Tubular Bells (Deluxe Edition)
UMC (270 354-1)
Hergest Ridge (Deluxe Edition)
UMC (532 675-4)
Ommadawn (Deluxe Edition)
UMC (532 676-1)
By Dave Thompson
Recorded and released in what now seems an unbelievable two-year (1973-1975) burst, Mike Oldfield’s first three albums have been reissued, remastered and reconfigured on so many occasions that the arrival of three further editions would normally pass without need for any further comment. The Deluxe — and, in the case of “Tubular Bells,” “Ultimate” — Edition treatment, however, might well be their last hurrah, for, after these, what else could be done? First, the raw details. Each edition features the original vinyl mix, from 1973, 1974 and 1975 respectively, with “Hergest Ridge” and “Ommadawn” incredibly making their CD debuts here. Past releases drew from the quadraphonic remixes that Oldfield created in 1976 for the vinyl box. In addition, each includes two further remixes, a spanking-new stereo look at the original master tape and a 5.1 Surround Sound mix, again, both overseen by Oldfield. Period singles and oddities further dignify all three Deluxe Editions; “Hergest Ridge” is rounded out by Oldfield’s original demo; Ommadawn by the so-called “lost” version that was his initial vision for the album. (The “Tubular Bells” demo, unfortunately, can be found only on the $100+ “Ultimate Edition,” alongside a vinyl repressing of the original LP, and assorted paraphernalia). Oh, and both “Tubular Bells” and “Ommadawn” feature period video material, too — a couple of promos on the latter, a full length BBC concert on the former.
So that’s what you get; now, is it worth it? In a word: Yes.
No matter how suspicious we have rightly grown over modern remixes, Oldfield has done both himself and our ears a major service with his stereo remixes. Unerringly true to the original recordings, he essentially contents himself with simply raising our awareness of everything that was going on in the mix, and not just the bits we’re most familiar with. Tiny flourishes of unfamiliar instrumentation, fresh textures and emphasized energies all abound, and they genuinely do enhance the experience.
The 5.1 mixes, too, are generally satisfactory, although eagle eyes scouring the Internet discussion boards will already know that Oldfield seriously misjudged “Ommadawn,” downmixing the guitars that race through the closing sequence of Side One and altering the entire mood of the piece in the process. It’s a major disappointment, not only because the rest of the mix is exemplary, but also because he did do such a good job on the other pair.
The demos, too, are fascinating, as we see how the finished albums not only evolved, but also how Oldfield’s own mood changed as work progressed. “Ommadawn,” for instance, features a lengthy spoken section, based around a vaudeville joke sequence, which was probably amusing at the time, but does not bear repeated listens, while we are probably all now familiar with the original Viv Stanshall-led version of “The Sailor’s Hornpipe,” recorded for but dropped from the original Tubular Bells. What’s most impressive, however, is the fact that the demos are so listenable — a rare example, indeed, of one artist’s cast-offs being better than a lot of others’ finished masterpieces. It would be easy to go on and on about these discs: how the packaging is exemplary, the booklets fascinating, the artwork fabulous. But it would be easier still to simply listen for yourself. No matter how often you’ve heard these albums, you’ve never heard them sounding this good.
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