who needs The Exorcist anyway?
Star's End is mistitled: there's no star, and about a third of the way through each side I began to wonder if it was ever going to end. Hergest Ridge demonstrates that a few ideas can go a long way: Star's End reminds us that they usually don't. This album lacks almost everything. The writing is uninteresting, the execution sloppy, the harmonies unsubtle and repetitious, the rhythmic interest nonexistent. Bedford gets several different noises out of his strings: aimless chattering, endless arpeggios, reiterated melodic fragments, and viscous squeaks, in that order. The music stops and starts, climaxes and subsides, but seemingly at random. If there is an overarching structure to the set, I defy you to sit still for nearly 50 minutes to find out. Oldfield mostly strums and plunks along with all the rest, though he has one nice passage of liquid distortion near the end of side one. The worst thing about Star's End is that its not even aggravating, it's just plain boring - and pretentious to boot, masking its creative poverty in pseudo-classical dissonance. -- metalitz
Mike Oldfield Tubular.net