Tubular Bells 2003

Mike Oldfield

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Tubular Bells 2003 Review

by John Bush

The fourth time Mike Oldfield has recorded Tubular Bells, and the third time in close to a decade, Tubular Bells 2003 handily reveals a few improvements over the last few, but still has nothing on the original (most of which was trumped by its brief, well-known theme). It's obvious Oldfield expanded his instrumental palette for this recording; the notes list over 40 instruments that he plays (that is, if you include his mixing desk, his 1000 mHz processor, and the 1.2 Gb of RAM credited). Unfortunately, Oldfield substituted an awkward stateliness for the smooth, haunted elegance of the original. As before, he uses "Part One" to evoke the theme several times over with various stylistic nods. Ironically, many of these references are to more popularized versions of the styles than to the originals themselves (e.g., "Thrash" sounds embarrassingly similar to "Rockin' in the U.S.A."). One trick, and a highly marketable one, up Oldfield's sleeve is a special guest appearance to make the familiar -- for fans of Tubular Bells -- announcements of instruments to be soloed on, here performed by John Cleese. In his diminished old English gentleman's voice, he makes sharp retorts such as "two slightly distorted guitars!" with a mood that falls somewhere between folksy and ironic. "Part Two" is much better; instead of attempting to reference styles or instruments, Oldfield breaks new (for him) stylistic ground, and ends with an ingenious version of "The Sailor's Hornpipe" (aka Popeye's theme).

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