Album review: Mike Oldfield (12) – Amarok (1990)

Inspiration for great musical composition can stem from any kind of strong feeling. It’s usually love, heartbreak or hope that makes artists shine and produce their best works. Sometimes though, a bit of anger and desire to tell someone to fuck off works just as well. Mike Oldfield wasn’t very happy when he wrote what many consider to be the sequel to “Ommadawn”, “Amarok”. He was fed up with Virgin and Richard Branson and the way they were treating his music so he decided to show them what they were missing, in case they had forgotten. He wrote a one hour long piece, impossible to split into radio friendly excerpts or to be played lived in its entirety, where he just showcased his entire musical carousel. He wrote the album almost without the aid of computers and he played all the instruments himself.

It’s almost hard for me to express how this album makes me feel. I’ve listened to Mike Oldfield all my life and for many years I had decided to keep “Amarok” as my treasure album, as the one I wanted to miss and ache for and feel the need to listen to without satisfying it all the time. I wanted to make the experience of “Amarok” feel like the first time, every time. Mike’s music brings me a lot of feelings of various intensities and shapes but there isn’t a single album that brings me as much joy as this one. The triumph of music and artists is shining on “Amarok” and I always listen to it on bright and sunny afternoons. I don’t use this album to brighten a gloomy morning or a rainy day; I use it to make a beautiful day feel even better. I used it to add an extra glow to an already glorious hour.

“Amarok” makes me happy. Amarok is a celebration of life, of diversity, of the music of the world. Mike Oldfield takes me on an imaginary rollercoaster built on top of the globe and I can visit the Spanish shores, the Russian beauty or Africa, all in an hour. I can feel the salty air of the Celtic regions in some movements and even the dreamy vastness of space. As always the guitar is the most used instrument and it sounds magical. There are 45 movements that complete this motley musical puzzle and every one of them is just as beautiful and fulfilling as the one before it. The electric guitar has a warm sound whether it plays slow or fast…The mandolin caresses my ears, the waltzes make me smile and if all the musical sounds that Mike Oldfield created for “Amarok” weren’t enough he threw in there the sound of him brushing his teeth, pouring water or the sounds of a phone ringing and a clock being wound. We are on a trip around the world after all and every journey has moments like these as well. Mike wrote this album for himself, from himself not caring about commercial success or writing a marketable album. He took his musical box and emptied its contents on the floor. The resulting mix is one of my favorite instrumental albums of all time. For this album Mike was a child on his favorite playground.

If I were to choose a favorite part it would be the final 15 minutes, the Africa section. The percussion, the intertwining guitar riffs, the celebratory rhythm but above all the soft and beautiful choral and vocal parts make this the right climax for an album I would make an anthem for the musical world because of how universal and inspiring it is. Even the mock speech of Margaret Thatcher at the end is delightful.  “Amarok” speaks in the universal language that unites and charms everyone and if you haven’t discovered it until now… I envy you.

Track rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 60 / 60

Album excellence: 100%

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