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Mike Oldfield

Platinum

Review by John Pierpoint

After a string of successful instrumental albums (Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge, Ommadawn and Incantations), Mike Oldfield’s eagerly awaited next album Platinum came as something of a surprise to many. He had recently been trying out different sounds, including an electro-bop dance single “Guilty” (recorded in New York) and a new theme for BBC TV’s popular “Blue Peter” children’s programme (a personal favourite of mine!). The general drift was away from the solo, acoustic and folk sensibilities of his first albums, towards a more collaborative, electric and pop environment.

So Platinum is a marker in Oldfield’s career: the first of a series of recordings that would bring him repeated chart success in both the single and album markets, his first attempt at recording and touring with a small (dare I say “traditional”) pop band, and a move towards shorter, punchier, more commercial tunes. For those who prefer Oldfield’s earlier style, there is still much to enjoy, particularly the multi-part title track (split into four tracks on the CD version).

The “short” tunes are all joined (sometimes slightly overlapping in the mix), so in fact, the effect is closer to the one track per side experience that Oldfield fans would be used to. The production by long-time collaborator Tom Newman is excellent: bright and cutting, with clear definition and frequency allocation for all instruments, establishing a radio-friendly sound.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Platinum Part 1 – Airborn
An urgent (almost morse code) keyboard rhythm kicks off proceedings, joined soon after by a bright bass playing scales. Electric guitar introduces the slower main theme. A new section comes in later, very reminiscent of a part of Incantations, with a high, reedy synth doubling the guitar melody.
Platinum Part 2 - Platinum
The music breaks down to a basic rock backing of bass and drums, with the guitar melody on top. Synths are introduced soon after. This is almost a song without works, with the guitar taking on the vocalist’s role. The “chorus” is a particularly catchy guitar phrase. More instruments are layered on with each “verse” (again, with much that seems to be borrowed from Incantations). After a while, multi-tracked vocals take the place of the guitar, adding a sense of irreverence and fun. Horn stabs come in too.
Platinum Part 3 – Charleston
Things get weirder at this section. The floor is cleared to leave the soundstage free for the horns, which establish a new theme. Drums and a synth bass join soon after.  A manic (pitch-shifted?) piano and Spanish guitar take over the melody, and then eerie female wails and whispered scat-phrases are heard.
Platinum Part 4 - North Star / Platinum Finale
The finale is a real tour-de-force, based on a Philip Glass tune “North Star”. As with the highlights of earlier pieces like Ommadawn, this takes a stirring melody and builds on it with instrument changes and layers, reinforcing the implicit emotion to great effect. Near the end, the feeling gets a little funky, with a gospel choir, and precision drumming underpinning Oldfield’s soaring, heart-wrenching guitar screams. It’s worth checking out the superb live version of this on the Complete Mike Oldfield double compilation album, which in my opinion is much better than the studio version.
Woodhenge
Here’s a change of pace! A repeating phrase of vibraphones and marimbas (Oldfield and drummer Pierre Moerlin) gently wash into the listener’s consciousness, getting louder with each repetition. This is a pointer to the Gamelan sound that Newman would famously use on “American Beauty” many years later. Other subtle percussion gradually enters. Oldfield’s guitar stirs amongst this atmospheric soundscape. This was the B-side of the “Blue Peter” single, released just prior to the album (but sadly, not included on the album).
Sally
This one reminds me of Dave Greenslade, with its synth bass euro-pop sound. It’s a mellow song, with female lead and backing vocals. There’s a bizarre instrumental interlude which sounds like it could be using treated vocals to emulate a horn section (sounding more like a chorus of ducks to me!). The track is a bit of a wrench for anyone hoping for more “traditional” Oldfield – and only the first of many surprises to come, as Oldfield genre-hops through different musical guises.
Punkadiddle
Another of Oldfield’s sillier moments, taped audience applause introduces this guitar-led electric piece. A second theme comes in with a pipe-like synth melody that could be based on some traditional folk song or sea-shanty. The “crowd” roars its approval as the guitar comes in again. Oldfield throws in random shouts of “Oi!,” presumably to make up the “punk” element of the tune.
I Got Rhythm
This is the Gershwin song, rendered mostly on electric piano, with soulful female vocals from Wendy Roberts. The tune is repeated with a full band backing, interspersed with some Oldfield guitar phrases (and of course: tubular bells!). A sustained guitar note sounds over a final playout by the electric piano.
 
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