Album review: Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells II (1992)

“Tubular Bells II” was the first album Mike Oldfield wrote after finally getting away from Virgin. Two years after creating a sequel to Ommadawn in “Amarok” it was time to finally go back to his original album and explore it 20 years later. The exploration started with what is to me one of the most beautiful pieces of music Mike has written: “Sentinel”. The original Tubular bells intro is rearranged and sounds marvelous. The nostalgia I get from this track is matched only by that from Mike’s first albums.

Not only that but for me “Sentinel” is the bridge that gaps Mike’s best works. There couldn’t be a more fitting title for this piece as it guards the delightful secrets of Mike Oldfield’s music. It vessels the original TB from the past and it carries sprouts from future albums like “The songs of distant Earth” and its own direct sequel “Tubular Bells III”. The mix of bells, the wonderful guitar and the haunting vocals that always add something extra to Mike’s music make for a masterpiece. I would have even enjoyed to have it extended for 40 minutes, as an entire album rather than the 8 minutes it has. Listening to “Sentinel” is for me a delightful journey I love to take over and over again. My favorite place begins at the 5:30 mark. That quiet part is my sanctuary, the hidden opening in a crowded forest. The music is a celebration of life and magic. I also hear echoes from Amarok. “Sentinel” is the place where Mike’s instances from many years meet and discuss their evolution. This is that out of time place where everything comes uniquely together.

With this perfect intro out of the way, the Tubular Bells identity takes over and shows us where it ended up after 20 years. “Dark star” is the fresh and modern rock anthem that adds a bit of color to the bluish white world of that original album. Mike Oldfield loves playing the guitar and gives his favorite instrument center stage on this album. “Clear light” is the breakfast you have with your family, outside on the most beautiful summer morning you could imagine. I see this track as a beginning of something meaningful, as the entrance in a magical world. I look at these first three tracks as the “Part 1” of “Tubular Bells II”. I could hear them fuse very well together.

This album, with rare exceptions like “Red dawn” for example is exuberant and optimistic. I love the spirit it infuses and I love its outlook on life. This is music to show you silver linings, rainbows and to tell you that everything is going to be OK. The guitar never loses its cheer and the bells in the background make me want to cheer as well. I know that initially Mike wanted to make an album that was darker in tone but I’m glad he changed the tone because we got a memorable summer’s day worth of music. this album is relaxing and happy. No worries come out of it. The music is mostly gentle and dreamy. This is the kind of composition that can calm any storm in my mind an help me reflect, refocus and see a positive outcome.

“The bell” returns the parade of instruments used by Mike as if it was an artist presenting his band at the end of a show. “Weightless” makes me dream of a glowing, empty world in which a spirit guide is my only other companion. All the noises made by nature in that world are melodic and musical; there’s nothing sharp or aggressive. “Tubular bells” is all about moments like this. It’s probably the most fairy tale like album Mike has written and I can never get enough of it.

 

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