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Customer Review

41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Frustratingly sublime. [UPDATE}, 25 July 2011
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This review is from: Incantations [Remastered] (Audio CD)
Incantations (Remastered)

Incantations (2011) is both a joy and frustration to me. What it may do is lead some to re-assess this album.

Back in 1978 it was Mike's fourth album and the next in an increasingly complex set of albums, though with diminishing sales.

Nevertheless, I remember that there was a degree of expectation amongst fans. After the release of Ommadawn in 1975, and with there being one album a year from Tubular Bells in 1973, there were three years of work (and waiting!), with the resulting album being a double, Oldfield's first. It is still his longest album to date.

It is a subtle, orchestral, classical work. Many of the other reviews here will say that. It uses proper orchestras, blistering guitar, and amazing choral voices that are still quite amazing. It is an album that runs in cycles, with rhythms and voices that intermix and overlap. On hearing it in the 1970's I was both mesmerised and frustrated. I loved certain aspects of it, yet felt that some parts were overlong and repetitive - something that fans have argued about ever since. (I have heard it referred to as Mike's `White Album' because of this.) As such, it got rather unfairly criticised, and was rather ignored at the time: this was when Punk Rock reared its head, and Mike's music was seen as out of step.

Personally, I have found over time that I have grown to love it, whilst perhaps accepting that it's not perfect.

So: what of this new remastered 2011 version?

Well: the short answer is that it is still frustrating.

The complexity of the musicianship, both in the quieter parts and the parts where `everything' is going on, is still dazzling.

On this new stereo mix, I'm pleased to say that the music is clearer than ever, as you might expect, having been overseen by Mike. What this did show me is that that there are layers that the previous vinyl or earlier CD versions (even the 2008 edition!) lost, or perhaps brought forward in the mix a little. Though I must say that this is not vastly different, and I'm not expecting everyone to notice, in places there are things going on that I've missed before. This makes it perhaps less repetitive than before, but only if you really listen.

After the quality of the 5.1 Surround Sound mixes of Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn, I expected nothing less of this release. Unfortunately, my disappointment here was that there wasn't a surround sound mix of the whole album. The Stereo mix, as good as it was, was not a Surround Sound mix: though a little tweaking on the sound processor of my DVD set-up created something not bad.

And this is my impression of the new album throughout. For every excellent improvement, there's something that niggles.

Even the packaging seems to follow this rule. The new cover is stunning (with the old cover shown in the booklet) but the removal of that awful `Deluxe Edition' band around it is essential, but be careful when doing so. I lost some of the sheen on the front cover doing so. (Comparatively, the new vinyl version is also wonderful.) Similarly, whilst it is great having a DVD in the package, it is in a side pocket and may be prone to scratches if it is used a lot.

There's also a worrying little blip in the remastering on Part 4, at about 12 minutes 37 seconds in, that just sounds wrong. The editing just doesn't quite match the smooth rhythmic pattern built on up to that point. This is unfortunate, as the final five minutes or so are as excellent as they've ever been.

There's another misstep here also. Having the single Guilty (both 7" on the `original' album and in Surround Sound for the 12" version) is great - I still have my original copy on blue vinyl! - but it is such a jolt after the end of Incantations that it can quite spoil the mood created. Strange how on early versions of the original single CD they had to trim Part Three to make it all fit, whereas now we have the full album and Guilty on one CD. (The track is not on the vinyl version though, as far as I can see.)

The second CD is good, though some of it does seem a little irrelevant. There are remixes of some of the Incantations themes (Diana, Hiawatha) or parts that didn't make the final version (Piano Improvisation, which I thought was rather good.) They're rather like those Beatles Anthology tracks to me - they made me feel in the end that they were incomplete, and wanting more, `proper' versions.

This was the same but even more so on the DVD's Surround Sound versions. The tantalising re-edits and snippets sound great, but in the end, all they left me with was a feeling of disappointment that there wasn't more.

