Music Reviews

Artist: Mike Oldfield (@)
Title: Tubular Beats
Format: CD
Label: earMUSIC (@)
Distributor: Eagle Records
Rated: *****
I was a little surprised to find this one in my reviewing bag. Mike Oldfield? He's still around? Although he's been releasing music regularly throughout the years, I pretty much moved on to other things after the first four albums. That sort of put me at a disadvantage since I haven't paid much attention to what he's been doing in the last 30 or so years. Despite the 'Tubular' in the title, this ain't your prog-rockin' daddy's Tubular Bells; it's more like your EDM-lovin' daughter's last trip to Burning Man or Ibiza. Speaking of Ibiza, Oldfield lived there for a while, and it's likely had some influence on these remixes. You must have figured out that that this is a remix album, sort of a 'greatest hits' from Oldfield's past reinvented and reimagined for EDM. Oldfield's partner in this is Torsten 'York' Stenzel, a long-time noteworthy EDM composer-producer formerly based in Ibiza. Turned out Oldfield and York were neighbors there but they didn't actually meet until years later through a third party in the Bahamas. Obviously, Oldfield and York clicked musically, and the result is this album.

The album is not just York's remixes of Oldfield's past material (although he had a big hand in the remixes); it was a collaborative effort with Oldfield adding new parts and sounds as well as input. The result is something nearly completely different than the original songs. 'Let There Be Light,' from Oldfield's 'The Songs of Distant Earth' (1994) is extended and expanded and given a Delerium-style groove, and I actually like it more than the original. The spoken voice sample and guitar part are still in there. So far, no radical departure. 'Far Above the Clouds' comes from 'Tubular Bells III' (1998) which is a continuation of the original 'Tubular Bells,' Oldfield's first album from 1973. Comparing that track to the remix on this album, the original percussion has been submerged and jettisoned in favor of a more club-friendly beat. It actually works great and the additional synth parts are in keeping with the track's momentum.

'Ommadawn' may be the most difficult track for dyed-in-the-wool Oldfield fans to appreciate. Both Oldfield and York are equally 'guilty' for this track as it was a 50/50 effort. It takes the most classic part of this 1975 album spread over two sides. It's a trancey prog-house take on the piece and except for certain elements (such as the vocals and the progression) bears little similarity to the original. Oldfield fans may consider it soulless sacrilege, but I think it's clever. A lot happens in it too; it's not just one big 4-on-the-floor beat fest from beginning to end. 'Guilty' from Oldfield's 1979 'Airborne' album sounded discoed-out (and a little bit silly) in the original but here it is given a modern club feel.

The remix of 'Tubular Bells' is a much more spacey affair than the original, and also very EDM. Of course, like 'Ommadawn' it's only part of the original with the Exorcist-riff as the most prominent theme. Some very nice things are done with this track, including the piano outro by John Gentry Tennyson. Once again, stubborn old-school Oldfield fans will likely hate it. 'To France,' from Oldfield's 1987 'Discovery' album featured Maggie Reilly on vocals, but here the vocals by Odessa are jazzed up with autotune and effects. Not wild about this one as it turned a very nice Celtic-inspired, acoustic-based number into an overblown pop dance tune. Odessa fares better on 'Moonlight Shadow' (from 'Crises,' 1983) even though it's geared for dance it still has a magical quality about it. Never cared much for Oldfield's reworking of 'North Star' by Philip Glass, but it works a lot better in this remix with a stronger beat. The second remix of 'Guilty' was absolutely unnecessary and time could have better spent tackling something else from Oldfield's extensive back catalog.

If you haven't gotten enough Tubular Bells by this time, the remix of 'Tubular Bells II' should sate your appetite. Here again it's very tranced-out and, and the theme (the riff taken from the section where the instruments are verbally introduced) is perfectly suited for it. I doubt I could actually stand listening to the original 'Tubular Bells II' album in its entirety, but I could listen to this multiple times. Final track on the album is a new Oldfield tune called 'Never Too Far' with vocals by ex-Nightwish vocalist Tarja Turunen. Oldfield's had a good track record working with female vocalists and this one continues his winning streak. Turunen's vocals are wordless for nearly the first half of the song, with suitable melodic ambience and no beat until 5:40. The passage where her voice goes operatic is a very nice touch. Although the song isn't exceptionally memorable, it is very nicely done, and much different than anything else on the album- soothing and mellow. It certainly helps that Tarja has a great voice.

'Tubular Beats' may have the effect of gaining Oldfield some new fans and losing some old ones, but I don't expect you'll find him playing any major EDM events. As for me, I quite liked most of the album. I found it creative and very different from any Oldfield I'd ever heard before, and the production is stellar. York deserves a lot of credit for making that happen. It would be interesting to hear what he might do with some of the other old prog-rockers out there. Next stop- Pink Floyd?

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