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.
on 21 November 2008
Ommadawn was written as a response to the panning the critics gave Hergest Ridge. Amarok was written while Mr O was in battle with Richard Branson over his past and future contract. I have felt that Mike Oldfield writes his best work when he is angry.
On first listen Amarok is not the easiest piece. On CD it is one single track. It may sound a bit disjointed and a little harsh in places. It also not the thing you stuff on the CD player as part of a light hearted dinner for friends. What it is though, is one of the most accomplished pieces of music of Modern times. I have always worried about music that is easy on first listening. Chances are, I get bored and only return to that music on rare occasions. Amarok is around an hour long and I am always able to listen to it end to end, whether working, in the car or simply relaxing. There are common themes running through the whole piece which link it together, just like all Oldfields early and mid term offerings. Also some of the themes can be recognised from earlier pieces. And these are a good thing as appose to the blantant reworkings of TB in TB 1,2,3,4,5 or wherever we are at the time you are reading this.
I have read elsewhere that the short sharp themes in Amarok were so that Virgin could not release a 3 minute single from the album and cash in further from what was then thought to be Virgin's last album with MO. Something which did pan out.
Aside from that, if you are an Oldfield fan, or not. Give this a go. It will take a couple of spins on the old record player, but stick with it. It will be well worth it. And chances are it will end up as one of those albums you keep returning to, like me.
on 4 May 2005
The fact that this album has gotten solid 5 star reviews everytime, for 16 reviews, is a tribute to it. This is the last oldfield album I would have considered buying a year ago.
I saw it in a shop ages ago, and had never heard of it so I judged it to be some of his new-age/celtic pap. Oh how wrong I was!
I just got it about 2 weeks ago and I've listened to it 15 times at least. It never gets old. Sometimes oldfield tended to spend too much time on one idea in his long songs (tubular bells part 2 and ommadawn part 2). Not so here. He jumps around nice and fast, getting us to all the musical climaxes in each part then changing idea again. Each idea, or part, is brilliant. A five star piece in its own right. The whole 60 minute song contains dozens of 5 star tunes.
Get this. If you don't know who he is, if you've only listened to tubular bells, if you got this on list-mania - get it. It's cheap now and easily EASILY worth the money. I can't see anyone not liking it.
Amarok is apparently a meaningless (but strangely evocative) word. More meaningful A-words to apply here would perhaps include Alternative, Abstract, Avant-garde, Abrasive, Absolute, Absurd, Acrobatic, Addictive, Adventurous, Aeolian, Ageless, Alarming, Alien, Allegorical, Amusing, Anthemic, Asparagus, Artichoke, Armadillo (sorry - just checking you're still reading), Amazing, Ascendant and utterly Astonishing!
Mike Oldfield has contributed on several David Bedford compositions, which are often characterised by a level of strangeness that makes them inaccessible to many. Well Amarok is clearly Oldfield's most bedford-esque work by some distance. Initially baffling and bewildering (don't worry - I'm not starting on the Bs now), Amarok takes several plays to "get into". The listener dare not get too comfortable, as beautiful soaring mood-changing guitar is cruelly punctuated by brash discord. Strange, unidentifiable noises morph into celestial vocals. But are there any memorable tunes in this complex tapestry? Yes - they abound! There are probably more distinct melodies here than on any other Oldfield album, but they take several plays to coax out and to register. Stick with it though and you will be rewarded! Oldfield's guitarwork is impeccable - the blistering riffing around the 36:40 minute mark is little short of miraculous! Then, as we begin to turn the final corner into the home stretch, we have to sit through an off-the-wall Margaret Thatcher (well Spitting Image really) monologue before being able to stand in awe of the spine-tinglingly magnificent breathtaking conclusion! This is absolutely barking stuff, which is light-years away from much of Oldfield's lightweight later material (like the disposable fluff of Tres Lunas) and may well prove too intense and demanding for many listeners. There is just the one track and it doesn't feel quite right listening to only parts of it.
Trust me; take the rough with the smooth; give Amarok at least 4 plays and, if you then do not regard this as one of Oldfield's best works, then I'm sorry I've borrowed your time :-)
on 9 June 2007
Amarok is a remarkable curio within the Oldfield canon. To outsiders, the album will probably seem too challenging and `off the wall' to be worth a second listen - a fragmented collage of ideas, some old, some new and some indulgently incongruous. However, to those with a taste for the Oldfield way of working, and some familiarity with the story leading up to this particular album, there is much here to enjoy.
