Tubular Bells III
Long derided, even by prog rock musos as Tubercular Bells, part of every '70s student record collections (even those who hated music found its purchase necessary), Mike Oldfield's original symphonic instrumental burned its way into the public psyche, kick-started the Virgin empire and left its author - at barely 20 - in a double bind. With 16 million copies sloshing around, he didn't need to work again, yet one album, and a brief stint with Kevin Ayres's The Whole World does not a satisfying career make.
Good for him then, that apart from a couple of years of Exegesis thereapy at the end of the '70s, he's kept at it, producing over time work of quality, from the underrated pastoral eloquence of Hergest Ridge, to the still-wonderful Moonlight Shadow, and the soundtrack to The Killing Fields. But for 25 years now that record has always been there, unexocised by 1992's chart-topping sequel and unmatched in the public perception by any of his subsequent work. Third time lucky, then?
Early omens are not promising. On the face of it, the transplanting of the Ibizan club sound to Oldfield's tinkling keyboards and guitar is asking for a red face, as if dad had sold his corner shop and become a DJ. Surprisingly though, it works at least as well as the pipes and African drums on Ommadawnn, and better than Incantations' bizarre disco inferno.
The opening The Source of Secrets starts with those trademark tinkles, before a parping bass and drum line barges its way in, chased by timewarped '80s brass stabs; but by the time the fine, hazy female vocals steal in, any anachronisms are resolved and it's convincingly in flight. Fact is, the graft takes, and the dance numbers are uniformly successful, particularly the shuffling The Watchful Eye and Secrets, a reprise of the jolly opener.
There's plenty too for the non-dancey types. Man In The Rain is this year's Moonlight Shadow, The Top Of The Morning is a memorable and elegiac piano piece, the guitar slashathon Outcast is balanced by some fine flamenco playing, and the second half builds ominously towards Far Above The Clouds, and those inevitable lurking bells.
Wherther it all makes any sense as a piece, or as just a string of - intermittently - memorable moments is debatable. To move from the striking snake supposedly depicted in Serpent Dream to The Inner Child's description of Prague in winter, is a feat beyond most listeners, let alone composers. But it couldn't be anyone else.
Rating: **** [4 stars out of 5; four stars means "Excellent. Definitely worth investigation"]
Standout Tracks: The Source of Secrets, Outcast, The Top Of The Morning
Like This? Try These: Tubular Bells; Tubular Bells II; Moon Safari (by Air; on Virgin)
Mike Oldfield Tubular.net