Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells – Album Review

Written by on December 16, 2023

Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells – Album Review by Joshua Reedy.


My copy: 1979 stereo reissue by Virgin.

Mike Oldfield’s ambitious 1973 album is most famous for the melody that became the main theme to the widely popular horror film The Exorcist. While the anxious piano composition is a core motif of the first half of the record, there is much more to this complex instrumental journey.

Elegance in layering is key when such a high number of instruments are involved, and Oldfield ensures that each unique instrument is bringing something special to the table. At first, the Exorcist theme dissolves into a much too sweet movement featuring an awful glockenspiel, but Oldfield’s take on melodic complexity grounds the experience, often folding earlier motifs into new passages with different instruments. The best moment is when low, sinister bass tones wash over the piece with psychedelic effects, then turning to mysterious chords and later a humming vocal chorus. The final movement in which a series of instruments are called out and added into the mix feels a touch ham-fisted, but is ultimately forward for its time, and a fun resolution to the first half of the record.

The second half is the real highlight of the record, capping tender acoustic bases with beautiful piano melodies; delving further and further into soothing repetition. Eastern scales and exotic chord changes become more frequent here, and the whole of the arrangement is played with more subtlety than the first half. Things turn strange when growling monster vocals appear to accompany a swinging prog excursion, but the choice is strangely well incorporated – it feels similar in spirit to a prank Zappa or Beefheart might pull. The instrumentals here turn a bit more generic, but resolve nicely to a bed of organ drones with rapidly frolicking guitar solos, eventually ending the album with a lighthearted shanty.

Oldfield extends a new branch of progressive music with Tubular Bells – building a rich world that doesn’t fall too deeply into clichés and proves its introspective worth frequently. There are a few gaudy moments that are products of their time, but ultimately this record has earned its acclaim and influence for its borderline spiritual elevation of rock music.



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