Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells (Boxed)

Album cover

  1. Tubular Bells Part One (25:33)
  2. Tubular Bells Part Two (25:45)
  3. The Rio Grande (6:34)
  4. Portsmouth (2:04)
  5. In Dulci Jubilo (2:52)

Virgin, 1973

also by Mike Oldfield:

I've got a great affection for this album, probably because I can identify with a screwed-up teenager escaping into composing epic pop instrumental pieces in his bedroom. It's a shame that in recent years the Tubular Bells idea has been treated as a cash cow to be milked. Tubular Bells II had its moments, but the subsequent mediocrities shared little with the original apart from a distinctive image of a bent metal object. Although the original did make Richard Branson's first million.

Tubular Bells was a remarkably original idea at the time from a young and fresh imagination. It isn't merely someone just playing instruments randomly as the fancy takes them, but a coherent sequence of ideas put together deliberately. The episodes flow into each other, sometimes pastoral and folky, and sometimes with a cheeky subversive humour. It's witty in a very English, BBC alternative comedy kind of way, as with Viv Stanshall's plummy recital of the names of the instruments, and the grunting caveman section.

The opening theme has been played to death, resurrected and played to death again, but it's still a plainly brilliant tune. Although another catchy counter-melody forms the basis of part 1, the opening theme recurs at suitable moments. The start of part 2 could be dissed as a boring noodle, but it's a chance to take a breather after the symphonic climax of part 1. It picks up pace with the odd section with lots of guitars overlaid and distorted to sound like bagpipes. Oldfield rocks out for the caveman section, but in a relatively restrained English way!

This box-set version has some extra tracks. The best is an amusing drunken recording made by Oldfield, Stanshall et al, as an interesting "remix" of the Sailor's Hornpipe. The traditional "Rio Grande" is sung by a children's chorus in a mildly spooky arrangement, and "Portsmouth" and "In Dulci Jubilo" (usually only heard these days on Christmas compilations playing in shops) are bits of folky fluff.

March 18, 2004

8 out of 10

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