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Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells (2003)

Review No: 234
Added 15th July 2005


Music is all played by Mike Oldfield with a little help from the throats of Sally Oldfield and John Cleese.

Thirty years after its first spectacular release (1973) upon an unaware public, Mike Oldfield has gone back to his classic debut solo recording and redone the whole thing. At times, going back to former glories can be a dreadful mistake, but not in this case. Mike Oldfield has been able to rework his work of genius. (Even more remarkable considering he recorded the original when he was only seventeen and all the recording was done over a two week period in studio downtime.)

It was Richard Branson's fledgling record label Virgin that gave the young Mr. Oldfield his big break. Quite a risk for a small independent record label to take on a teenager for its first ever release, letting him release two sides of vinyl with no traditional song structures and without featuring anything like the sung word. However, between them they went on to make enough money out of this album alone to keep Branson in hot air balloons and Oldfield in ever increasing studios. Tubular Bells has topped the charts all over the world, and with over 16 million in sales is considered an important historical document, and, with a whole generation, has reverential status.

Its first major breakthrough came when the devilishly good horror movie 'The Exorcist' of the same year chose ‘The Caveman' section of music to accompany some of the movie’s most scary moments.

Track Listing
Tubular Bells is split up into seventeen different sections.
Fast Guitars
A Minor Tune
Ghost Bells
Bagpipe Guitars
Ambient Guitars
The Sailors Hornpipe

So what has Mike Oldfield done to make his original work of genius even greater, thereby further lining the well adorned pockets of himself and everyone's favorite British millionaire Richard Branson?

Well, for a kick off the whole production is much fatter and brighter than before. The bass is mixed far higher up in the mix, giving a great contrast to Mike Oldfield's distinctive guitars, which are layered over the top. 'The Caveman' has been properly updated and is no longer just a musical orgy of grunts and groans, but quite melodious. Mike has been helped out here by the addition of some superb harmonizing grunting and groaning from his sister Sally. The bagpipes on the final rampage through the ‘Sailors Hornpipe’ have finally been recorded properly with quite startling results. If you go back and listen to the original, it is quite obvious even to the untrained ear that perhaps one instrument that Mike had not quite mastered at the time of the original recording was the sometimes uncontrollable pipes. This time though it fair rips along. With today's technology it is possible as well to make each instrument stand out on its own (as a somewhat older and wiser Mr. Oldfield yet again plays all the instruments on this epic), making it fascinating listening. Each time you play it, you can hear something nou didn’t notice the previous times.

Due to the untimely death of Viv Stanshall, who did the original voiced introductions of each instrument during the 'Finale' section, a new voice had to be found. Who better than Basil Fawlty himself, John Cleese? He steps into the breech with perfect phrasing saving his best ‘pining for the fjords’ voice for the announcement of the arrival of the "double speed guitar", marvelous stuff. It still brings a smile to your face after you have listened to the album a hundred times.

Best of all though is that you no longer have to get up half way through to turn the album over. These days a Compact Disc can store all of its 50 minutes worth of a groove on one side.

There are two ways to buy this album, as a single disc or as part of a box set that includes the new 2003 version of Tubular Bells, Tubular Bells 2 from 1992, Tubular Bells 3 from 1998, plus a wonderful DVD Oldfield experience with film to go with the music. (To be fair, Tubular Bells 3 is absolute rubbish (Ella Crew doesn't agree with me here), but then nobody can be great all the time, and at only just over 40 Baht extra per CD difference between the single CD and the box set you cannot really complain.)

One thing you will not be able to do with the 2003 edition is to burn copies for your friends (so I was told). That clever Mr. Oldfield has used his studio trickery to make it impossible to burn off spare copies. But, if you liked the original recording of Tubular Bells, you will love the new one even more.

Mott the Dog resides at Jameson's the Irish Pub