I’m being very generous to myself in selecting an album of this length and, oddly enough, simplicity. The most fascinating part about Oldfield’s one-man-army compositional lineup is that you can detect the little slips out of pace that each instrument has when they are combined with each other. You detect that immediately when the first part of Ommadawn (1975, Virgin) starts playing. It’ll be entrained later on that this majority of instrumental passages is to be cherished.
The interbreeding between the Celtic branch of new-age music and progressive rock is the bridge that defines this album’s infrastructure. You’ll find the load-bearers being guitars – many of them. You’ll find an electric guitar, acoustic guitar, 12-string guitar, and a classical guitar (plus a mandolin if you wanna count them), all played by Oldfield as usual. Wanna know something else? They love being played on top of one another, they border on being heavily reliant on each other. Even then, their synchronicity runs into issues here and there because of a common trait from Oldfield’s playing everything trope: a keenness to make things fall out of time here and there the moment they’re piled together. In some instances on Tubular Bells, it borders on being criminal. In this album, it’s around the same rate, and you’ll be able to notice from just the first two minutes or so of the first part. The ground of an Oldfield unfettered germinates sloppiness.
The choirs and other vocal elements within this album are one of the utmost pertinent suppliers of that sweet new-age atmosphere that gets you a slight touch elevated rather than high as Snoop’s fingernail, and they are present from the very first seconds of this album. Just in case you were at too much risk of being immersed, there’s a synth that is so painfully out of place the momentum had to be restarted. The second time it comes around, it’s a bit more redeemable given the electric guitar debuts in this album through hunting down a chemistry with this keyboard. Both are at an awkward position until they really up the ante with a touch more fuzz and echo that brings their intensity to exactly where it needs to be.
After that breaks away and we see some fun scale work that’s to be expected only from 70s prog, we find a jagged guitar way over in the back probably off two nights full of bumping reggae and our biggest nemesis (as well as the archnemesis of an Oldfield composition’s immersion), drums in a concrete pattern. The hard percussions in this album provide an anchor of shit that hooks this album down into the dirt rather than into the sky it calls outwards to incessantly. Thankfully, the timpani doesn’t provide that kind of detriment.
When that percussion is shed into a flourishing feathery swivel, we achieve that kind of coastline yet cloud-slathered beauty found only within Oldfield’s head. Combined with that break into flute and piano? Shit, now that’s more like it; it’s an utterly excellent detour that cleans the palate perfectly for whatever’s to come. Entourages of plucking and slide whistle woodwinds brought substance and air by a choir provide not the most optimal utility of these newly acquired wings but they keep the texture up to par. Then that electric guitar comes back and you find that Oldfield’s playing has stepped up a good few notches as well to the point it’s a far cry from that riff at the first sector of Tubular Bells a while earlier in his career.
Then the percussion comes back but with a much more forgiving backbone having shed the drum kit, and a majority of the relevant instruments in this piece achieve harmony that is then only expounded upon following the keyboard deciding to shove itself in your face. Now after that we have just a choir and the percussion, both of which are heavily dependent on the other instruments in order to provide a worthy contribution to the piece. Because of that, they show a significant vulnerability when the merits are all pushed back to the wayside and only they are present.
When the instruments do start emitting their due diligence back into the piece, results are mixed. The keyboards offer optimal clarification while the electric guitar feels completely out of place. On my first listen I felt that this whole segment went on for too long, but now I’ve got a decent enough feel to allow the piece the right to justify its length. That trumpet is a lame means of following up, though. It peeps open the window into another genre only to close the door and flock back to the prog-folk witnessed through the marching and willowing of the end segment. The cement had already dried with that horn’s footprint on it however, so it’ll have no choice but to be immortalized through its sudden retraction. We end with the pounding of drums, anchoring the piece back into the ground as if that entire flight was for zilch.
Now, with this second part we’ve got a whole Berliner Schule symposium of keyboards starting us off with itty faint acoustics and bass providing them a few extra legs. On its own, it’s an excellent part but within the rest of the part it makes for a passable introduction. Does it achieve this kind of sophistication and skybound ethereality again? When they’ve no more room but to descend, they descend for far too long and pad out their time by an extraordinarily unneeded proportion. Oh, but when that cymbal happens then the palate is washed once more through its shrill crest and we have bells to help break away from this pack as the keyboards slowly finish their Schulze laudations (Slow enough so that around five minutes have passed before we find ourselves amidst the next part).
The guitars within this next section, though given a little bit of leverage through the slight noise of remaining synths, remain very fragile and prone to overreaching in how they communicate to the ears, attempting to transform their slop and prettily skittering impediment into its own kind of art to little avail. Now we’ve got the bagpipes and although they do make sense with how this album wishes to prance about, it doesn’t alter the fact that the bagpipes remain a real difficult instrument to integrate into rock music (you can potentially give the pipes the benefit of a doubt given this album is very folk adjacent as much as it is rock adjacent, but my point still stands albeit with a one-time skip in leg day). Though the melody and the pipes are real pretty, they’re mixed a tad loud so it brings the whole stereotype of sounding shrill as fuck back into the equation. There’s such peace to its method yet a lot of volume to its cajole. The flutes happen to be a damn good transition to bring that tranquillity to the next part, where the best melody of the entire album takes hold. Here you’ll finally see the sea.
The keys, the twinkling guitars and that awe-inspiring utilization of the glockenspiel has a million different kinds of hell yeah’s worthy of having thrown its way. It lasts too shortly given we immediately break away into a heavily rhythmic section where it keeps the rhythm of the percussion from the first part, without the horrendous side-effects of grounding the piece when it desires to fly like a god damned falcon. That flight is achieved best through its climax, soaring past the horizon with its million tides of strings out of sight and into a black silence.
Now we have one guitar at the helm, just laying down something simple and peaceful as the combing of wheat on a wide field. Then we have a lil’ coda blunt and wrapped around the creative processes of a farmhand’s head. Ruminations on the world at large and the place in the universe, the many infinite infinitesimals available through the different sets of humanity present across the lands and seas though preferring simpler pleasures in the face of all these existential wonders and quandaries, eventually having the whole community (if not the whole of civilization finding the most where is least) reciting alongside the leader of this international tongue. It partakes in many droplets of lush and buckled, particularly keen on emphasizing the Celtic in the Celtic new-age.
This album knows its way around supplying a dose of humility in the face of a wide humanity towards most that hear it. I’d possibly dwell for many innumerable multitudes in regards to this whole two-part sweet meaty suite with all its dynamics and dreamy plows through the field of otherwise trivial landscapes in order to locate the beauty in every last grass blade it sees, I’d possibly find a good more pieces of timing to complain about and many more textural additives that render me rejuvenated, I’d possibly make comparisons to the superior debut which would likely prove meaningless given there’s so much tying them together yet so much separating them, but to hell with all that rigamarole – I’d rather be on horseback.
Score: If I felt like just excluding this for the sake of making sure nobody just scrolls down to this part and calls it a day, would I feel bad at all?/10.
Trajectory past the first listen: neutral.
Written 11/21/2023, 1:30 PM - 2:35 PM.