Yeah, well, Mike Oldfield might be an odd choice for a review on this site, you might think. And maybe so, because this site is hard rock oriented, everything from AOR to Black Metal. Also, Mike Oldfield is a hard bugger to categorise. In which category should I put this. AOR? Melodic Rock? Some probably will claim that Oldfield belongs in the pop category and maybe he does. Only that I don’t have a pop category here – and I don’t review enough pop to add one either. So I guess I’ll put him in Rock. I’m not wrong there because no matter how you look at it, Mike Oldfield does play some kind of rock. In my world, Mike Oldfield is a kind of odd geezer and he’s the kind of guy that pops up a little now and then, just like the man in the box, with a song here on an album there and you’ll never know what to expect. He released his debut album, Tubular Bells, back in 1973 and it was a tremendous success and has since then released no less than 24 albums, of which I hardly know any, to tell you the truth. Which is pretty strange as every time I hear a song or an album by him, I tend to really enjoy it. Of course, we all know about his mega hit “Moonlight Shadow” that made his album Crises a multi million seller back in 1983 and that he has made two sequels to Tubular Bells, but I have my own favourite Mike Oldfield album, Earth Moving from 1989, a masterpiece of brilliant pop-rock tunes that were stepping into the territory of both AOR, melodic rock and sometimes even hard rock. The last time that Oldfield released an album was back in 2008, Music Of The Spheres, an album I haven’t heard a note of.
But only a month ago or so, a new single and video appeared on the net. The track was called “Sailing” and was a terrific pop song, not much unlike “Moonlight Shadow” actually, with a striking melody and some really brilliant lead vocals from his new find, Luke Spiller, a young British singer whose day job is fronting a band called The Struts. The song completely floored me and it made me want to check out his new album as a whole. “Sailing” is also the album’s opener and I think it sets a good standard for this record without giving anything away musically. “Moonshine” follows and this is a brilliant pop song with a Celtic touch and a big hit feel, which also applies to the title track, a big ballad that really should be a future single. I get totally glued to “Castaway”, a slow pop-rocker with a crunchy groove that comes with a bit of heaviness and a metal guitar solo – how terrific! “Minutes” could really had been something of a bagatelle and looked on as just another pop song, but it’s not, no, it is a perfect little pop song that also has big single potential and “Dreaming In The Wind” is really dreamy – an uptempo ballad with a melody that is quite addictive. Then Oldfield turns around completely and shows off his love for heavy rock, “Nuclear” is dark and heavy, all in Oldfield-style – what a brilliant track and “Chariots” is a real killer that grooves with a big Deep Purple influence. “Following The Angels” is such a beautiful ballad and just like the title might suggest, it has this gospel twist that is just awesome, “Irene”, on the other hand is a bluesy ZZ Top rocker with both slide guitar and horns, a favourite here and he leaves us breathless with a magnificent ballad in “I Give Myself Away”. Wow!
I’m still a bit baffled about how to categorise this and as you might have guessed, to listen through this whole album made me none the wiser. But aren’t categories just a bitch anyway? I mean, I really don’t care what music is called as long as it is good and ladies and gents, this is a good album. No, this is a damn good album. To be honest this is a brilliant album and it should be owned by anyone with an ear for a killer melody and some great musicianship. As always with Mike Oldfield’s music, this album sounds really good and that might be the one “negative” thing I can say about this album – it sounds too good, too polished. Because even though Mike Oldfield makes great pop music combined with rock, I really like stuff to have an edge, some rawness and that’s lacking in the production here. But then again, this is NOT a hard rock or metal album, this is a pop album that rocks, if you can grasp that. There’s a twist of heavy in the songs and everything has the distinct Mike Oldfield sound on it, both in the over all sound and in his guitar alone. All the playing on the record is faultless and his new singer, Luke Spiller, is an amazing singer. This is an album I can highly recommend!
Jon Wilmenius (9/10)
3. Man On The Rocks
6. Dreaming In The Wind
9. Following The Angels
11. I Give Myself Away