Album review: Mike Oldfield (9) – Discovery (1984)

Mike Oldfield’s ninth album, “Discovery” is the most wonderful of intruders among my favorite albums; it’s the odd white pup in a family of black or grey ones. For me it’s the warm sunny day in the middle of a string of rainy and snowy days between late autumn and early winter. I am not a big fan of popular music and pop songs.  My drug of choice is instrumental music. Most of the times I feel the lyrics are getting in the way and don’t allow me to use the music to mirror, enhance or hide my own feelings.

Mike Oldfield found a way to sell an album of pop songs even to a non-believer like me.  Up there is the Swiss alps, in a cabin at 2000 meters with Lake Geneva in sight he wrote an album that’s quintessential 80s both from the instrumental and vocal point in view.  Not only do I love this album but I consider it a perfect composition and it’s one of my most listened to Mike album. The level of 80s nostalgia (my brand of choice) is highest with this one.  The album has remained frozen in the age when it was created and I use it like a time travel portal.

Mike Oldfield made the voices just a couple more instruments to compliment and complete his creations.  The lyrics aren’t half bad either. He also helped me connect better with this album by tying the songs together instrumentally. This isn’t a collection of separate songs; “To France” and “Poison arrows” morph together as if they were a single piece while small motifs play hide and seek throughout the album. The dominant guitar makes the music more rock than pop and the way Maggie Reilly’s unique voice and Barry Palmer’s degrading voice work together make their contributions feel like watercolors blending together with the instrumental canvas. This feels like a cohesive instrumental piece where guest vocalists come and go without breaking the flow.

“To France” is my favorite Mike Oldfield vocal song. It’s the story…it’s the simple and delightful instrumental melody with the Celtic longing, with the drizzle I feel on my face every time I listen to it. It’s Maggie’s magical voice; it’s the way her voice almost trembles during the lyric “I see a picture / By the lamp’s flicker”, a sentiment so simple, so beautiful, so nostalgic that it’s almost ghostly. It’s the final instrumental revolt as if it wanted to drown the voice from the last minute, an electrical guitar storm at sea. I can never get enough of this song and whenever I listen to it I stay for the entire album.

The special thing about “Discovery” is that every single song is just as meaningful, just as enjoyable and memorable as the next one or the one that was before. I don’t think Mike has ever been as inspired in blending music, lyrics and voices as for this album. Everything works, all the stars are aligned. From the first strum of a guitar to the haunting wolf howls at the end of “Poison arrows”, everything just works for me. Sometimes the voices are just ghosts populating a remote island, bare memories telling stories that happened there.

The melancholy in “Crystal gazing”…the sparks in “Tricks of the light”…the determination in Maggie’s voice as if she was an amazon defending an imaginary island. Her power contrasted with Barry Palmer’s weakness from those moments and this inversion of power and frailty between man and woman is just another thing that just works and makes “Discovery” special. Their voices complement each other in “Tricks of the light”, the strongest song from the album and the only one that for me breaks the wonderful overall loneliness in the music. The guitar plays like there’s no tomorrow and the voices are able to keep that pace. And after the storm, the song brilliantly ends with an echo, a reverb of Maggie’s voice as if the fantasy was over.

One of the most special songs for me is “Talk about your life”. The emotion in Maggie Reilly’s voice and they passion she puts in those lyrics make this for me her highest moment from the collaborations with Mike. I listen to her and I believe her and when she sings “I can tell by the mist in your eyes that you’re dreaming” it means Mike’s message transmitted through her reached its destination. The ghost of a motif from “To France” returns to link the two pieces together. It’s just a sensational song and it stings me with nostalgia and fantasies.

Once the voices quiet down and the instrumental finale “The Lake” starts, the story is complete. This is how I view “Discovery”: as a story, a journey with a start and finish, with an opening and a farewell instrumental celebration, a tour of an imaginary island, a unique sanctuary where I can return whenever I’m in need.

Track rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 41 / 41

Album excellence: 100%

Highlights:

To France

Poison Arrows

Crystal Gazing

Tricks Of The Light

Discovery

Talk About Your Life

Saved By A Bell

The Lake (Instrumental)

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