I grew up in a house soundtracked by Mike Oldfield's albums as my Dad was a huge fan, and since then we've both eagerly awaited each release, and keenly discussed each record after our first listens. "Ommadawn" was always a big favourite of my Dad's ("The Songs of Distant Earth" was his absolute favourite - "Amarok" mine) so this reissue was a must for both of us.
First of all it looks splendid - a three disk set (2xCD, 1xDVD) in a cardboard case protected by a thick plastic sleeve, and even the David Bailey artwork seems to have been given a bit of attention. The booklet is definitely worth a read, telling the story of the making of the album, in which several interesting snippets are revealed, such as that part two of "Ommadawn" was written and recorded in a week, and the overwhelming wall of guitars at the start is made up of 1,984 tracks! I was surprised to find a typo in the credits ("purcussion") but that aside it's an enjoyable read.
But what of the music? For me, "Ommadawn" was always far more consistent than "Tubular Bells" - for me that one tailed off badly in the second part - and is altogether a more pastoral sounding record, almost folky in places. It's a wonderful piece of music, eerie in parts due to the female vocals, powerful in others, particularly the last eight minutes or so when the African drums come in and Mike opens up with the guitar. The 2010 mix sounds great, some small details finally rising from the murk (drums in the "reggae" section which I'd never heard before) and by the end I was reaching for the play button once again to have another go. Part two isn't quite as good, dominated by drone-like guitars and uilleann pipes for long sections, but is still excellent in its own right, particularly the jaunty section at the end. "On Horseback" still raises a smile, but is far from essential Oldfield.
Elsewhere in the package there are a few tracks previously issued on the "Boxed" compilation many years ago, and the second disk features the original mixes of "Ommadawn". There is also a demo of "Ommadawn", previously thought to be lost. It is almost as long as the finished part one and is surprisingly close to the end result in places, but very different in others. It's a fascinating listen, marred only by a bizarre section where Mike (I presume) is telling bad "I say, I say, I say" jokes, which is reminiscent of the Janet Brown section on "Amarok" many years later (of course, Mike originally saw "Amarok" as being "Ommadawn 2", which explains the cover artwork and the similar construction in some areas). It won't replace the final version of "Ommadawn" in my affections, but it's still interesting to hear.
The DVD contains a 5.1 version of the 2010 "Ommadawn" mixes and, although I don't have a 5.1 setup my Dad does and he's informed me that it sounded great to him, but that the visuals - still photos of Mike back in 1975 - aren't up to much.
Always one of Mike's best albums, "Ommadawn" is an essential purchase. Roll on the rest of the remasters, and hopefully more new music soon.