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Return to Ommadawn by Mike Oldfield- A Review
The cover of Return to Ommadawn
Mike Oldfield fans can't even stand themselves, this is so amazing
One could only hope to have the skills in writing articulate enough to express the joy and excitement felt by ardent fans for Mike Oldfield’s most recent release (released January 20th of 2017), Return to Ommadawn. Recall that it wasn’t that long ago when Mike Oldfield claimed that after the release of Man on the Rocks there would be no more new music. While this was a bitter pill to swallow, true fans would and should respect his wishes to live his life according to his own rules, recognizing the incredible and wondrous library of music he left for all of us to cherish was well beyond what the vast majority of musicians have done- this is his 26th studio release- and we would be eternally thankful while wishing him everlasting happiness in his life and pursuits. Most of us were sure the future offered remastering and modernizing older work, only to discover, with elation, Mr. Oldfield realized he wasn’t done yet. Keeping in touch with many of his fans through various social media outlets, he brought us into his world by informing us he was working on a new project and let us know what it was. Mike Oldfield made sure his greatest and most devoted fans knew he was creating a follow-up to Ommadawn, considered by many to be one of his most amazing and creative works.
Tubular Bells, as all Oldfield fans know, is a historical piece of music. And we’ve enjoyed three versions of this masterpiece over time, with the original and then Tubular Bells II, later followed by Tubular Bells III. It should also be mentioned he thought of us all when releasing Tubular Bells 2003 in order to offer such historic music with 21st Century recording technology. It was Tubular Bells that we as fans recognized was a continual work in the making, due to the addictive nature it has upon his soul. But would any of us dare to fantasize he would continue within the universe of any of the other profound works? Sure, we could dream. Those who find older works such as Ommadawn or Incantations their favorites could muse on the notion that Mike would reprise these with a sequel of sorts, a revisit to the worlds they brought to the music lovers globally, but it simply seemed like too much to hope for. Amarok was going to be Ommadawn II but it became an entity upon itself. Yes, it didn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility we may enjoy something truly new, such as Music of the Spheres, but a continuation of those heady compositions of decades ago? Come on, man. Get a hold of yourself. Let this genius relax a bit and enjoy the salty air of the Bahamas with some peace.
But here we are, dear friends. A musician who is properly considered one of the most awe-inspiring creative forces not just alive today but within the history of music since music began just bestowed upon us a reason to recognize forevermore that hope is worth clinging to. A reason to dream big and never assume an outlandish fantasy doesn’t deserve its due. Mike Oldfield brought to us Return to Ommadawn, and not only did he do this with aplomb, but did so as though it comes just so easy to those who possess such power.
When we first heard this was being done, we were elated and on the edges of our seats if not brought straight to the floor, but…could it really be what we dream it could be? Could it really be something that wondrous? After all, we’ve seen many musicians and bands come back from a long absence only to drop into our laps something trying too hard or, even worse, an anticlimax we could have done without. For the love of all that is good in the world, should we fear Return to Ommadawn might fall into this category?
You can put that out of your head and allow your dreams and fantasies to flow free, because this new album really and truly exposes those dreams unable of imagining what this man is capable of doing with his heart and two hands. Return to Ommadawn is so beautiful, flowing with the impeccable skill and creativity Mike Oldfield has owned unlike too few musicians have since the days of J.S. Bach or Antonio Vivaldi. This album holds dear to its breast the world the original Ommadawn brought to us, but stands on its own without needing to reach to its parent for guidance and inspiration. Further, one must admire Oldfield for his bold confidence in not demanding this work reach for the scale of being epic; rather, it is an intimate piece, largely acoustic and yet emotional, offering glimpses into what we know from Ommadawn. Yes, we have the eerie sound of Those Chanting but for just an extended moment, and we are offered a wink and nod to the notion of thoughts about being on horseback. We reminisce in the sounds of the African Drums when it’s their turn, and alongside the acoustics we experience the sheer talent and skill, and emotional outbursts, of electric guitar most so-called Rock gods could only hope to achieve when they lie in bed at night, alone and insecure about their status.
