Tubular Bells II is just so-so, but Tubular Bells III is great. With the perspective of time, that’s the first debate settled by this set that showcases Oldfield’s evolutions from 1992 to 2003. Tubular Bells 2003, his swansong for Warners, also included, was a re-recording of the original, which contractual reasons had prevented him from attempting until then, and which saw the 50-year-old multi-instrumentalist rectifying the 20-year-old prodigy’s perceived mistakes and tuning faults with pristine perfection. John Cleese took on the late Viv Stanshall’s role of MC.
There’s less consummate confidence when he steps away from the Bells. The Songs Of Distant Earth, based on Arthur
C Clarke’s novel, is awash with wannabe-atmospheric synths and irrelevant chatter, while the Celtic-themed Voyager offers cod Oirishry such as She Moves Through The Fair, which sits gauchely with Oldfield dressed as a topless Mad Max extra.
But the bells, the bells! TBII, a marketing exercise, almost worked creatively, the themes played around with sparkily, but as co-producers Trevor Horn and Tom Newman neutralised each other. It’s TBIII which triumphs, Oldfield deploying his new love of Ibiza electronica grooves to conjure up real euphoria. Its cathartic climax foreshadows the finalé of Kate Bush’s Aerial seven years later.