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No More Bells!
on 5 July 2009
Fans of Mike Oldfield might well ask themselves if another version of Tubular Bells is warranted or indeed welcome, especially after having been presented with 'Tubular Bells 2003', which offered (or so it was claimed) the 'Tubular Bells' that Oldfield had always envisioned and hoped for, correcting mistakes in the original 1973 version. And this isn't the first time that the 1973 recording has been remixed. 1976 saw the release of 'Mike Oldfield Boxed', originally featuring Quad remixes of 'Tubular Bells', 'Hergest Ridge', 'Ommadawn' and other assorted material, which would later be remixed back in to stereo.
So fans now have another remixed version of 'Tubular Bells' to add to the remixed and remastered editions (remember the HDCD issues!)they already own. Is there justification for this, or is this a sign of creative exhaustion on the part of Oldfield, issued to cynically trade on the loyalty of his fanbase?
Certainly purchasers should be aware that this doesn't offer a radically alternative version of the music, the approach appears to have concentrated on stripping back elements of the old mix to highlight and reveal workings within the music previously obscured. A quick comparison against an earlier remastered 'Tubular Bells' (1973) and remixed 'Tubular Bells' (1976)reveals that the presence of the bass within the mix has been lessened, creating greater air and space.
There are standout moments - a thinning out of the musical texture to reveal a melodic line (6.57) and percussive structures (8.00) and a piano and vocal section (13.48) is presented anew - building upon the approach in TB76. The end section of side one opens with fresh clarity, particularly heard seen in the spoken introduction to each new instrument. But the new mix isn't entirely successful, particularly in the end section of Side 1. The dramatic and climactic entry of the bells previously emerged out of a controlled rhythmic chaos, but here the bells sound sharply defined and almost apart from the underlying mix, altogether too clean. Part 2 offers an opportunity for Oldfield to clarify elements within the mix which was always less structurally and musically challenging than Part 1. The revelation begins with the start of the 'Caveman' section (11.45), which has never sounded finer. The leading edge and impact of the drums is viscerally felt and interplay of the guitar is magnificent.
As an addition to the recording this particular edition also features a re-worked version of an earlier single release ( entitled 'Mike Oldfield's Single) and a version of the 'Sailor's Hornpipe' which previously featured in the 1976 boxed edition. The accompanying disc features highlights from the earlier part of Oldfield's career, but it is not clear if this material has been remastered.
So. Do you buy? If you already own a remastered version of TB73 then purchase isn't essential as this remix does not improve substantially on what you already own. The recording is undeniably bright, clean and loud sounding, but in comparison to earlier editions it lacks tonal depth and perspective. It very much presents an 'all or nothing' approach to the sound, which you may either love or loathe.
More generally however, a cynic might wonder if this is the last time that 'Tubular Bells' will emerge in a 'remixed' form (there is the 50th anniversary to consider), and whether the patience of fans will stretch to accept another such offering. Oldfield has stated that he has never written a better riff than the opening to 'Tubular Bells', and perhaps he can now move on in at least two ways. With Oldfield now in control of his back catalogue fans might hope that other recordings will be given the same level of care and attention in respect of mastering, packaging and thematically linked bonus material as there are some which are no less deserving of his attention(Ommadawn, Incantations and particularly Hergest Ridge immediately spring to mind). There is far more to Oldfield than 'Tubular Bells' - he might well be the only person not to realise this. Furthermore, whilst his back catalogue could be revisted as outlined above perhaps Oldfield will finally move on from 'Tubular Bells' and concentrate on writing and recording new music. The fans, for all their patience and support, deserve no less.