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 Mike Oldfield

British rock/classical

Tubular Bells

Hergest Ridge






Mike Oldfield


Tubular Bells - 9.5

If ever there was a one trick pony it was Mike Oldfield. Tubular Bells is one of the most original pieces of rock music ever penned. Sadly it was the peak of his creativity. He trod a similar path with some success with Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn, but then the whole thing became rather tired and dull. The result was simply that Oldfield soon ran out of ideas and today is still trotting out the same tired old stuff with dull regularity. Tubular Bells, however, is magnificent. It turned me onto a whole new style of rock/contemporary music and is still unique amongst what I would refer to as the borderline prog rock catalogue. Thanks to film and television, virtually everyone is familiar with the opening sequences - irrespective of whether they know where they actually come from, The whole work builds and builds - occasionally dropping down to produce a sublime melody. Music can evoke a taste, a smell, a period of time or a memory. Tubular Bells achieves all of this. There is one pastoral part that to me is one of the perfect passages of music. It makes me think of walking along a particular riverbank in Norfolk on a lovely hazy warm summers day with boats tied up to the bank. I have never found out quite why. Tubular Bells scored heavily on originality and sheer beauty and I would liken it to Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony and a number of Mahler's symphonies in being a perfect illustration of the landscape - a tone poem of immense power wrapped in a fragile framework. It is difficult to see how Tubular Bells could ever be bettered. I should imagine it became a mill stone around Oldfield's neck. Once you have produced virtual perfection, you have very few places to go.

For a further appreciation of Tubular Bells click here.


Hergest Ridge - 6.5

It was no surprise that after the success of Tubular Bells, Oldfield would repeat the idea on his second album. The originality at that point hadn't become hackneyed. Hergest Ridge doesn't have the same thematic quality of Tubular Bells, but it is nevertheless pleasant. It is less musically tight than its predecessor and doesn't have the charm despite having all the same elements. The second half starts with a glorious pastoral theme and if anything there is a tenser feel to this than Tubular Bells. At the time it felt as if Oldfield was repeating a successful formula rather than beginning to run out of ideas as was soon to become all too apparent. Hergest Ridge includes some rather messy passages and, of course, it's impossible not to compare it with its illustrious predecessor, but at the time it felt that Oldfield still had some distance to run with his ideas. Returning to this after so many years it is hard to forget the way the composer was destined to drive himself up a cul-de-sac, re-inventing the same ideas and totally getting stuck in a rut. Without that knowledge, however, Hergest Ridge was another decent offering.

Ommadawn - 6

Ommadawn has more of a world music feel to it, but it is very difficult to distinguish it from Hergest Ridge and by the third album record buyers were beginning to feel that perhaps too much of the same was enough. Again that's not to say that this is a bad album in any way. Most artists who produce a classic album seem to work up to it, finding their feet with lesser offerings. With Oldfield it happened the other way. He started with the classic and then worked his way down through a series of albums that failed to develop his talent. The highlights of Ommadawn are an impish motif in the first section, the introduction of the Irish pipes in the second section. Sadly it finishes at a low point with a rather silly song, By his third album everyone was beginning to work out Oldfield's style - his ability to introduce themes and then fade them out to be replaced by other layers of music which are then repeated until they are rung dry. By Ommadawn the formula was exactly the same it was just the tunes and textures that changed and that makes it difficult to differentiate between this and Hergest Ridge. That certainly didn't bode well for the future as it made it difficult to distinguish individual albums.  I distinctly remember after buying this thinking maybe enough is enough and I won't add his fourth album to my automatic buy list. Because of that I can only give this the same mark as the previous offering.   

Incantations - 2

There's only one word to describe this rambling effort - dreadful. Over 72 minutes of pointless dross that goes nowhere and shows quite plainly that Oldfield has run out of ideas. It starts reasonably well with a dramatic vocal intro which gives way to another fast paced rollicking Oldfield theme, but then it's downhill all the way. It sounds rather like an express train hurtling out of control towards the edge of a cliff. The themes are repetitive and boring with all the old traits now mixed into a mish mash of sound. It is musical waffle, breathless and without any charisma. Part two includes one of the most naive and repetitive songs you are likely to hear this side of Philip Glass. Incantations is a mess of mega proportions and struggles to reach the two point mark in my assessment.