Top critical review
on 19 February 2018
The name of Mike Oldfield, at least for the causal or mainstream buyer, will forever be associated with 'Tubular Bells' (1973), becoming for many the defining moment of his career and ensuring his place within music history. Its success has inspired countless imitations and has even prompted Oldfield to offer further extensions of the original work (Tubular Bells II (1992), Tubular Bells III (1998), and motifs from the original work can be found within his music. Throughout this time his popularity has ebbed and flowed, but his influence has ensured that new generations of listeners have engaged with his music and sought to adopt, adapt or sample,according to their taste. Unsurprisingly, many involved in the electronic dance music of the late 1980s and early 1990s found rich pickings generally accorded the label of ambient music, whilst also referencing and plundering earlier artists (Brian Eno et al). Oldfield has remained largely detached from this culture with his music receiving unsympathetic remixes failing to appreciate the specifics of the form and function. This has changed slightly in recent years as his back catalogue has been reissued with additional material, often featuring updated or reconsidered versions of past releases. This release, according to the liner notes, suggests that this album evolved out of Oldfield's experiences of living in Ibiza in the 1990s, during which time he met with Torsten 'York' Stenzel. This has prompted the work presented here, but note that, '(...) some of the mixes were finished by Torsten, but Mike always supported the studio work'. Thus, in the wider context, 'Tubular Beats' (2013) is unusual in offering a number of remixes which appear to bear Oldfield's approval, if not actual involvement, offering a meeting of differing cultural and musical sensibilities. Given Oldfield's position as a pioneer and elder musical statesman, what are fans likely to make of this release?
The album opens with a remix of 'Let There Be Light', a track originally featured on 'The Songs Of Distant Earth' (1994), an album considered to be a return to form and an answer from Oldfield to the contemporary 'ambient' soundscapes and artists drawing upon his work (often without acknowledgement). The approach here doesn't choose to dramatically restructure the track, offering a mild and respectful reconsideration of the original material. 'Far Above The Clouds', taken from 'Tubular Bells III', provides the template for much of what will follow, placing the melodic material above a 4/4 rhythm with an attenuation to a particular dance floor and audience that is notably European, against the models historically offered by the UK and US. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the remix of 'Ommadawn' (Part One), concentrates on the final section, in the original form offering a climatic guitar driven expression of intense power and emotion rarely matched. Here it is restructured over a 4/4 beat with a nod to dance sensibility encapsulated by 'Children' by Robert Miles (1996). The same approach can be found in the reworkings of 'Guilty' (originally an ironic statement against Disco), 'To France', and even 'Moonlight Shadow' - reduced to an emotionless theatre of thump and flanging. Mercifully, relief from the identikit template is to be found in the final track 'Never Too Far' (Featuring Tarja Turunen), which could sit equally well as part of 'The Songs Of Distant Earth', 'Tr3s Lunas' (2002) or 'Light + Shade' (2005).
So. Do you buy?
This release sits between 'Music Of the Spheres' (2008) and 'Man On The Rocks' (2014), one a long form orchestral work which achieved success driven by fans of the UK's Classic FM, the latter a series of 'Rock' songs featuring the vocals of Luke Spiller (of 'the Struts'). Neither offered the return to his earlier style of work, and this set sits very much at odds with both. It is hard to see the audience for which it was designed to appeal, existing within a highly limited bouncing bandwith of 4/4 beats and keyboard stabs. Great remixes continue to exalt and elevate the original material beyond the immediate musical milieu producing them - yet even for 2013 the restricted style and choices adopted here sound dated, repetitive, and formulaic. This is not so suggest that Oldfield's work could not be remixed - it just requires a sympathetic approach broader in scope and more nuanced in execution. That Oldfield lends his name to this work is - frankly - highly questionable.
This is an idiosyncratic release that may well appeal to fans of Mr York - but perhaps less so for fans of Mr Oldfield.