Tubular Bells II

Mike Oldfield

Reprise Records, 1992


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Any time a sequel of a classic is done, no matter what the media format, it's a risky move. Sometimes, as in the case of the Star Wars movies, it works fantastically. Sometimes, your luck runs out, as in the case of Batman And Robin - should've left well enough alone in that case.

And then, there's the case of Mike Oldfield. In 1973, Oldfield became a legend for his musical masterpiece Tubular Bells. I've read some stories which credit this album for launching the whole new-age genre; I dispute that. However, there is no denying that Oldfield pushed the envelope to the limit with that album, and I still listen to it.

In 1992, Oldfield dared to return to his roots and recorded Tubular Bells II. The first time I heard it back then, I cried - what had he done to his classic piece of music? I could not bring myself to listen to it again - until this year. And while I might have been a little (mind you, just a little) too harsh on my first judgment, Oldfield's tragic flaw on this disc is that he does try to copy his original work movement for movement. Five words: bad idea... very bad idea.

Of course, I admit I made the mistake of listening to the original Tubular Bells before diving into Tubular Bells II. Some might argue it's not fair to compare the two works, but the fact is you can't my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 not compare them. Oldfield brings over stylistic elements from each movement of the first album to this disc, and only slightly augments them.

You don't believe me? Listen to the synthesizer opening on "Sentinel," and tell me that wasn't designed to sound like the haunting opening to "Tubular Bells Part One," the most famous piece of music from that record. Tell me the introduction of all the instruments, not to mention the musical pattern of the track "The Bell," wasn't a carbon copy of the Viv Stanshall-led introduction that closed the first movement of Tubular Bells. For Christ's sake, Oldfield even brings back the Piltdown Man (that is, the roars and grunts) on "Altered States" - and I was seriously hoping he would not have screwed with one of my happiest musical memories as a child.

How blatant is the mirror image? Oldfield even closes Tubular Bells II with "Moonshine," a country hoedown that mimics the square-dance-on-speed mistake that closes the original Tubular Bells. Independent piece of music, my arse.

If Oldfield had tried to create an entirely new piece of music worthy of the "Tubular Bells" moniker, I would have had less of a problem. After all, I realize that music must change (a little lesson I learned from Roger Daltrey), and it's quite possible that, had Oldfield originally written "Tubular Bells" in the '90s, this is what it would sound like. But the fact is that Oldfield had a reputation to live up to that was 19 years old, and Tubular Bells II fails to do so. It's nearly impossible to approach this as a unique composition, unless you've never heard the original Tubular Bells in your lifetime. Granted, there are some people out there for whom this would qualify - but with the re-release of The Exorcist recently, I'd guess that number isn't the largest.

Instrumentally, I wasn't terribly thrilled with the dependence on synthesizers, but I will concede that they were indeed in use on Tubular Bells (albeit in a more primitive form) and they probably do serve their purpose well here. I also probably would have left out the banjo, as well as some of the cutesy vocals on "Altered States", but that's just me talking.

Tubular Bells is the kind of piece that can withstand almost any attack against it, but Tubular Bells II dares to weaken even the foundation of the original piece. Oldfield makes a fatal mistake by trying to reprise his classic work, and is a triumphant failure. Side note: Oldfield released Tubular Bells III in 1998, a disc which, to the best of my knowledge, has never been released in the States. After finally getting through Tubular Bells II, I'm almost afraid to hear what the third installment sounds like. Here's hoping Oldfield learned his lesson with the second effort.

Rating: D-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Reprise Records, and is used for informational purposes only.