High Fidelity - Five Miles Out Review

July, 1982
Steven X. Rea
High Fidelity

Mike Oldfield: Five Miles Out
Mike Oldfield, producer
Virgin/Epic ARE 37983

The man responsible for the fifty-minute electronic hippie symphony "Tubular Bells" is back again. This time, Mike Oldfield's record is called "Five Miles Out," and it sticks pretty much to the tried-and-true formula of its six predecessors. Side 1, titled Taurus II, is a swirling twenty-five-minute's worth of bouncy, busy instrumental music. Side 2 has four tunes: Family Man, a spacey rock effort; Orabidoo, with music-box chimes and nursery-room ambience; a sort of Anglo-Peruvian ditty (complete with flutes, recorders, and percussion) called Mount Teidi; and the title track, which is based on Oldfield's near-disastrous experience copiloting a plane over the Pyrenees in a violent storm.

Part of the multi-instrumentalist's charm -- and Oldfield's music can be charming -- comes from his decidedly out-of-fashion instincts. Here we are in the Eighties, with most British bands marching to a stark Teutonic synthesizer beat, and Oldfield is still dallying with strings and cymbals and zithers, mucking around with syrupy melodies and overblown arrangements. Oldfield gets away with all this because he's so doggedly into it; his compositions consist of layer upon layer of intricately worked out musical bits, each painstakingly mixed together into an unabashedly grandiose whole. The inside cover of "Five Miles Out" sports a reproduction of the studio track sheet for Taurus II -- a beginning-to-end documentation of every sound on every one of the piece's twenty-four tracks. A partial list of said ingredients includes Uileann pipes (courtesy of the Chieftains' Paddy Moloney), brass, strings, flute, banjo, bodhran, trombone, oboe, Hammond Prophet organ, vocoder, choir, vibraphone, not to mention a spate of guitars (played by Oldfield and Rick Fenn), percussion (Morris Pert), and more keyboards (Oldfield and Tim Cross). In the midst of this aural tempest, Oldfield plops a short lullaby titled The Deep Deep Sound, sung in an angelic timbre by Maggie Reilly.

It's doubtful that anyone will be listening to Oldfield's music one hundred years from now. Stripped of their multiple layers and elaborate arrangements, his compositions are little more than catchy commercial fodder; they don't seem to have enough of an emotional edge or depth to warrant continued listening. But played occasionally, when one's puttering around the house with nothing much to do, Oldfield's musical meanderings can create a mood that's peaceful and sublime.

Mike Oldfield Tubular.net
Mike Oldfield Tubular.net