To say that it has its flaws rather misses the point - to some extent the piece is flawed by design. Amarok is a tapestry of many musical colours, not all of them intended to be enjoyable or `easy listening'. If there are passages that seem uncomfortable or disconcerting, this is far from accidental. For one thing, the album is a flamboyantly defiant gesture in the face of typical record company obsession with `hits'. Oldfield was resolutely determined to produce 60 minutes of instrumental music from which no-one, not even the most rapacious of record label bosses, could extract a `hit single' or anything even remotely `radio friendly'.
It is also an album that serves as a kind of chapter ending for the ever-evolving Oldfield, a clear point of transition on his journey of musical evolution. There are many references to earlier works, especially Tubular Bells and Ommadawn, some of them quite blatant and others more subtle, hidden deep within the often dense mix of sounds and textures. In musical terms, Oldfield is sharing with his fans a flick through his back catalogue, saying `Hey, remember when we had fun with this idea?'. This process isn't as shallow as it might sound. There are no direct excerpts from earlier work or plain, easy `quotations'. Rather, there are echoes and recollections of many of the themes, styles, timbres, voicings, arrangements and compositional approaches that had been Oldfield's `signatures' up to this point in his career.
As well as fond `callbacks' to earlier works, there is innovation and subversion as well. Many passages of otherwise very attractive and lyrical music, in `traditional' Oldfield style, feature what appear to be extraneous and incongruous overdubs, such as sound effects and disjointed vocal `stabs'. These might be felt to `spoil' the music, the musical equivalent of self-inflicted graffiti. However, they can also be seen as playful, mischievous, indulgent grace notes that challenge us to wake up, and not to get complacent about what we expect from our multi-talented maestro. He is reminding us that his only job is to make the music that he wants to make. It's not his role to try and guess what we'd like to hear and then slave for months to create it. He can slash the canvas if he wants to, if he thinks that this makes more a statement than the pretty painting on its own.
Amarok is also a riotous, glorious, dazzling celebration of Oldfield's mastery of composition, playing, arrangment and recording technology. With boundless enthusiasm and seemingly limitless energy, he conjures up an astonishing variety of styles and textures, summarising all that he had learnt since his first, fumbling steps into what became side one of Tubular Bells. To some extent, sure, it's a show-off piece. This whirlwind tour through the many different landscapes that he can conjure up at will necessarily means the piece as a whole lacks coherence. So be it, says Oldfield, and carries right on having fun with his own rich virtuosity. If we want a tight focus on just two or three tunes, he says, we can go back to Ommadawn or visit the post-Incantations albums of shorter tracks. That's not what Amarok is all about, and it was never meant to be.
The album's gems may be harder to reach than with some of Oldfield's more accessible work, but they are there to be found. There are more than a few shimmering examples of Oldfield's trademark guitar brilliance (acoustic and electric). There are passages that rank with anything else in the Oldfield canon for their beauty, brilliance and densely layered craft. There are emotional high points that we can only find with Oldfield as our guide. There are playful, technically impressive displays from Oldfield the master producer, dervish of every toy in the recording studio. There is virtuosity, vision, complexity, confidence, humour and defiance. Some of the ideas don't work? Fine, says Mike with a playful shrug: here are ten more. The creative juices are flowing, the ideas pile up on themselves, the musical twists and turns just keep on coming.
Amarok is Oldfield both remembering his musical journey and departing from it, checking in with his fans while also reminding them that his only obligation is to his own muse, and his own demons. Very few will enjoy it on first listening. Even fewer will find that repeat listenings don't eventually open the door to a garden of many delights.
on 13 March 2011
As many people will also find, Amarok is difficult. Difficult to listen to, and difficult to comment on.
Having said that, difficult doesn't necessarily mean bad - quite the opposite in this case. If you are expecting a harmonious, flowing, sculpture in sound, you will get quite a shock. This is raw, aggressive, 'throw a grenade into a bucket of paint' artwork.
