Having signed with the fledgling Virgin label for the release of his celebrated 1973 debut album Tubular Bells, mercurial multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield remained with the label right through to his move to Warner in 1992. He recorded a total of eight albums for his new label, and this double-disc collection brings together highlights and rarities from this period; disc one containing singles and disc two offering a selection of B-sides and remixes.
Having resisted years of pressure from Virgin to record a sequel to the multi-million selling Tubular Bells, the first thing Oldfield did upon arriving at Warner was to cave in and create Tubular Bells II. Although not as successful as its predecessor, it did match it by hitting No.1 in the UK (the last time any Oldfield album would do so). Thus, this compilation opens with Sentinel, Tattoo and The Bell from that sequel, tunes that echo the themes and motifs of the original album while showing that Oldfield had his ear to the ground when it came to contemporary electronic music, which he himself had, to an extent, influenced.
Oldfield looking forward – and back – with new optimism
There’s more evidence of this elsewhere. Hibernaculum and Let There Be Light from 1994’s The Songs of Distant Earth (his 16th album), which could have been filed alongside then-popular German new age project, Enigma. 1996’s Voyager is represented by both the title track and Women Of Ireland, Oldfield’s take on the traditional folk song Mná na hÉireann. As this implies, the album has an even stronger Celtic influence than usual. Perhaps inevitably, Tubular Bells III (’98) eventually emerged with less fanfare than before, and the singles Man In The Rain and Far Above The Clouds sound a little too much like Oldfield re-treading old ground.
He retrenched with 1999’s Guitars, an album – as the title suggests – solely recorded with guitars, one of which was used to trigger electronic sounds. Both The Millennium Bell (also ’99) and Tr3s Lunas (2002) feature a more traditional sonic blend and disc one rounds off with tracks from Tubular Bells 2003, a redundant re-recording of the original.
As well as various hard-to-find tracks taken from out-of-print CD singles, disc two also showcases remixes by the likes of The Orb, Jam & Spoon and Steve Hillage’s System 7. Although some now sound dated – the world of electronica spins quickly – they show Oldfield being rediscovered by a new generation just as he himself was absorbing new influences in an effort to remain relevant.
After his acrimonious split with Virgin, the Warner years witnessed Oldfield looking forward – and back – with a renewed spirit of optimism.