Talking to Goldmine this time last year, Mike Oldfield warned, “The new album is totally different to [his then-current] Tubular Beats. There’s no software at all and everything is live backing tracks.
“I have a coproducer called Steve Lipson, who’s worked with hundreds of artists, Trevor Horne, Annie Lennox, people like that, and he came over a couple of months ago, we went through things and got along. It’s rock songs, instrumentation is bass, drums, guitar. The only keyboards are Hammond organ and acoustic piano and vocals. We’re actively looking for vocalists. ”
Since then - well, he found a vocalist, Luke Spiller (of the Struts), and the band is pretty impressive as well: bassist Leland Sklar, drummer John Robinson, keyboardist Matt Rollings and guitarist Michael Thompson. And together they have cast an album that is probably Oldfield’s hardest rocking set since the mid-1980s.
Three versions of Oldfield’s 25th album are available across the different formats - a regular set with the songs “as released”; a double, that includes a second disc of instrumental takes; and a limited edition with a third disc of demos and alternate mixes. And the first two, at least, kick the proverbial booty.
It’s an Oldfield album, so it’s a guitar heavy beast, Oldfield turning out some staggering solos: “Castaway,” “Nuclear,” “Chariots” and “Irene” are the primal rockers, together with an excellent title track; ghost of “Shadow on the Wall” flirt around a few of the edges, and that’s a good thing - especially with Spiller proving himself one of the most powerful vocalists Oldfield had worked with in a while, without being as overwhelming as some.
Other familiar memories resurface. “Sailing,” the album’s first 45, has a definite hint of the “Moonlight Shadows” skipping around its fringes, while Oldfield is also smart enough to know precisely which chords (and we are speaking figuratively here, not literally) to strike in order to thrill the fan club. It sounds like a Mike Oldfield album, no matter how unfamiliar the other players may be.
The lyrics do occasionally lapse into blandness (one reason why the instrumental disc is a must-hear), but the band is scorching, the riffs are wild and the entire package is dramatically more exciting than we might have expected from a man whose best-known album is now thirty-one years old.