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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Mike Oldfield

Tubular Bells 2003

Review by Steve Alspach

There's an old joke that goes "Why does a dog lick himself? Because he can." Some may credit the same reason as to why Mike Oldfield has remade Tubular Bells. On the 30th anniversary of the album that launched several careers, namely Oldfield's and Virgin's Richard Branson, Oldfield has redone this prog classic, again by himself on all instruments. Unlike Tubular Bells 2 which featured all guitars, and Tubular Bells 3, which showed what happens when you send a prog rocker to Ibiza, this version is a very faithful replication of the original. But redoing this album may not be such a wasted idea after all. With advances in recording and technology, Tubular Bells 2003 is a real pleasure to listen to, especially with the headphones. And, after all, thirty years later it still stands up as an incredible piece of work. So, for those who wouldn't mind an updated version of a progressive music standard, you'll be quite happy with this one.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2003 Year Book Volume 1 at

Track by Track Review
The famous opening is played while other instruments gradually enter the formula. The other instruments take over this movement until a main theme emerges at 4:15. Oldfield then, ingeniously, is able to take the opening as a motif in a bridge and make it sound like it's not being overplayed.
Fast Guitars
This is the first instance where the listener found out that Oldfield was a very fluid guitarist. The main chord pattern isn't too outstanding, but it gave Mike an excuse to show what kind of formidable chops he had.
A number of basses, some of them fuzzed, whomp out a 4/4 pattern on quarter notes - some of you oldsters may remember this section from the 45 version of this (aka "Theme from 'The Exorcist.'" This time around Oldfield adds distorted electric guitars to augment the effect.
Oldfield goes the acoustic route here, and there are actually three small movements to this piece. The second part is a recap of a theme from the Introduction, this time with a mandolin as the lead instrument, and the last is the theme played over the opening riff from the Introduction.
A Minor Tune
A continuation of the last theme from "Latin". The theme that emerged in the second part of the Introduction is now played in a minor key and takes on an entirely different feel.
Not really the blues as we know them, this piece has muted electric guitars in the first part, then it opens up a bit in the end. It ends with a piano-based bridge before exploding into the lead in for "Thrash."
Fuzz-laden guitars with acoustic guitars, adding punctuation, kick into high gear.
Oldfield employs an earlier melodic theme to the same rhythm used in "Thrash."
Ghost Bells
Things come to a stop for a bit while a bell tolls and fades in the distance.
Sounding a bit like something Prokofiev may have composed, this short piece slowly builds as the lead-in to the next piece.
The end to part 1 of the original TB. The basses provide the mesmerizing riff that almost lulls the listener to sleep, then, "…Grlrlrlrl-and piano." Recognize the voice? That's John Cleese as the Master of Ceremonies this time around. His Basil Fawlty-clipped intro of the mandolin is almost worth the price of the CD itself.
Part 2 starts with the ethereal pattern of harmonics while other guitars dance around this pattern. The piece then changes, although it keeps its 6/8 tempo and delicate arrangement with acoustic guitar, mandolin, and piano.
This section is an even more languid waltz. The arrangement still resides in the acoustic side and has a bit of a Celtic feel to it.
Bagpipe Guitar
Things turn up a notch here as electric guitars lead the way, and Oldfield's use of tympani adds to the drama of the piece. As opposed to the previous two sections, at this point the listener can pretty much figure that something big is around the corner. At the end the piece escalates into a whirling dervish of guitar arpeggios.
Apparently the Piltdown Man found a girlfriend. The usually angelic-voiced Sally Oldfield joins brother Mike for some harmonizing grunts, gargling, and howls on this blowout. Fat chance finding a lyric sheet on this one.
Ambient Guitars
Things slow down considerably while two lead guitars dance around each other like butterflies as an organ and bass add a dirge-like background.
The Sailor's Hornpipe
Still the goofy end to TB, and Oldfield still plays this old traditional with blinding speed. Sure, he's had thirty years to practice it, but you still have to admire his playing.
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