When we talk about Mike Oldfield, what is the first phrase that reminds us of him? Maybe “Tubular Bells”? -Is there anyone who disagrees? Well, maybe the people who remember “Moonlight Shadow” … just kidding!-. Beyond the prolongation of the “Tubular” phenomenon (I’ve just lost count of the revisions of the classic piece), Mike Oldfield is a peculiar artist. Admired with devotion or fiercely criticized (especially in recent times), Mr. Oldfield has an enviable trajectory.
We can establish three different stages in Mike Olfield’s work. It´s very remarkable that most of his fans don’t like all the stages. They are fans of some of them. And this is my case.
Stage 1: Hergest Ridge, the great stranger
The first phase was the one which opened up new paths for studio music (and music in general, I think). It’s obvious that “Tubular Bells” is not for all kinds of musical tastes, but it is a jewel because of its musical conception, which merges Oldfield’s folk roots with the then emerging progressive rock. Oldfield shocked the audience and critics with his musical engineering work.
The second stage in Olfield´s music was defined by the appearance of rock (sometimes a hard rock, filled with powerful electric guitars) and the presence of songs sung by collaborators. Many musicians have tried to emulate the musical style of “Family man”, “Shadow on the wall”, “To France”, etc., but they failed in the attempt. Again Olfield adapts his music to new audiences and embraces the commercial success, holding a very high level in albums like “Discovery” or “Crises”.
The third phase is formed by new-age albums, made with excellent production, but mostly flavourless and uninspired. Is this a conformist Oldfield? Perhaps this is more in appearance than in the core. I don’t know by now. Time will say.
Well. One thing is for sure! Oldfield presents an added value: the transition between the different stages is progressive, completely natural, adapting the music to the new times. It is a logical evolution. (Of course, there are some exceptions in his prolific career: “The Killing Fields” soundtrack and the outstanding “Amarok”).
But today I will pay special attention to a great unknown piece: his second album, “Hergest Ridge”. Straight after the succesful “Tubular bells” (and just before the other big hit album in this first stage: “Ommadawn”), “Hergest Ridge” has something that fascinates me, even more than the others. Let´s see:
a) Unlike the dispersion of the other two albums and keeping the charm of this first stage (my favourite, it´s obvious), “Hergest Ridge” is much more coherent as an instrumental opus. It avoids the amalgam of constant changes of many moments in “Tubular bells” and “Ommadawn”, making it very linear.
b) It contains a haunting melody that is exceptionally developed with delicacy during the first 20-minute-long track of the album. Oldfield makes the most of that leitmotiv.
c) It advances a rocker spirit (from minute 10 of the second track) which will be hidden until “Platinum”, the album that means the beginning of his second music stage.
By the way, you´ll notice that “Hergest Ridge” is a real place. It´s a hilly ridge which Mike saw from his house at the time he was writing this album. If we make a little effort while listening to the music, we can imagine seeing the Ridge too!