I have to agree with other reviewers, that the first time I heard Amarok, I was quite simply baffled. I read the back of the CD, and thought the track listing must be mistaken - 'Amarok' (60:02). After each few minutes, I felt that I wanted to press stop, but I couldn't - I was curious as to what was coming next. The track listing was, of course, correct - this is a solid hour of sound. Each time I listen to it now, I find myself thinking 'this is so far out there - it's genius'. There is so much contrast in this album, initially, it seems completely disjointed, but you get swept along without realising it. It's no secret that Oldfield and Virgin (Richard Branson in particular) were not getting along at the time, and there is a common belief that Amarok was a very deliberate way of ensuring that Mike did not 'comply' with the usual commercial expectations to release a single, and having extracts played on the radio. He also seems to be making a statement that he would not compromise his creativity because a businessman wanted him to. Indeed, the 'secret message' is genuine (a web search will tell you about this, although it does involve a swear word - you have been warned!). Despite this, Amarok is probably the most extroverted hour of unchecked, unrestrained and 'I will do what I feel like doing' creativity Oldfield has ever recorded. It's like someone with a gut full of beer, giving it everything they've got on the karaoke, caring not one bit about what others may think or say. Yet, you can't help but think 'go for it mate!'.
Even trying to write a review is somewhat confusing - I love Amarok, but I really couldn't tell anyone exactly why. Oldfield fans (like myself) will probably always regard this as being Oldfield at his very best. One thing is easy enough to say though, the climax to the album is just great. There is an impersonation of Margaret Thatcher, performed by Janet Brown. I shan't quote the words here, as I'm unsure of the copyright implications, but I would advise you to look it up (again, a web search will reveal all). The said speech puts it as well as it will get!
on 30 March 2008
Every now and then an album comes along which blows all the others around it out the water. In this case due to the nature of the music, this release went relatively unnoticed compared to the success of Oldfield's previous albums such as `Tubular Bells'. But to those who did get into this gem; it is impossible not to be completely captivated by it. Released in 1990, Amarok is Mike Oldfield's 13th album. After countless great albums; it is amazing how Oldfield maintains the same high standard from his first album `Tubular Bells'. With the success of each album must build the pressure for the next; both by Oldfield on himself and also the record company looking to maintain healthy profits. Amarok continues this trend with great sounds which flow into one another creating an amazing musical landscape
Sitting at just over an hour, Amarok is one long track which takes the listener on a musical journey unlike any other. Everyone has those thoughts in the back of their minds about holidays and dreaming of going on that once in a lifetime dream trip; For example trekking the Inca trail in Peru. Amarok is the musical equivalent and the most genius thing about it is that it costs a ten pound maximum compared to thousands of pounds trekking up the Inca trail is going to cost. Furthermore you can go on the journey again and again at no extra cost.
I was first introduced to Amarok by a friend who was to say the least completely obsessed with it to the point that it is his favourite album of all time and has been for many years. So when anyone is into album that much, I want to know why. After the first time I listened to the album there were two thoughts running through my head. The first was "yeah, this is ok; it's got some good bits in it". Secondly I realised I was totally exhausted just from listening to it. I have never experienced this before after listening to an album. But it's understandable as it is an hour long non-stop instrumental. Therefore it is heavy going and just sapped all the energy right out of me, due to the concentration required. The same thing happened for the next 10 or so listens. However at the same time, piece by piece, I was beginning to appreciate the album in its true splendour. By about the 30th listen, the bigger picture becomes clear and that's when you feel like you have completed the album so to speak. After this it's easy because I know what's coming next. I'm ready in position with my stick to strike the invisible tubular bell or have my invisible plectrum ready for another great guitar part. Even still the whole picture is yet to be completely deciphered but that is certainly the beauty of this album because the friend who I was talking about earlier is still finding new stuff and I dare to think how many times he has listened to it. But at the same time I don't blame him!
I think the key reason why this album is so good is because it is a really well thought out piece of work. There are numerous recurring themes throughout the album which give it a proper structure. In addition there is a very clear beginning, middle and end which can be recognised by the choir chanting style effects with `sa, sa , sa' or `ba, ba, ba'. I can assure you no sheep appeared in the making of the album, regardless of how you read the last bit! Seriously though it works really well and adds such freshness to the album. In saying that; I think bringing in the sheep would be a class idea for an Amarok spoof album.
