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Oldfield issues another masterpiece

Tubular Bells II
Tubular Bells II
By Mike Oldfield

Reprise Records: 1992

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This review first appeared in the October 9, 1992 issue of the North County Blade-Citizen (now North County Times).

Mike Oldfield steadfastly condemns those who label his music "new age," and given the quality of most music produced under that moniker it's no wonder.

But Oldfield's concept albums of the 1970s ("Ommadawn," "Tubular Bells") represented the best of whatever new age was supposed to be and, in fact, helped define it: no hard-and-fast rules, no boundaries between styles (classical, jazz, rock), experiment as often as possible, take whatever chances are available, and push the boundaries of what has already been done.

Oldfield's work of 20 years ago today stands alongside that of King Crimson, Alan Parsons Project, Tangerine Dream, Yes, Mannheim Steamroller, The Strawbs and other groups who tried to break down the walls which defined – and limited – the possibilities of music. It's not Oldfield's fault if today the term "new age" has come to be synonymous with Muzak.

"Tubular Bells II," Oldfield's first album in eight years, is as complete, as stunning a musical accomplishment as "Tubular Bells" was in 1972. In fact, it's far more – if only because electronic musical technology has started to catch up to Oldfield's imagination. With the development of MIDI, digital sampling, and the use of personal computers to both write and score new compositions, Oldfield's aural tapestry is that much richer, a Tolkienesque landscape of sound.

But this album isn't all electronic by any means. If digital technology has allowed Oldfield to more completely express his ideas, he is still first and foremost a musician. Everything from bagpipes to acoustic guitar to banjo is found here, along with, of course, tubular bells.

In the end, it's not the toys that make "Tubular Bells" – a masterpiece, it's Oldfield's compositional talent coupled with his taste and vision.