Joined: Jan. 2005
||Posted: Mar. 04 2014, 13:00
Mike Oldfield doesn’t have to make music. It is a known fact that he is beyond rich; it is proven once again by the lyrics of his latest album, Man On The Rocks. It is also known that it was Virgin Records that made him produce pop songs to please the radio rather than “passé” long instrumentals. So why is his first record in six years an album of eleven songs?
Oldfield is clearly feeling he has something to say here. It is, however, sometimes hard to say why that is, and what exactly does he want to tell us. While “Sailing” is a plain lovely ode to the joys of, well, sailing (as a non-millionaire I don’t have a private yacht, so I’ll take his word for it) and “Moonshine” is just a gorgeous, nostalgic song for the friends some of whom — like Kevin Ayers — are now gone, some plainly hurt. “Irene” — a song about the hurricane — is a rather oddly major key bluesy song that informs us “she’s comin’, we’re runnin’! she’ll wreck ya, and you betcha” Is this really the best he could come up with when describing a natural disaster that killed at least 44 people?
Luke Spiller, who is a singer for an up-and-coming band called The Struts, provides vocals on all of the songs. This, unfortunately, is not a good thing. While Spiller is a great vocalist, Oldfield’s songs end up sounding somewhat same-y when sung by only one singer. Albums like Discovery, Crises or Earthmoving greatly benefited from having more vocalists involved. It is also quite odd at times to hear a voice of an obviously young man singing lyrics very clearly written from the point of view of a 60-year-old — “Moonshine” being a good example. The result is sometimes unsettling to the point of mild irritation, although I can’t really clearly point a single reason as to why that is.
The production and playing on the album, on the other hand, is stellar — as evidenced, especially, on the instrumental version (available as disc 2 of the deluxe edition). It is the instrumental disc that is the ultimate selling point here. Oddly enough for a record conceived as a full vocal effort, vocals seem to distract from the songs rather than enrich them; lyrics, which fall on the wrong side of amazing, distract from the fantastic guitar playing. On the instrumental disc it is truly Oldfield that shines. With a few exceptions (“Minutes”) the songs sound complete enough without somebody singing on top of them. In a way, the difference between the two discs serves as an additional explanation of the title.
Apparently Mike is already working on a long instrumental piece as his next release. I must say that Man On The Rocks hasn’t quite satisfied my appetite for new Oldfield music, but it has definitely made me curious what is there left in maestro’s big bag of secrets. While his quality control might seem a bit weaker after those six years, his playing and ear for catchy tune hasn’t gone anywhere.
The final score is 3/5 — that would be 2.5/5 for the “actual” album and 4/5 for the instrumental versions.
http://www.raygrant.com :: My album 'Exorcism' is out on iTunes now