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 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.
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 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!
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 6 June 2016
A hugely underrated album from Mike Oldfield that pushes the boundaries...
I am sad to say that this one passed me by - I heard "excerpts" on a really bad "Best of" album put out in 92-93 prior to his departure from Virgin records (whilst they could still raid his back catalogue) it had a kingfisher on the cover for some reason - who knows why? I was not that impressed by what I heard, but to be fair to me it was all out of context and a jumbled mess...Virgin didn't know what they had here, that's for sure!
The history/story of this album is one of legend, after being sick of Richard Branson ripping him off for 25 years and not paying him fair royalties for his HUGE back catalogue of works (making an absolute fortune for Branson-how do you think he has his millions?...yes that's right M.O.), Mike wanted out! He still had to deliver one last album for Virgin before jumping ship to Warner (to record TB2) and he decided to get one over on RB. This album is like a person walking around a 2nd hand record shop (what we call vinyl "diggers" who seek out gems that are unheard/forgotten about in the annals of time), or somebody looking at their CD tower/shelf/stand and remembering all their favourite pieces from each of the albums they see. Musically it jumps around all over the place, never stopping in the same place twice. It really holds the listeners interest as there is so much complexity and diversity on show, it is clear that Mike is a master of his art...the art of writing, playing and producing truly beautiful music. As a result it was totally unmarketable as Virgin wanted/needed singles, but this album is 60 minutes long and one track...good luck with that!
With me its most certainly a case of "Better late than never" and it is a shame that I didn't experience it 1st time around, but it was quickly followed by TB2 and Songs Of Distant Earth which are 2 of my personal favs so no worries there, but it really stands up as an album in it's own right and I think deserves far more praise than it received upon release. Most definitely the "Marmite" of Oldfield albums.
Amarok sits alongside Ommadawn as my favourite Mike Oldfield album - although the two couldn't be further apart in many ways. After the excellent Incantations, Oldfield came under increasing pressure from his record company to produce albums with pop songs and potential singles on - and the extended instrumental pieces that had made him famous disappeared from his repertoire as he ambled off into the doldrums of MOR. Amarok is the reaction to that; a joyous 50 minutes of African rhythms, Celtic strumming and sudden bursts of soaring guitar that collapses into a genuinely bonkers final ten minutes with an impersonated Margaret Thatcher impelling all the listeners to be positive about life - something it would be impossible not to do after the glorious inventiveness and postivity that has come before. Finally, it's all wrapped up with a tremendous kitchen sink finale that will rattle your speakers off your wall.
Really, seriously, this is a great album. Pair it with Ommadawn - listen to that glowering dark masterpiece when you want to see the world as it is and listen to this one when you want to see the world how we would all like it to be.
Scant wonder really that when his record company ignored his best album since the mid-70s Oldfield lost his will to experiment and became content with turning out tired old rehashes of Tubular Bells instead. Do your bit to fight the power (!) and click the Add to Basket button right NOW - you won't regret it.....
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.
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 19 July 2000
An energetic, passionate, sweeping symphony of music in many moods. Wailing rock guitar, folksie melodies, world-music tones...even an Airfix kit and a Maggie Thatcher impression! This piece carries you on at a considerable pace, non-stop for roughly an hour. The flow from section to section is often quite amazing - yet for all its many different parts the piece holds together and intertwines magnificently. It's a powerful piece, and a happy, triumphant piece. Moving and uplifting. Does away absolutley with any grounds for saying Oldfield's music is 'new age' or 'muzac' - This is a classic in a class of its own. Recognised by Oldfield fans as the masterpiece, try it, for something completely genuine and entirely on its own. But beware - this is mighty powerfull stuff - not for 'cloth eared nincompoops' who prefer easy-listening, three-minute pop songs.