42 years on, middle-England’s most famous multi-instrumentalist delivers a sequel to his third long player.
It’s easy to dismiss Mike Oldfield as a one-trick pony. He certainly has a “style” that he’s made all his own. But then so have the other big, solo musicians for whom long, sprawling instrumental albums are their bread and butter. The thing is with Oldfield is that his style is quite unique and pretty much free of imitation. His unique blend of a myriad acoustic and electronic instruments, all played by his own fair hand or mouth, puts him in a pretty exclusive club. A man for whom complete control over his artistic output and musical prowess is matched only be a mere handful of others, such as Prince.
‘Return To Ommadawn’ is Oldfield’s first album in three years, since 2014’s ‘Man On the Rocks’, an album that saw him delve into the world of the regular pop song, which is something of a rarity for him. ‘Return To Ommadawn’ sees him return to more familiar territory with two long form tracks, singularly titled and differentiated by part numbers. It is, in my opinion, what he is best at. A musical gift such as his requires the room to flow, breathe and expand across a single side of an LP. And I guess the vinyl format still rules the roost on Oldfield’s head with the obvious 2-part nature of many of his albums. This new release is no exception, although it is also available as a CD, digital download and limited edition DVD which features both high resolution stereo mix, as well as a 5.1 mix.
The original ‘Ommadawn’ was hailed as a return to form after his difficult sophomore album, ‘Hergest Ridge’ had left some critics cold after the overwhelming supremacy of his now-legendary debut, ‘Tubular Bells’. I mean, the poor guy never stood a chance. Whatever he followed TB up with, it was always going to be on a loser, such was its predecessor’s magnificence. ‘Ommadawn’ leaned towards a more celtic influence, musically, but also drew influences from African drums and used nonsensical lyrics sung in Gaelic because he was more interested in the sounds of the words rather than the words themselves.
‘Return To Ommadawn’, whilst not instantly connectable in a musical sense to its forebear, certainly retains much of the instrumentation used in it, including the distinctive drums and pipes as well as the more trademark instruments of his that he displays such mastery of. It is a pure Mike Oldfield album, instantly recognisable and familiar without being derivative or repetitive of his previous work. All the signature sounds and techniques are there, but there is definitely a feeling of modernity in there that prevents it from being just another carbon copy, “cash-in-on-the-name” affair. When listened to from beginning to end, because there really is no other way to do so, you are taken on a musical journey that is strong enough to conjure up emotions and visualisations that enrich the whole experience. It is, pretty much, pure Oldfield gold. Put simply, if you’re a fan, you will be delighted with this album and if this is an introduction to the work of one of our greatest musicians, it will set you up well.
Oldfield, as you might expect, played everything on this album. He also produced, engineered and mixed it, including the superb 5.1 mix. All the photography inside is his work too. In fact, the only things he didn’t do were the artwork and mastering. It is also quite amazing that someone can create something so pastorally British in a studio in Nassau, but he did and he did so with aplomb. And on the matter of the 5.1 mix, a format of which I am an incredible fan, Oldfield has done an excellent job and is, in my opinion, the best way to experience this, and many other works of his. It increases the size of the soundstage and really allows all that wonderful instrumentation to be heard and appreciated. Guitar call-and-response phrases are delicately placed around the soundstage and the use of the rear and centre channels really emphasise lead or background parts where needed. The CD/DVD package is limited, so act quick if you want to experience this. And if you want more of Oldfield in 5.1, try recent reissues of ‘Tubular Bells’, ‘Ommadawn’, ’Hergest Ridge’, ‘Five Miles Out’ and ‘Crises’
I wasn’t a massive fan of his last album. I guess a Mike Oldfield album of eleven songs can jar the system somewhat, but ‘Return To Ommadawn’ really hits the spot and delivers more than the required dose of Oldfield magic. Dim the lights, choose your tipple or smoke, and turn the volume up. Perfect.