Mike Oldfield - Amarok

Album cover

  1. Amarok (1:00:02)

Virgin, 1990

also by Mike Oldfield:

In the 1980s Mike Oldfield produced a series of successively less tasteful albums, and after the pits of the bunch "Earth Moving", he surprised many people with "Amarok". 60 minutes of sparkling instrumental music, completely free of the drippy inspirational pop we had come to expect. It's a single continuous piece, full of webs of guitars and acoustic instruments of all sorts, feel-good female chorus chanting and sound effects. Rooted in mostly English but occasionally more exotic folk music, and held together with an immaculately crisp, modern production. It doesn't disappoint fans of his 70s epics while it doesn't tread too much old ground.

The obvious criticism is that there is no clear structure to it, unlike, say Tubular Bells and Ommadawn, which were more cleanly divided into musical episodes. There's a lot of repeating themes in "Amarok", notably the Ommadawn-like "so-far-so" chanting (and a suspiciously familiar-sounding finger-rocking piano motive) but you get the sense that a lot of this was glued together randomly as he went along. The album cover has an interesting pencil diagram of Oldfield's plan, which doesn't reveal much more coherence! I don't mind the rambling that much, as you can zoom in on each section to find an intricate web of sound wherever you go, and just start and stop listening at leisure.

The pace increases in the last ten minutes. The daft Maggie Thatcher impersonation at the end by Janet Brown (I originally thought this was Steve Nallon) is fun at first but gets stale after a while. The tribal buildup doesn't have the power of "Ommadawn", but it's not supposed to, this seems to be Oldfield in relaxed, loosened-up mode, having lots of fun and making some colourful music in the process.

July 8, 2004

8 out of 10

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