Review Summary: Yet another brilliant effort from Mike Oldfield. Definitely something for both the newcomers to his music and the longtime fanboys.
How often does one get the opportunity to remake a masterpiece? Imagine if Da Vinci had had the chance to re-do the Mona Lisa with eyebrows, or if Andy Warhol had decided that he preferred canned corn to soup? Would there be anarchy in the streets? Would holes in the space-time continuum appear, allowing access to an alternate universe where Paris Hilton was never born and Superpeer actually was a talking waffle?
We may never know, but for a single shred of evidence… Mike Oldfield’s decision in the amiable spring (at least it was spring in the crazy, upside down world of Australia) of ’92, when he composed and recorded his 14th studio album. It was also incidentally his first album with Warner Music, after a rather unpleasant departure from Virgin Records, his label of 20 years. It is therefore rather fitting that his first album with Warner would be a remodelled version of his debut album with Virgin.
The album’s title, Tubular Bells II
, is rather apt in this case, because in many ways, the album itself follows closely the broad themes and musical progression featured on the original Tubular Bells
. Although composed of 14 songs, a great deal more than the original’s 2, there is nonetheless a feeling of comfortable déja vu as one listens to the tracks. From the quiet, enigmatic opening, so famously featured in The Exorcist
to the funky guitar riffs of Sunjammer
, you can immediately correlate points of the album to its original counterpart.
But of course, a perfect cover of Tubular Bells
would not only be rather boring, it would be a complete waste of a man like Oldfield’s talent. And as such, there is a lot more to this album than just a fond reminiscence.
The variations are noticeable from the very start, from the haunting and beautiful piano intro to the opening track Sentinel
(also the longest on the album), to the difference in tone of the guitar melody in tracks like Blue Saloon
, and also the varied instruments used in some of the more famous sequences.
By the far the most famous of these is the Master of Ceremonies section of the original album’s Part One
, in which pompous tones of Vivian Stanshall would announce each new instrument to partake in the main theme. This time around, the melody remains almost the same, save for a few minor differences, yet the instruments named has changed considerably, as has the “MC”, who is simply listed in the booklet as ‘A wandering player’, though anyone who has ever seen Die Hard, Love Actually, Galaxy Quest
or *sigh* a Harry Potter
film will instantly recognise the measured, distinct voice of Alan Rickman.
A sign of the times is also the instruments listed by Rickman in The Bell
Grand piano, reed and pipe organ, glockenspiel, bass guitar, vocal chords, two slightly sampled electric guitars, the Venetian Effect, digital sound processing, and tubular bells!
Yes, whilst the traditional instruments are still there, Mike Oldfield has taken electronic music to heart, though this album is still firmly a pleasant mix of progressive rock, ambient and world music, though it also marked a turning point in his sound, though that is another review itself.
Once again, we have the dramatic closing of The Bell
, so like its predecessor in Tubular Bells
, and again the music slows down to an ambient, soft rock theme for Weightless
, just like it did for the opening of Part Two
. However, whilst the first half of the album stayed very close to the formula of Part One
, this second half shows a lot more freedom and variation from the original.
Indeed, whilst the overall ideas
of the second movement have been kept, the actual music is quite dissimilar. Whilst The Great Plain
and Sunset Door
are still the otherwordly, peaceful tracks that gently drift into the listener’s mind like a soft spring zephyr, others are almost entirely new pieces of music, namely Tattoo, Altered State and Moonshine
is just that, a martial them played predominately on guitar, army drums and bagpipes. However, the magic of Mike Oldfield means that the squawking, god awful mess that is a bagpipe band is transformed into something lovely to listen to (no offence to the NYPD and Celtic Bevy pipes bands who performed on the album). Indeed, the flowing nature of the entire album means that the march-like Tattoo
is actually a welcome progression of the solid bass and grand swells of music in Sunset Door
One thing that has always been a major plus in Oldfield’s music, to me at least, is his sense of humour. Whilst he is perfectly capable of conveying other emotions in his music, the one that shines through the most easily is that of his wry, sometimes wacky, sense of humour. Who could forget (and if you read that review of Ommadawn
that some wonderful chap wrote, I expect you to remember) the delightfully silly Barrett-esque lyrics at the end of Part Two
. And as such, I really love Altered State
, one of the stand out tracks of the album. Featuring Oldfield’s famous Piltdown Man (growled vocals for the uninitiated), along with some rather bizarre lyrics, such as
Who’s that mummy?
I don’t know…
Are you dead mummy?
Don’t think so…
all sung in a carefree manner with a harmonised chorus in the background, with some rather rockin’ guitar riffs to boot.
Again, the track Maya Gold
harks back to the soft, ambient section of the original Part Two
which connected the original Piltdown segment with the slapdash pirate jig that ended the song. Here, the ethereal choir vocals and subdued guitar work give way to Moonshine
, a tune to make even the most road kill frying, cousin kissing, overall wearing redneck proud. Featuring an incredibly catchy melody, performed on fiddle, banjo, double bass and acoustic guitar, it really is the perfect album closer in its own wacky way.
And so ends another brilliant album by the Big Mike O. This really is a required listen for fans of the original Tubular Bells
, and I recommend it to anyone else as highly as I do Oldfield’s other works. And as I said before, Mike has re-made a masterpiece, and whilst the more disastrous effects of it are not yet known (I haven’t seen any parallel universe kangaroos yet) I must admit that the pleasure of listening to the music itself is immediately obvious. So if you haven’t yet listened to any of his stuff as you so faithfully promised me (I’m looking at you, Spat Out Dave), now is your opportunity. Go!