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Mike Oldfield

Songs of Distant Earth

Review by Gary Hill

This album is apparently based on an Arthur C. Clarke book. Well, science fiction fan that I am, I hate to admit it, but I’ve never read the book. That doesn’t keep me from appreciating this beautiful disc. Even without having read the book, it’s obvious that there is a theme connecting all of this – and that’s with no real lyrics. The music all links into each other. This lands somewhere between electronic music, new age and progressive rock. It’s pretty and potent and just a great album start to finish.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
In the Beginning

This little introductory piece starts organic, but gets more of an electronic vibe as it continues. There is a Biblical quote that feels like it’s being recited via a mission control broadcast from a space ship.

Let There Be Light
Coming out of the previous piece, this is very mellow at first. Guitar brings a bit of a fusion element as keyboards continue with the electronic sounds. The vocals on this are almost operatic at times. This is a pretty cut that seems to live somewhere between progressive rock, electronica and new age. Some parts of this make me think of Enigma, while others call to mind Pink Floyd a bit.
Supernova
Based in mellow, textural new age styled music, this is another that makes me think of Enigma to a large degree. It’s fairly short and direct and leads right into the next number.
Magellan
There is a real fusion meets new age and rock sound to this number. I love the guitar soloing on this. It’s not flashy, but rather melodic. This is fairly slow moving, but quite compelling.
First Landing

This transitional piece is fairly short and quite spacey. It’s also electronic and almost classical in some ways.

Oceania

Although it doesn’t evolve quickly, this covers a decent amount of territory. It’s quite a pretty tune and has some great guitar work. Pink Floyd is a pretty valid reference point on this, but it’s not like a clone of their sound at all. The sounds of the ocean add a lot to the mix. The little sonar like droning at the end is a little annoying, but it doesn’t stay around long enough to really be a nuisance.

Only Time Will Tell
That droning continues here, but enough layers of sound are added to temper it. We get a spoken vocal loop along with lush and quite atmospheric music. This is very much an electronic styled cut in the realm of artists like Tangerine Dream, Vangelis and Enigma. There is sort of a tribal vibe later and it makes me think of Jonathan Elias quite a bit..
Prayer for the Earth
That tribal element is even more pronounced here. The music makes me think more of Vangelis in some ways, though.
Lament for Atlantis
Mellow piano driven sounds open this, but it eventually grows out to some of the hardest rocking music of the whole album. That said, it gets brought back to mellower territory to bring it back to Earth.
The Chamber
A lot of the melody on this one feels like processed humming – or even kazoo. The whole piece is somewhat like an electronic piece with symphonic textures.
Hibernaculum
Although overall this isn’t a huge change, there are some differences. For one thing, there are some Gregorian chant styled vocals along with some tribal ones. Additionally, the guitar solo on this is rather crunchy. Still, Enigma is definitely a valid reference point.
Tubular World
This lives in very much the same kind of instrumental world as the rest of the set. It’s energetic and lush. It’s also quite entertaining.
The Shining Ones
Somehow this reminds me quite a bit of the kind of music Jon Anderson did on his first solo album, Olias of Sunhillow. It’s definitely cool stuff.
Crystal Clear
The guitar weaves some brilliant melodies on this piece. The spoken vocals (more like sound loops) add a lot. It’s a dreamy kind of number that’s quite powerful while still remaining fairly mellow. It’s actually one of my favorite songs here.
The Sunken Forest
Appropriately there are underwater sounds on this. Electronic elements and dreamy non-lyrical female vocals are heard here. This has a bit of a dreamy quality, but also a sense of drama and mystery.
Ascension
Although this is rooted in electronic music, the guitar brings a real fusion kind of element to the plate. A crunchier guitar sound later brings it more into the rock realm. There is a buildup that makes me think of Yes. Then it shifts to more pure electronic music like Enigma. Still, there are some hints of Pink Floyd in that section.
A New Beginning
This is a short piece with tribal singing bringing a real world music vibe to it.
 
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