Enigmatic songwriter reconnects with 'true self' on aching instrumentals.
The last time we saw Mike Oldfield, he was on top of the world, basking in the validation of his starring role at Danny Boyle's 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony. If that was the pinnacle of the 63 year old's career, the nosedive was close behind. The last five years have seen Oldfield rocked by tragedy - cruellest of all, the death of his son Dougal, aged just 33 - and Return To Ommadawn finds him attempting to process events too painful to articulate. "It's the age-old story." he tells us in next issue's interview. "Out of suffering comes beauty."
Long-time fans will recall Oldfield's 1975 release Ommadawn - a pastoral-themed masterpiece, also framed by personal loss - and Return... taps into the same spirit, unfolding across two 20-minute instrumentals where the aching sense of melancholy is offset by some of the sweetest melodies of his career. The abiding mood is one of mist-shrouded Celtic folk, but Oldfield's farned multi-instrumental prowess ensures the material shape-shifts and slips easy categorisation, as he darts between mandolin, ukulele, bodhrán, african drums and a flamenco section so fierce that you can feel the catharsis bleed off his fingertips.
It's hugely accomplished stuff, yet Return To Ommadawn is often at its most affecting when Oldfield keeps it simple, returning to a sparse melody on a lone Gibson SG Junior, say, or picking out a handful of perfect acoustic notes, then letting the space in between speak emotional volumes. Not a word is said, but through these intimate moments, you feel that Oldfield is truly laying himself bare.
As an artistic statement, Return To Ommadawn succeeds on every level. Oldfield has claimed this album is a reconnection with his 'true self' following a mid-period of diminishing returns. It's good to have him back.
Mike Oldfield Tubular.net