1973: Elvis Presley does a concert in Hawaii for over a billion people live worldwide.
1973: Citing progress in peace negotiations, President of the United States Richard Nixon announces the suspension of offensive action in North Vietnam.
1973: World Trade Center officially opens in New York with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Such headlines accompanied the release of Mike Oldfield's debut album Tubular Bells
, 33 years ago. This, you might imagine, is a very long time to be making music. Certainly, many new techniques will appear, many styles will interest to the artist whilst others may lost their appeal. Music is a creature of evolution, and it is interesting to see that evolution take place in a single artist's work.
The music of Oldfield has gone through changes over the years. The early years were folk-rock with some additional touches. The middle years showed a definite lean towards electronica. Lately, his work has been predominately electronica, though vestiges of his other influences shined through. Now, with Light + Shade
, Mike had once again introduced rock into his electronica, albeit in such a subtle way as to be unnoticeable at first glance.
This album is definitely different to his '70s work. Vocals are much more common in the tracks, and the layers of different instruments playing at once are absent. However, the texture of each song remains indisputably Oldfield, with the continual weaving of melodies still apparent, despite his use of only guitars, keyboards and programming.
The album is divided into two CDs, Light
. Duh, I hear you all exclaim as you thud your forehead in an attempt to belittle me. Belittle all you like, for I shall have the laugh last. Err... last laugh.
You see, Light
is aptly named, for it is soft and ambient. It's hard to listen to it without imagining warm summer days lying in soft grass with a fresh breeze blowing over oneself. However, Shade
is faster and darker, with soaring guitar solos overlaying a solid drum and bass beat. It's the kind of music to listen to whilst roaring down the highway in the pouring rain. I bet you didn't know that, did you? You... you did? Oh bugger.
Anyways, back to the songs themselves. Easily the highlight of the entire album is Tears Of An Angel
. I'm not sure whether it is the neo-classical intro, the mournful vocals or the gritty guitar work. Whatever it is, it hits all the right parts, and never gets dull. However, it is rather closely followed in the excellence stakes by two songs, one from Light
, the other from its opposite. First Steps
, from Light
stands far above its companions in terms of time, clocking in at 10 mins or so. Despite this, it never drags, instead delivering new twists on the theme every time. Vying for second place with it is Quicksilver
, the opener for Shade
. Simply amazing is one way to describe its melody, with one instrument picking up where the other left of. There are other words to describe it, but unfortunately I've run out of superlatives.
Really, there are no bad songs, rather bad elements of the songs. Some of the tracks, especially Romance
are very similar, and the vocals can sometimes seem out of place, but otherwise it is a pleasurable listen all the way through.
I feel I must warn all fans of Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge, Ommadawn and Incantations
; this is not the same animal at all. Perhaps the inner core, the heart driving the music is similar, but the outward appearance is completely different. Despite this, it is a great listen, and I still recommend it to each and every one of you, from the casual lover of his early work, to the die hard fan, and even the guy sitting in the corner who doesn't know who Mike Oldfield is. Light + Shade
: It's Mike Oldfield and it's delicious.