Album review: Mike Oldfield (11) – Islands (1987)

“Islands” is the 11th album by Mike Oldfield, released in 1987 by Virgin. Guest singers on the album are Bonnie Tyler, Kevin Ayers, Anita Hegerland and Jim Price. This was the most crowded Mike Oldfield album to date. His world had expanded in 15 years from once guy playing all instruments to a lot of producers, instrument players and guest vocalists. The lonely studio had become a swarm of joy and inspiration. The formula was once again a long instrumental track on one side and the vocal tracks on the other.

For me “The wind chimes” is one of the more unfamiliar pieces of music from Mike Oldfield. This keeps it fresh and every time I do listen to this track I can travel much easier back in time to the period when it came out. I’m always excited to hear it as if it was the first time. “The Wind chimes” is so happy and optimistic that I don’t want to lose this feeling. Even the title suggest something breezy, natural and melodic.

Part 1 (as it is split on the US release) comes back to me every time I hear it because of its special kind of slow emotion and because the instrumentation hits very close to home; it sounds like a melody which could be heard in the mountains here in Romania. It’s an anthem, an intro and I could see this working as a welcome to a Mike Oldfield concert.

The much longer (19 minutes) part 2 is a perfect symbol of the stride of popular music in the late 80s. I hear the first minutes and I know exactly where the music comes from…it’s the dawn of the 80s, the time right before things got modern and changed, it’s the time when weird haircuts and clothes were starting to fade away and be replaced with more normal ones; Mike samples ethnic music, world music from various lands as the fuse together in a celebration of life. He even uses hip hop beats and vocal samples alongside his regular rock ones. Some sections of “The wind chimes part 2” could work over a video of highlight reels from the Olympics, that’s how inspiring they are.

I think this is the closest he’s ever come to the sound of Yanni. The stride, the accessibility of the music and the abundance of instruments from all corners of the world coming together so effervescently and fresh, they are all elements I usually find in Yanni’s spectacular albums. It’s when the guitars and whistles return that I remember this is a Mike Oldfield album. It’s such a great feeling about 11 minutes into this piece when the music gets more melodic, more playful and I recognize that this is what Mike’s music is all about: creating a fantasy world in nature, a sanctuary, a magical place where I can dream and get lost out of time. I recognize there familiar elements I’ve met before in this wonderful journey through Mike Oldfield’s wonderland.

The 80s are my favorite decade with all its wonderful faults and ideas and “The wind chimes” is like a recap of everything wonderful from those 10 years from electronic to rock. I feel the music captures and presents us with the whirlpool of transformations the world was going through in 1987, with all the discoveries and advances, with the turmoil and the optimism. The most important feeling music can bring to me is nostalgia and there’s a hefty dose in “Islands”.

The vocal songs are just as delightful. Anita Hegerland makes the beautiful “The time has come” sound almost mystical. This is one of my favorite Mike Oldfield songs. It’s one of those pieces where the voice adds just what the track needed to become magic. The instrumental and vocal parts blend so well that I almost look at this as if it was a film music cue with a vocal insert instead of a vocal song on its own.

“North point” is another beautiful story. Anita’s voice is similar to Maggie Reilly’s, soft and soothing, and in total contrast with the power that Bonnie Tyler brings. The title song is another well recognizable song thanks to her unique stamp. The vocal pieces with male voices sound a bit more rugged and a bit more like pop-rock songs from that time. The lyrics are less dreamy and more real.

“Islands” is one of the best produced Mike Oldfield albums and still hold its own today. There are quite a few gems hidden inside. Come and find them.

Track rating: 94 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 40 /48

Album excellence: 84%

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