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important historical document, and with a whole generation has reverential
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.
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 favourite 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 you 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", marvellous 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, 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.
Music is all played by Mike Oldfield with a little help from the
throats of Sally Oldfield and John Cleese.
Tubular Bells is split up
into seventeen different sections
A Minor Tune
Caveman. Ambient Guitars
The Sailors Hornpipe