Return to Ommadawn is more than just a sequel to a legendary musical creation. It is undeniable proof that Mike Oldfield is and has always been what impassioned fans have stated all these years; that despite the fact that so many self-proclaimed musical experts are sure they know great music, if they don’t know of Mike Oldfield, they have yet to know anything at all. It is as though all they know of the world is what they’ve seen on t-shirts and post cards. True Mike Oldfield fans look to music fans who have experience in nothing more than mainstream pop and see they have yet to get their ankles wet in a sea of musical possibility. But hey, Return to Ommadawn soared to high places on many music charts around the world almost right away, so today’s younger listeners just discovered a world of sound they may not have known of before. We truly admire them for this and will regale in the wonder in their young, fresh eyes.
The only true complaints so far about Return to Ommadawn is the cry it just isn’t long enough. One must state this is where it holds fast to its roots, since Ommadawn wasn’t long compared to Tubular Bells or the grand scale of Incantations. But with a smile it must be admitted this album is long enough, and really at a perfect length as a piece of music. Overall it approaches the area of about forty-five minutes in length, allowing listeners to enjoy it fully on any given and average day, incorporating something extraordinary into an ordinary day without compromise. One can easily enjoy it during their drive to work, not having to cut it short but allowing the length to play out before parking the car and looking to the rest of the day with a fresh smile, whispering to oneself, “Hey and away we go.”
More than forty years have passed since Ommadawn was first introduced, and should one listen to these two, the original and Return to Ommadawn, in one sitting, it feels bizarre to think the expanse of time is that broad. With the original, the space between the two Parts is rather clear as opposed to how both Parts of Return to Ommadawn reach for one another, and the original finds On Horseback as something standing, or riding along, if I may, alone. But listening to one and then the other directly truly offers similar tastes to the palate, but yet the subtle combinations of flavors are distinctive within each without being widely different. We didn’t experience this but a tiny bit with the various incarnations of Tubular Bells. Sure, the molds were a bit similar there and the ideas were in concert, but the variations of spices were unique to each one. There, we celebrated the generational gap. With the two incarnations of Ommadawn, the flavors are different only because of differing ratios and concentrations of the ingredients rather than these being altogether different. Now, if one may continue with this illustration, the differences between Tubular Bells and Tubular Bells II- 70’s and early 90’s- were bold and yet subtle both, while Tubular Bells III- the late 90’s- somehow elicited a different mood, with Mike Oldfield poised to take a similar dish in a new direction, making a third installment wholly original.
We can only wonder what he’ll do with the next incarnation in line, destined to be Tubular Bells IV.
Judging from the astonishment and elation expressed by fans on social media (a venue not there when Ommadawn found its way into our lives), Return to Ommadawn is beyond simply more than all fans could have hoped for. Where we enjoyed the space between the generations of the Tubular Bells manifestations, there is a warp in time between Ommadawn and Return to Ommadawn. While the reality is a space of more than four decades, the music transcends this space in a way making one wonder how Oldfield, now a man stepping into his mid-sixties in age, found a way to merge his 21st Century self into the young man of then, looking to that youthful Mike of then and transforming him into an avatar for the Mike of today. One cannot help but to imagine this sorcery revitalized the youthful vigor he required to achieve this. Sure, it could simply be a combination of pure genius combined with the climate of the Bahamian air (although I’m sure he could have done without Hurricane Matthew) but whatever it was, surely his doctor is h-h-happy he did it. In fact, we can see the vigor in him during interviews leading up to the release of this wondrous album.
This is amongst our favorite things beyond the music regarding Mike Oldfield. From our fan-based perspective, it appears he found a way to achieve tremendous success in the world of modern music without being coerced to bend to the will of the trends, pressure from executives (well, almost) and the egos of bandmates. Yes, he offered the mainstream world of music some fine pop and radio-friendly songs for a time, mainly in the eighties, but this only served to broaden the fan base while he held firm to who he was without compromise or surrendering to the appeal of fame. Mike Oldfield is, like his music, his own genre. The fans know one cannot find anything else like his music by anyone else. Sure, other artists and bands tried manipulating his brand to their way and wanted in, and some have offered splendid entertainment. But they’ve been forced (and eventually gave in) to accept the fact that Mike Oldfield is perfectly unique and his music is equally so.
One could go on and on regarding various opinions and thoughts about Mike Oldfield, but here is something purely factual. For as long as humanity exists and that humanity appreciates the magic that is music, the world will forever know of Mike Oldfield. And within the library of music Mike Oldfield offers to the remainder of time, Return to Ommadawn will be universally recognized as amongst the finest works in the library.