I can’t imagine wanting to stop listening to this over and over again any time soon. If you’re new to Mike Oldfield, this is an ideal gateway album. That needs to be stated, because just picking up one album at random may not turn you into a fan. It also wouldn’t be representative of his work. Return to Ommadawn is representative of everything MO has ever done.
He’s done his fair share of self-referencing in the past, but this album takes it one step further. There are allusions to the raging leads from Guitars, mysterious vocals from Tubular Bells 2, deafening crescendos from Songs of Distant Earth, lush chords from The Wind Chimes, and a dash of humor from Amarok. RTO slyly slips in to the best parts of his best albums while remaining completely original.
The form is definitely his older style, something I’ve been waiting on for years. What you get is two LP side-sized tracks mostly of instruments played by the man himself. Many passages have only two instruments at a time, giving the album an intimate feel. This doesn’t take away from the fact that the music at several points sounds like the guy on the cover vanquishing that turtle-city thing in a battle of the ages.
★★★★★ It would be difficult not to like this album. Impossible, I imagine, for those who are already fans. Anyone who appreciates a timeless, complex musical journey that reveals more secrets at every listening, this is the album for you.
Google Play sez, at the time of this typing, that I have listened to this entire album 17 times in the few days I have known about it (my thought is that it missed about 20 other listenings but who knows). Obviously, I am a fan. This is what I call music! Of course I was reeled in by the title and at first, I wondered how it would compare to Harold Budd’s [amazon_link id=”B000008DUR” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Abandoned Cities[/amazon_link]. Here is the comparison: Budd’s generation is still reacting to the horrors of war, whereas Bertelmann’s generation looks past another possible global conundrum to a time when we will pick up the pieces of a busted piano within a deep forest and bang out a remembrance of now. The sounds of over-stretched metal cables in the second track put the listener in mind of an existence teetering on the edge of ruin. But, since it makes an awesome musical sound, it’s kind of okay that the world has ended. I do think it’s true that the children of the baby boomers have accepted that it’s all going to end, but luckily we’ll be there along with Tyler Durden and Katniss Everdeen and the dad from Jericho to rebuild it all. This album is the soundtrack to that: to rebuilding a future disaster.
Tracks 3 and 4 of our musical journey through the wasteland bring us face to face with Battles and Victoire, respectively. By the time they’ve decided to join our party, we realize in track 5 that Torley teleported in without us noticing. Next, Darren Korb leads us forward in what is probably a terminal march. And then we find it: the busted piano WADF, being played by Ilya Beshevli.
The 8th track may be my favorite. It’s hard for me to tell what’s prepared piano and what’s been processed, and I don’t care at all which is nice. It’s one of those short pieces that you can listen to a zillion times or just once followed by a lot of silence, because either way it will be in your head. The album ends as wonderfully as it begins, and with a sense of having reached a destination (it was your childhood home, which has been destroyed but you can set up camp there and put on an LP of this album).
★★★★★ The album is full of complex new sounds and memorable motives. Clocking in at 9 tracks, there is more than enough musical variety for an all-day listen. This is now one of my favorite albums of all time. And for the record, all references are meant to be complimentary.
First off, my second favorite track is the 39 second ‘intro’ track Cycle. What can I say; I got pretty pumped up (during all of those 39 seconds) about where this was going. Now that I’ve listened to the album several times, it’s hard to say why it’s even there. Just to tease us? Apparently. But, tease accepted.
The album actually takes a step back from all the bustle of flowing ambience when Morning busts in at a raging ♩=40. Now, I’ve always said that if I needed to kill myself I’d for sure do it while listening to Shostakovitch’s Prelude and Fugue No. 16 from op. 87. In this scenario, when I’ve muscled past rock bottom and woken up to find that I’ve failed even at suicide, Morning would be an acceptable wake-up tune.
Heart is a Drum centers around a repetitive little guitar block which I imagine as the crumbs left over from a Juana Molina banquet. It moves on to some nice and ghostly guitar / vocal etherea.
Next we have Say Goodbye, which is clearly Suzanne Vega posing as Beck. I’m pretty certain that if I listen to number 13 on Songs in Red and Gray, after about 9 minutes, I’ll get to this hidden track. Rhythms, harmonies, and lyrics are decidedly Vegan, and as such are great.
Mandolins. Nobody writes a sad song with mandolins in it. So, Blue Moon gives the general happiness exuded by that tiny littledouble-stringed gem an interesting twist (and I choose my words carefully here because it’s not some not-so-clever, ironic juxtaposition – see also any indie band using a glockenspiel) by inviting it to answer and play along to vocals bordering on melancholy. (And I swear the ending was written by Badly Drawn Boy.)
By track 6, we’re back to pre-Morning soundtrack possibilities. Warning: Unforgiven should not be consumed with alcoholic beverages.
It’s worth the trudge through Unforgiven to arrive at Wave. This seems like central idea of the album. At times, Beck channels Brendan Perry and obviously that’s okay. Now we can see that Cycle was actually a setup for Wave. The haunting nature of this piece is emphasized by its brevity. That’s why I give in to the temptation to listen to this one on repeat.
Don’t Let it Go will snap you back into your seat without being too abrupt. What I’m really wanting to not let go of is the previous song, but then come the low strings as a welcome surprise.
The album could have done without Blackbird Chain. Maybe I just don’t get it, but Don’t let it Go brought me to the same place as the end of the next track. They seem almost like looking at the same song from 2 different angles.
Again, Phase reminds me what we’re listening to here. It’s another ambient intermezzo which turns things down a notch for the Simon & Garfunkel / Elliot Smith-seasoned Turn Away. When the the strings come in full force (unfortunately again toward the end), they are joined by the ghostly vocals and you realize that there is a new sound on this album. It’s a good sound.
Country Down…could have done without this one. Someone tell me why I should like this. Disposable at best. I only allow CDs on my shelf if I would be happy being stranded on an island with them. This track will cancel its reservation there. I’m only being this critical because I like the rest of the album. Will listen again before writing the next sentence. Nope still don’t like it. Harmoni-come on.
Back to reality with Waking Light. Second longest track on the album, but I was ready for several more minutes. This last one did make me want to make sure I had the repeat album button on.
★★★★ right off the bat. Good album. Loads of subtle parts, not great for listening to without paying attention. Minus ★ for Country Down until I ‘get it.’ Otherwise best when listened to straight through.