I grew up in a house filled with Mike Oldfield's music - I remember my dad buying "Tubular Bells" when it first came out and it never being off the record player pretty much until his second album came out. As I grew older and heard each album I became more of a fan, loving every album with only a few exceptions. When "Amarok" came out there was the usual argument between my dad and I as to who'd get the first listen, and as usual I was upset to lose out. Normally after he'd had a listen he would hand me the CD, say it was brilliant, and after I'd had a listen I'd agree wholeheartedly. On this occasion, however, he simply said "see what you think."
After the first listen I was shocked. I really didn't like it - it seemed bitty, incoherent, almost insane. But I felt compelled to listen again, so I did, and after the second hearing it seemed to click. This album is truly astonishing.
Don't expect the usual Oldfield drifting melodies, the themes of "Tubular Bells" or "Crises" or "incantations". This is something different. It was recorded during his fall-out with Richard Branson and you can really hear Oldfield's anger and frustration in the music (and, if you understand morse code, there's a message to Branson hidden deep inside the music). There *are* recurring themes in here, and there is true beauty in some of the segments, but one thing is for certain - the grand finale of "Amarok" (and it certainly *is* grand) must rank as one of the most exciting and uplifting passages of music ever written.
Most of Oldfield's other work shows flashes of sheer greatness. With "Amarok" he gave us sixty non-stop minutes of greatness.