Joined: Feb. 2017
||Posted: Feb. 04 2017, 08:05
(spoilers alert: If I hadn't listened to this album at least once, I wouldn't want to read this post)
Well well, well... what have we here?
Yesterday afternoon I listened to RTO for the first time. I had been waiting for an opportunity to give it a proper listen since the CD arrived in my post box last week. I have been working rather too many hours recently, and 45 minutes of "me-time" has been hard to come by.
At first, I have to say that I am... baffled. In, perhaps, a good way. Puzzled might be the better word. Since that first listen, I have hardly dared play the CD again, instead reading my way through the various responses and reviews, here, on MO's rapidly expanding "closed" Facebook group, and across the web, in a vague attempt to understand what it is I have experienced, before trying again. This post is an attempt to try, through writing, to work out my response to that first-time listen before putting the album on for the second time.
First, a bit about me: Although this is my first post on this forum, I admit to lurking here quite a bit on and off over the years. I am the sort of MO listener for whom it began with a few old tapes in my dad's collection (first 4 albums, probably bought by my dad in the mid-'70s, for "local interest" as much as anything, as we are from Herefordshire) grew rapidly into fandom when I bought the Let There Be Light CD single at a reduced price in about 1995, and I was subsequently blown away by SODE, confused by Crises, and gradually completed my collection from there, with Amarok forming an explosive pinnacle when I discovered it at the age of 16 in early 1998. In the run up to every album release since Voyager, I have been holding my breath with anticipation.
Typically with a new MO album I wait until I have a dark space and solitude in which to experience it, usually with headphones. The notable exception to this was TBIII, for which my first listen was actually AT Horseguard's Parade that magical evening ("brings a whole new meaning to Man in the Rain!")
The majority of first listens to recent albums have been somewhat anticlimactic, but in most cases I have grown to enjoy most of the music in at least some capacity. MOTR is less my cup of tea than MOTS, but I can find something of interest in almost every song / album.
So yesterday afternoon, almost ready to douse my typically high expectations, I installed myself flat on my back wearing my best headphones, and pressed the play button.
The subsequent feelings varied substantially in type and intensity: I found myself oscillating between a multitude of feelings, some of which I will try to express here:
- There was intrigue in the composition - what's this sound? why is there so much of that one? how did that bit get there? My musically analytical mind was working overtime trying to figure it out.
- There was frustration that the main riffs pulled and adapted from Voyager and Ommadawn didn't quite resolve in the way that I wanted them to.
- There was relief that here was, indeed, another long-form Mike Oldfield album, entirely new work, and here I was listening to it.
- There was disappointment that in some ways this sounded/felt a bit like another Guitars or Voyager or Tres Lunas in that it lacked the bite (and a lot else) of Amarok, the flow of SODE, the intelligent fun of the Tauruses etc, the innocent expertise of the early works and the ethereal soundworld of the tracks Crises and The Lake...
- There was the nagging feeling that this felt and sounded almost like an amateur fan-made knockoff Oldfield-inspired remix/home recording... Clearly, this is Oldfield music, but with all the right bits in all the wrong places. It almost seems as if this is Oldfield parodying Oldfield - as if the man he is now is not the same person as the kid he was and he's trying to emulate him...
The concept and implementation of RTO has many similarities to another recent unexpected yet long-awaited musical sequel, Pink Floyd's The Endless River. TER also harks back to many other works in PF's repertoire, and doesn't quite get where those works did, but sort of works nonetheless, while giving me a mild sense of having had my expectations slightly too high.
Another feeling with RTO was that here was Mike, sitting in the same room as me, playing his acoustic guitar, which was all very nice, well-recorded, a raw, intimate sound, but there was another Mike sat at a computer punching keys to cue samples of his electric guitar (does anyone else feel like these are clunkily slapped in there, as if Copy+Pasted?) - and there was another Mike over by the window, playing a hundred ethereal flutes with the same verve as the More Cowbell guy (Will Ferrell, here: https://vimeo.com/55624839 ). Is this all haphazardly slapped together, or am I naïvely under-reading the overall intelligence? Isn't all of Mike's music simply cobbled together, and the cohesion simply comes from familiarity by repetitive listens? But I don't remember feeling this deflated, or even this confused, after my first listen to Amarok.
Also... Where is the Silence? Where is the Space between the notes?!
And Then... Suddenly, almost out of nowhere, a few minutes into Side 1 (I can't say how many) there was a kind of explosion within me: a mixture of extreme relief and bottled up emotion that bubbled up within me, conglomerated as a ball in my throat and quickly had me bawling like a baby. I went with it, let this feeling override the others, became myself entirely a sobbing ball of emotion, settled into an open space of relief and let the rest of the album flow through this new arena of consciousness. This is not the first time I have experienced something of this sort with Oldfield, but never to my knowledge with music I'm hearing for the first time (except perhaps TBIII).
Somewhere near the beginning or middle of Part 2 I must have fallen into some kind of sleep-deprived trance-like state, because the next thing I remember consciously was a jaunty fun little music, and then Mike's voice teasingly critiquing his own 1974 naïvety, "... horseback? I'd rather be..." and the whole thing coming to a close in not quite the anticlimax of Guitars, but nothing approaching the trip-out of TB&TBII, the expertise of TB3, the cathartic mayhem of Amarok, or the out-of-body-experience of SODE. I think even the understated fades of Hergest Ridge or Mont St. Michel work better than this half-way-house sort-of-climax.
So more slight disappointment, at the end, but at least the fun has returned, and there remains that awesome uncontrollable visceral reaction that this album took me to.
Reflecting on this, while reading the mixed reviews, thinking about how I reacted to this, and reacting to what I thought about it, I have come to the following conclusion:
RTO is not Music... RTO is ... Medicine!
This is some sort of magic potion that the witch-doctor Mr. Oldfield has cooked up to help the world (i.e. the physical and emotional body) process any harm/tension/untoward-states-of-being, and distilled into a format that bears an uncanny resemblance to the distribution of a musical album. Yes, of course it's music, but that's not the point. It's not so much the music that I am after, but the other stuff.
Many of the other Oldfield albums are medicinal in this way, most notably Amarok, which manages to be music and medicine at the same time. Perhaps all the albums and works of Mr. O contain various balances of musicality and medicine. But while the music of RTO has so far left me somewhat unsatisfied, its medicinal aspects seem to be some of the most potent yet!
I fully admit that one listen is nowhere near enough for a proper appreciation of this.
Undoubtedly, as I listen to this work more and more, and as the earworms install themselves, my views will change - perhaps I will express them here, but at the moment, I don't yet know whether RTO will become for me more of a Millennium Bell/Light&Shade (somewhat disappointed, listen occasionally) or more of a Hergest Ridge/Incantations (intrigued, look forward to listening, find more on every listen). It doesn't seem to be up with Amarok and SODE, and is a very different beast from any of the Bells works, but I somehow feel myself wanting to partake of it again...
It seems Medicine can be addictive...