For those who don’t hanker for the full-on, fancy bells (no pun intended) and whistles versions of albums festooned with reams of extra tracks – which, admittedly, the likelihood of you playing over and over again is remote to say the least – these little sets, comprising five releases from one artist, are a great way of filling holes in your collection.
This Oldfield set picks up with 1992’s second instalment of his most noted work and runs to 2003’s version of the original Tubular Bells. Sandwiched in between is 1998’s Tubular Bells III, as well as standalone titles The Songs Of Distant Earth and Voyager. So that’s a fair bit of bells for your buck – or balls, if you’ve never taken to Oldfield’s chiming tour de force.
For some reason, T II has never sat particularly well with this writer, and whilst these ears certainly don’t find it offensive in any way, reacquainting with the album does little to change my mind. That said, I’m a big fan of T III, which some Oldfield purists can actually be somewhat snotty about, even going so far as to forgive the man for shamelessly re-writing 1983 hit Moonlight Shadow under the guise of Man In The Rain (a song written shortly after the former, and whose drums it samples), largely due to Irish folk singer Cara Dillon’s striking vocal performance. Yet where T II seems stilted, the electronic influence of Ibizan clubs (Oldfield was living on the island when he recorded this) lends the third instalment a more defined sense of character, albeit not one some purists are particularly fond of.
More interesting if you’re not a Bell-ringer may be 1994’s The Songs Of Distant Earth, an album conceived around Arthur C Clarke’s novel and which originally came with an enhanced CD that could only play on Mac computers, and which must have made such an impact on me at the time I have no recollection what on earth it consisted of. That, however, takes nothing away from the ambient-leaning, electronic nature of the music. Better still is 1996’s Voyager, which takes the Celtic influence long found on Oldfield’s work to the max.
Tubular Bells 2003, however, I can take or leave. It might sound brighter than the original, but give me Viv Stanshall as MC over John Cleese any day. I’d much rather have had 1999’s Guitars included instead! But it’s not …Bells, is it? And with Tubular Bells IV apparently on the way, one wonders when even Mike Oldfield will have had enough of the things…