The ending to the album is easily the best finish to an album I have ever heard and you could say it lasts for 15 minutes. You've got the appearance of the Tubular bells, a comedy interlude from Janet Brown and the usual phenomenal guitar playing some may even beginning to take for granted; but really shouldn't. The last minute especially is simply sublime. It is just a joyful, explosive and fitting climax to an awesome album
I have lost count of the number of times I have listened to this album, but I reckon it is at least 50. Still with every listen I seem to discover a different sound, theme or instrument. This is due to the sheer depth of the album; it is like an ocean where divers discover new species of fish and plants continuously. Unlike diving there is no risk of drowning here, although just don't try and hold your breadth for the duration! The attention to detail is unreal. So much so, this album would act as a great way to develop listening skills in schools. In fact there is so much to this album you could quite easily turn it in to a GCSE subject! Now that would be class. I have tried not to go into too much detail about the sounds and secrets of the album because I feel it is best for you to uncover them like I did. But I hope I have conveyed how much I like this album. Just in case ;-) ..........IT IS GENIUS!
I'm not sure that this should be the first of Mike Oldfield's albums you should approach if you are an Oldfield virgin (excuse the pun(ish) ) The first five or so, jarring, crazed, minutes might put you off initially, but perservere and you are rewarded with the most upliftin, smile inducing, sheer happy-making guitar break you wil ever hear and from there the album soars and dips like a glorious musical rollercoaster,an -almost- wordless adventure story that you have to listen to in one ecstatic sitting. Wonderful in every way. I love it- almost as much as Tubular Bells (maybe more actually) and really, I LOVE that; in all its incarnations.
Buy it! Mike is the man (in the rain).
on 10 August 2012
Amarok is a rare beast indeed, an album that truly stands on its own; there really is nothing else quite like it. If you are one of those music lovers that immerse themselves in an album then you must listen to Amarok!
There seems to be a consistent pattern to those who experience this music. At first Amarok is a bewildering, seemingly dis-jointed collection of musical motifs and ideas. Something mysterious deep in the fibre of the music however, brings you back and you find yourself drawn in for repeated listens. Eventually, like those 3-D images you have to stare at for an age for them to pop out, the music makes total sense and Amarok is revealed as the huge and beautiful breathing, singing, behemoth of a masterpiece that it truly is. This isn't an album to work to, it's an album to immerse yourself in whole-heartedly and the more you listen the more you'll hear; I've been listening to Amarok for more than 20 years and I'm still discovering little guitar hooks and other elements for the first time!! Quite simply one of the most under-valued but extraordinary records you will ever hear.
If you were put off by Oldfield's preceding pop records in the late 80's let this one surprise you, Amarok is a timeless classic and bears no resemblence to Earth Moving or Islands. It is hand-played, raw and earthy just like Oldfield at his best which he is here.
As for the HDCD remastering of the album, I'm not sure it makes a great deal of difference, you certinaly don't lose anything. I'm not as impressed with the sleeve notes, it hardly matters though, the music here is the overwhelmingly important bit.
As has become my tradition I will sign off by recommending an associated album. If you love Amarok or any of Oldfield's work you must listen to an album called Mohribold by an emerging artist by the name of Andrew Taylor (google it!) I found and downloaded it from a site called bandcamp. Taylor has clearly soaked up Amarok and Oldfield's earlier masterpieces though he has a flare and style all his own too.
on 6 March 2012
As many people have already said, this album is particularly difficult to review, as it is simply one unbroken, hour long track of instrumental epicness, however here goes.
This album was released in 1990, after what I think is easily Oldfield's worst album, the bland and mediocre pop effort, Earth Moving. So this album was a definite return to form for the classical/ prog master.
This not an album which you immediately love from the first listen, there are some very strange melodies used here, as well as some questionable sound effects, the most well known one being the (in)famous Thatcher impression at the end of the album, this is definitely not easy listening music. However, if you take the time to absorb all the melodies and really pay attention, this album is an absolute joy to listen to.
Some of the sections are just beautiful, some are mysterious and some are almost funny. The best thing about the album in my opinion, is that because there are so many different styles and ideas playing, it's hard to get bored listening to it. You also discover more about the music. I have listened to it many times, and I still don't fully understand it. However in my opinion, Amarok is definitely Mike Oldfield's best album.
If you are just introducing yourself to the progressive rock genre, then this probably isn't a good album to start with due to its sheer length and complexity. However if you enjoy the genre, and are looking for a completely unique album, then buy this, for its complete beauty and innovation.