A minor detail but also a disappointment: the DVD has a very boring front screen. Whereas Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn had screens that changed through the music, this one doesn't: instead we have a picture of a tabletop with some photo's on it, rather like the Exposed cover, but far too small to make out anything of use.

Whilst we're talking of the concert footage, from the tour (released as Exposed), the DVD does have the added Exposed footage of Incantations live at Wembley, as in 1979. The concert footage here does seem to work in Surround Sound, (whereas on the Exposed DVD it was only Stereo) but running them as two badly separated/edited parts was a shame.

The booklet notes seem to be edited comments from Mike's autobiography, Changeling.
In the end, as much as I want to love this, the album frustrates as much as it entertains. I'm a little worried that Mike's signed off on this one. As much as I liked it, after a few repeated watches and listens, I keep getting the feeling that it's not as well put together as the three previous reissues.

In summary, this is a package that both enthuses and irritates. It is clear that Incantations, despite its faults, is an underrated work that can now be more fully appreciated. My disappointment here is that this version is still not as good as it could have been. Frustratingly sublime.

UPDATE: Heard from Universal Music about this, who've said 'The new re-master of Incantations is faithful to the original analogue master tape. These tapes included an edit point at 12:37 on Part 4 of Incantations which can be discerned as a small jump in the track. Following feedback that this has affected the enjoyment for some listeners, a new master has been prepared and approved by Mike for all subsequent pressings. If you would like us to send you an amended disc please let us have your address details and we will send you one.'
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 26 Jul 2011, 00:56:50 BST
TomX01 says:
Some of the master tapes were missing, and some were damaged, so a full remix and remaster wasn't possible.

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Jul 2011, 07:57:01 BST
Lee Thomas says:
I'm sure though that with today's technology they could have patched the missing or damaged bits with a remaster from a previous CD release and blended them in seamlessly. This would have been infanently better than an annoying skip in the music which total ruins the whole thing. I mean they even remaster from vynal too these days and most sound great!

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Jul 2011, 23:11:25 BST
Last edited by the author on 26 Jul 2011, 23:35:52 BST
Lee Thomas says:
Following up on my previous post, I've just had a mad idea, but may prove useful if the glitch problem doesn't get fixed.

1. Buy a box of blank printable surface CDs.

2. Rip all the 2011 remaster into the WAV file format at best quality so it remains CD quality.

3. Chop off the end of Part 4 that contains the glitch using a music editing program. (There is a slight fade out before the last section anyway).

4. Rip the 2000 remastered version of the end of part 4 in the same high quality file format. You can either use the 2000 remastered album or the 2000 excerpt found on the 3CD Platinum Collection.

5. Now tag it onto the end of your cut 2011 version replacing the glitched part you've just chopped off. (Export this re-edited part 4 file to your folder containing parts 1 - 3)

6. Burn all the files onto your blank printable surface disc using create music CD in a CD burning program.

7. Scan the original disc label and then print it onto the newly burned blank CD which now contains the whole unspoiled Incantations Parts 1 - 4).

...And there you go! An unspoiled 2011 remastered version, repaired with a little of the 2000 remaster. (If I could do this in 7 easy steps, how could a major record company not?) To blame missing master tapes is a poor cop out!

See the trouble you've caused Universal. However this bit of repair work is what I'm going to do. Lol! I think Mike himself would be impressed with my idea. ;-). :-).

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Jul 2011, 18:30:22 BST
[Deleted by the author on 27 Jul 2011, 18:31:28 BST]

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Jul 2011, 14:36:59 BST
Neil Hunt says:
Universal are re-pressing the CD and replacements will be made available if you email them your details: mk.customerservices@umusic.com for CD and support@universal-music.co.uk for vinyl.

Posted on 2 Aug 2011, 19:24:32 BST
FYI this edition wasn't remixed just remastered.

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Aug 2011, 09:55:25 BST
Also for your information the new "corrected" edition has not completely repaired the glitch. Be warned.

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Apr 2012, 01:25:36 BST
Seems pointless to even buy it. Earlier editions will do.
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