Tubular Bells II is the update and/or sequel to Mike Oldfield's landmark 1973 new age recording Tubular Bells, which will resonate forever as the haunting theme to The Exorcist. Here, Oldfield repeats his multi-instrumental performance, playing guitar, banjo, organ, percussion, mandolin, and the titular tubular bells, although in a nod to modernism, the latter instruments often appear as samples through Oldfield's Kurzweil synth rig. It's the piece's captivating main theme that again takes center stage here. The eight-minute opening track "Sentinel" plays it off of whining guitars and breathy female vocals. The latter element is a nice touch. The genre that the original Bells helped establish has come quite a ways in 20 years, and this fact isn't lost on Oldfield. Throughout II, he incorporates the multi-cultural influences that have cross-pollinated with new age, bringing in breathy ethnic flutes, Asian-inflected string sounds, and the whispered foreign words of "Sentinel." The famous ceiling of the album, where each instrument is introduced by a narrator, becomes another summit between old and new. Alan Rickman handles the introductions (during "Bell") and runs through a litany of instruments that includes "digital sound processor," reed and pipe organ, "the Venetian effect," glockenspiel, "two slightly sampled electric guitars," and vocal chords, which Rickman introduces as if they're an exotic museum piece. Some of Oldfield's fancy-handed riffs fail; the bagpipes of "Tattoo" seem too obvious and "Sunjammer" sounds like an unfortunate outtake from the Who's Tommy. But overall, Tubular Bells II succeeds mightily. It doesn't beat its predecessor, but does update its sonics and technology with Oldfield's flair for studied grandiosity.
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AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus