Joined: June 2010
||Posted: June 23 2010, 11:26
Hi, I'm new to these forums, and I hope I'm not going to start off on the wrong foot ;-)
Well, I wrote a review on Amazon shortly after I had bought Light + Shade, and it was far from positive.
I have to say that I have now listened to the album scores of times and I quite enjoy it, but I can't think why, as I have a general dislike for anything approaching a stupid hi-hat dance beat.
So, let me think some more...
I believe that my initial bias against the album was because I expect more from Mike. Let me elaborate...
There are hundreds of people churning out albums like Light + Shade. Many of them from their bedrooms. I happened to buy this album because it had Mike's name on it. My first reaction was horror. I well remember Mike's tent protest against computer generated music in the late 1980s and he has spent most of the last 20 years producing similar music. It is not that the album is bad in its own right, if you like that kind of music - it isn't. It's just that I expect more from Mike.
An analogy would be that you had a great artist who stopped doing great works of art and started painting walls instead because he could make more money as a decorator. I feel that his talent is wasted.
As a drummer, I have a separate fear. It is all too easy to underestimate the importance of a living, breathing drum line in music. You simply can't beat the sound of real drums on music (no pun intended). If Mike could get out of his tired old hi-hat dance beats, his music would be lifted... and there are signs on Light + Shade that he can still write beautiful melodies and arrangements - but against synthetic, sequenced, quantised drum lines... eughhh!
Go back to Mike's early '80s albums, and he placed massive importance on percussion in his music - witness QE2, Five Miles Out, and Crises. Those albums just sound immense production-wise, thanks in no small measure to the live drumming of some excellent players (Phil Collins, Simon Phillips, Maurice Pert, and Carl Palmer). Now listen to Islands and Earth Moving and you hear a big difference. They sound dated, because that's the other problem of using synthetic and sequenced drums - they really date a record and the songs suffer in turn - they lack power and credibility. Pictures In The Dark and Shine would have sounded much better with real drums.
People who don't really know drums and the power of expression in rhythm do them down. Drummers are the first to be replaced by sequenced parts or drum loops, closely followed by bass players, but there's really no excuse for that and the expression in rhythm is integral to music.
Thanks to modern technology, Mike is in a situation where he can write and record in his own company, but his best work was (you have to admit it) done in collaboration with other people, even if the others just worked in just a producing role. He (and many fans) may not like it, but it's true. He must have come to the same conclusion at some point, or he wouldn't have involved Michael Cretu and Trevor Horn as co-producers.
So, back to Light + Shade, I can appreciate most of it now in its own right. I pains me to think of it as a Mike Oldfield album, for the above reasons. Romance and Lakme make me cringe, I'm afraid - I would be embarrassed to play those to friends as an example of Mike's work. There are some very nice moments on the album, and I found the ideal for listening to the album was whilst motorcycling through beautiful scenery on a summer's day (ideally in Scotland). That is until the dance beats rear their ugly heads and instead of the music fitting the beautiful scenery, it suddenly sounds like an old Ibiza club full of English yobs.
I personally love his first three albums, then QE2, Five Miles Out, Crises, Discovery, and Amarok. All feature great musicians on acoustic instruments, and for that reason they somehow don't date as badly as some of Mike's other work where he's gone it along and hasn't had the difficult but fruitful group scenario.
I won't give unconditional praise for Mike, nor any of my other 'favourite' bands, many of whom have also 'let me down' in the last couple of decades. Most just don't write as well crafted songs as they used to. This isn't about them not progressing - everyone needs to modernise and I'm not one of those people who thinks that bands should stay in the 1970s, but so many of my favourite bands who started in the 1970s just don't write or record as well as they used to. Steve Hackett seems to be one of the few exceptions and now it is newer bands, such as Muse, who are writing and recording interesting songs and exhibiting great musicianship.
So, I love Mike's work as a whole and that is why an album such as L+S is, on the whole, pretty horrific to me.
I listened to the song Five Miles Out today and counted no fewer than 14 separate musical sections in a 4.5 minute song. Incredible! A whole epic piece of music in a pop song! Now that's writing...
...and listen to those drums!