Mike Oldfield
Tubular Bells


5.0
classic

Review

by LepreCon USER (14 Reviews)
July 26th, 2015 | 11 replies


Release Date: 1973 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A dazzling masterpiece ahead of its time, Tubular Bells stands even today as a monumental work of progressive music.

LepreCon presents: Rock Legends
Legend in Focus: Mike Oldfield
Part One: Virtuous Mission...


How exactly does one describe a beast like Tubular Bells in such a way as to adequately convey its brilliance and majesty without meandering into a comprehensive, analytical breakdown that could very well amount to a thesis" Iconic even to those who have not heard it in its entirety, the cover image alone- a piece of the titular ensemble twisted and contorted into a vague heart shape above a cresting wave- is imprinted in the minds of many musical enthusiasts. Of course, everyone and their mother knows the haunting theme tune of the classic horror film 'The Exorcist', which is based upon the introduction to Tubular Bells. But how does the work as a whole stand up"

There is no doubt that 1973 was a very important year for progressive rock music, with many of the genre's stalwart juggernauts releasing albums; Jethro Tull brought out A Passion Play, Yes dropped Tales From a Topographic Ocean and Genesis gave us Selling England By the Pound. Emerson, Lake & Palmer were going from strength to strength with their fourth album Brain Salad Surgery and Camel even released their eponymous debut. Perhaps most significantly of the lot of them was Pink Floyd's magnum opus Dark Side of the Moon. Which makes it all the more astonishing that an unknown English musician on a fledgling label known as Virgin Records by a then 23-year old Richard Branson could make such an impact.

Entering the Manor Studio at the tender age of 19, Oldfield had a week to lay down the first side of his LP, after which the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band were due to record. Opening with the familiar minor piano line, the organ and glockenspiel join in for some repetition and several variations of the signature phrase. The mood of this first movement constantly shifts between serene- and somewhat sinister- to upbeat and edgy as the piano and organs alternate with rock guitar lines. Time signature shifts abound as Oldfield introduces a bluesy shuffle with the bass and distorted electric guitar. A nasal choir is followed again by more riffing in 4/4 and 7/8, before the ominous tolling of bells and a jaded guitar line herald the lead in to the dynamic finale. As a notable poly-rhythmic bassline repeats as if without end, Vivian Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, acting as the Master of Ceremonies, announces each instrument in turn, beginning with the 'grand piano' (actually a keyboard as he didn't have access to a real grand piano) with a jovial phrase repeated by the reed and pipe organ, glockenspiel, bass guitar, 'double-speed' guitar (guitar recorded while the tape was spinning at twice the speed), two “slightly distorted” guitars, madolin, spanish guitar and acoustic guitar and the idiosyncratic clanging of the titular tubular bells. The instruments then all come in together in cacophonous climax, some in unison and others in harmony, backed by an uplifting choral arrangement with vocals provided by Oldfield's sister Sally. A solo acoustic guitar rounds out the first movement.

So impressed was Branson that he allotted Olfield a lot more studio time to record the second half of the record. The second movement continues to explore some of the ideas laid out in Part I, but the extra time given to Oldfield is apparent in the eclectic turns and various directions he takes. The contrast between peaceful and bombastic is taken to surreal and even bizarre places, including the infamous, heavy 'Piltdown Man' section where an allegedly inebriated Oldfield grunted and screamed unintelligibly over rolling timpani and a prolonged electric guitar solo, apparently in response to Branson's demands to have some regular vocals on the album. In what would have otherwise been an ill-advised move, some far from unwelcome humour is injected into the piece, lending it some avant-garde credibility. Followed by some spacey, ambient guitar work not unlike that of David Gilmour, it is certain that Oldfield's mind was far from Top of the Pops. A heavily accented rendition of the Sailor's Hornpipe brings Part II to a triumphant close. CD re-releases contain two additional tracks; Mike Oldfield's Single is a considerably shorter but nonetheless enchanting variation of a theme from the second movement and Sailor's Hornpipe is a curious number with Vivian Stanshall narrating an amusing faux guided tour of a museum over the closing of the second movement.

It is important to note that Oldfield played most of the instruments on the album himself, recording each one separately before layering the tracks together- almost standard studio practice today but virtually unheard of in the 70s. Constraints of time, technology and budget meant that Oldfield was unable to record the album precisely to his vision, something he attempted to rectify in his live shows and his 2003 anniversary re-recording. It may have fallen short of his expectations but what he accomplished was still something practically never heard before, a progressive masterpiece composed and almost entirely performed by a singular young musician. Tubular Bells was the first LP released by Virgin Records and was a gamble that paid off handsomely for Oldfield and Branson, becoming a surprising hit as amulti-million selling album. However, masterful a work though it may be, that is not to say that it is for everyone. Those who prefer more immediacy in their music will become swiftly impatient with the repetitive nature of the movements, the subtlety of the build-ups lost on them. The 'caveman' vocal section may be a bit too surreal and off-putting for some. Those who favour long, progressive works may find the album primitive if they are unfamiliar with the record and/or Mike Oldfield in general, which would really be a curious thing if one considers themselves a fan of progressive music. However, though Oldfield despised the fame it brought him, there is little doubt that Tubular Bells is a monumental crafting of musical genius that has stood the test of time extremely well, standing proudly alongside the aforementioned titans of progressive rock that none have succeeded in replicating, not even Oldfield himself on the 2003 re-recording, but that is a story for another day...

The Tubular Bells lineup was:

Michael Gordon Oldfield- acoustic guitar, bass guitar, electric guitars, mandolin, organs, pianos, timpani, tin whistle, tubular bells and 'caveman' vocals

Additional personnel include:

Steve Broughton- additional percussion
Sally Oldfield- vocals
Vivian Stanshall- 'Master of Ceremonies'

The story of Mike Oldfield will continue in PART TWO: Hergest Ridge...



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Comments:Add a Comment 
LepreCon
July 26th 2015


5451 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Whew, this was a very challenging review for me to write. However, since Mike Oldfield doesn't get enough love here and the other review is nearly a decade old and really doesn't tell you much about the album, I figured it was time to remind the collective Sputnik consciousness of this album's existence. I hope to review more of Oldfield's work in the near future as a lot of his albums don't have reviews, as well as finish off my other Rock Legends series.

MrSirLordGentleman
July 26th 2015


12049 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Grand Piano

PunkMoon
July 26th 2015


228 Comments


Jeez, hell of a first sentence.

LepreCon
July 27th 2015


5451 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Yeah it kinda reads a little awkwardly, might change that slightly

LepreCon
July 27th 2015


5451 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Fix'd

smaugman
July 27th 2015


4824 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I thought this album was pretty lame actually

LepreCon
July 27th 2015


5451 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

oh yeah well so is ur face!!!1!

e210013
July 30th 2015


2101 Comments


Nice review of a great album.

I don't know if I prefer it, or Ommadawn or Incantations.

LepreCon
July 30th 2015


5451 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks man!



I dunno about Incantations, but Ommadawn is a very, very close second.

TheIntruder
September 1st 2015


392 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Congratulations, for the idea of reviewing, unfortunately a kind of a forgotten album, and also because your review is very good. As e210013 said, I advise you to listen Incantations too. And don't forget Hergest Ridge. So, have a pos.

LepreCon
September 1st 2015


5451 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks bro. I've listened to all his albums and plan to review them soon, Hergest Ridge may be along in the next few days or so!



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