Mike Oldfield

The Platinum Collection

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Mike Oldfield is a bit of an enigma. On the one hand is the artist who almost single-handedly ushered in the genre of new age music with his epic masterpiece Tubular Bells, and then followed that with several albums, Hergest Ridge, Ommadawn, and even Tubular Bells II and III, all with tracks that invariable meandered for half an hour or more through various musical ideas and soundscapes -- and no doubt would have gone on a lot longer had it not been for the constraints of vinyl and the restrictions on the length of musical compositions that would physically fit on two sides of a piece of plastic with micro grooves. On the other hand, he was a successful short-form singles artist with tracks of three minutes or less, ranging from the instrumentals "In Dolci Jubilo" and "Portsmouth" to traditional folk songs like "On Horseback" and the out-and-out pop songs "Moonlight Shadow" and "Family Man." So when it comes to compiling a greatest-hits collection, what does his record label, Virgin, concentrate on? They've had plenty of practice, for as early as 1976 (just three years into his career) the triple album Boxed came along, featuring his first three albums together with his singles released to date. Then in 1985, as the CD age was still in its infancy, came The Complete Mike Oldfield, a double album with short excerpts from the various album-length compositions, plus (again) his hit singles to date. In 1993 this was updated and replaced by Elements: Mike Oldfield 1973-1991, which featured the full-length Tubular Bells, excerpts from Hergest Ridge, the original side one of Ommadawn, and (yet again) his single hits to date. This was his most successful compilation, peaking at number five in the charts and -- apart from Tubular Bells II from the previous year -- his first Top Five album since the three LPs that began his career.

Still not satisfied, Virgin updated the compilation again in 2006, bringing out a three-CD set called The Platinum Collection with 46 tracks spread across his career from the opening excerpt of "Tubular Bells" to "The Millennium Bell" and "To Be Free" from the 21st century. It is doubtful that Virgin was totally happy with this release. First, it crawled into the charts at number 36, spending just three weeks on the lists and then it was gone, waiting for the next greatest-hits collection to be released; second, it did rather attempt to cram too much into a package that undoubtedly provided value for the money (three and a half hours of music for little more than the price of a standard single CD). All the famous hit singles are here -- "In Dulci Jubilo," "Portsmouth," "Blue Peter Theme," "Family Man," "Moonlight Shadow," and "Sentinel," some taken from the extended 12" single versions -- but the earlier albums that best sum up Mike Oldfield's body of work are poorly served, with two excerpts of Tubular Bells at only 12 minutes between them, nine minutes of Hergest Ridge, ten minutes of Ommadawn, and a rather miserable four minutes of Incantations. It would be extremely difficult to please everybody with a greatest-hits collection from a man with 35 years of chart success behind him, with each of his most famous albums consisting of a single piece of music. The best that Virgin could hope for from this compilation was that it might whet the appetite for a superb artist and serve as a starting point for new fans to buy Oldfield's individual albums (even the more recent releases from Warner Bros.).

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