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Light and Shade: the front door to Mike Oldfield's music,
This review is from: Light and Shade (Audio CD)
Mike Oldfield is one of the world's most diverse musicians and certainly one of the most difficult to classify. He is also the Howard Hughes of self-promotion. And yet he shares with Mozart a high productivity rate and has recorded over 20 albums. So how does anybody who wants to listen to his music find a way in when the albums are so very different?
The answer, for many, will be Light and Shade. This album has so many of Oldfield's trademarks mixed in. Above all, he has an elusive individualistic signature in all of his music that is almost impossible to describe. Its like a scent. It runs through this music strongly: its pure Mike Oldfield. And yet, for many of his longer-term fans, the music is very different to much of his previous output. It mixes in dance, electronica, trance, and a range of ambient styles. Into this mesmerising core Oldfield drains his majestic guitar work. Fluid bass lines accompany expansive and relaxed passages and there is frequent application of real attitude in the guitar work that welds perfectly with the mood of each piece.
The sign of a very diverse musician is that he can upset some of his fans all the time, and Oldfield certainly does that. Which ones get upset varies with each of his unpredictable works. But it is consistent with his artistic integrity that his fans, who may spend their other listening hours on anything between sugar pop to classical or hard rock to minimalism, still find that each album grows on them as their ears peel back the layers and find magic beneath the surface of whatever new clothes he has adopted with each new incarnation.
On this collection, Oldfield demonstrates touches of purity and simplicity with his acoustic and piano work, such as the claming 'Blackbird' and the touching 'Rocky'. Simplicity is one of his virtues. But he turns the special powers on for the awesomely constructed "Tears of an Angel" and the lyrical "Surfing". His ability to turn a tune was once described as second only to Paul McCartney: these two tracks testify to that.
Oldfield is such an uncompromising individual that he writes, plays, records, engineers and produces everything himself. There is no successor for music like this. His individualism means he may be an acquired taste, but he is very accessible on the ear, so this album is quick to make an impression. That makes it one of the better ways to sample his style and techniques.
Hugely admired and respected across all of Europe, regrettably much of Oldfield's work passes without comment in the UK, his own country. One reason for his appeal across Europe may be the fact that being instrumental his music leaps over the language barrier. But curiously, over the year his singles have sold bucketloads, especially in Spain and Germany. The UK market may simply be too narrow for a man whose talents tend to confound the critics and confuse the record companies.
Light and Shade has at least two obvious hits. New or returning listeners who buy it will hear Oldfield's sublime soundscapes and punchy rhythms and wonder why they have heard so little of him around.
This album is an excellent front door in for those who listen to mainstream or contemporary music and who like to have something that challenges the ear with each new piece. And if you don't like it, don't worry, his next one will be completely different again!