Album review: Return to Ommadawn (Mike Oldfield – 2017)

Time travel is one of the most fascinating concepts for me and one of my greatest desires; while the way to physically do it hasn’t been discovered yet, mentally and emotionally I have found my time machine and it works flawlessly: music. I’ve been using it all my life and I’ve been placing bookmarks in my life based on the albums that meant something to me as I’m sure everyone of you is doing. Of course it’s all in my mind and all I’m trying to do while listening to those albums again is to recapture the feeling they gave me the first time. Just like seeking the same initial high over and over again with any addiction it’s most often a futile attempt. Most often because from the thousands of musical albums I’ve listened to and written about, not more than a handful manage to give me the same emotions and pleasure the first listen gave me and, even more, they manage to make me feel even better with every passing listen.

Mike Oldfield’s “Ommadawn” is my favorite music album ever. There’s no doubt or contest no matter how many years pass and how many instrumental albums, vocal albums or film and TV scores I listen to. “Ommadawn” is part of me, it’s in my blood and in my soul and it’s as close to me as a member of my family; I always have this album with me in one form or the other and I probably listen to it at least weekly. Mike was in an unbelievably imaginative creative space back then and I always dreamed he could return to it. “Amarok” came pretty close almost 20 years later and I also listen quite often to this genius musical improvisation.

And yet I never truly believed we would get to hear a direct sequel and re exploration of the most magical land of them all, “Ommadawn”. Sure almost every Mike Oldfield album has that special something and the quality and emotion in the music that isn’t related to the name under which it is written but the idea of him sitting down to write another “Ommadawn” with this specific sound and mood in mind and with the desire to see what’s been going on in that land in the past 45 years is for me the best thing that could happen in music. It is in the realm of incredible because you can’t really go back in time, right? And yet…this is no longer in my imagination, this is no longer a dream, this is a new album, in 2017…it’s “Return to Ommadawn”.

This was my most anticipated music album ever also because Mike didn’t just set out to do a new album with the mood of Ommadawn, or written using the same techniques and sound; he actually said that he was returning to Ommadawn. This is what intrigued me and made me wish for this more than for anything else. I trust Mike Oldfield. I trust him with music as much as I trust my parents and family with love and life, so when he said that he was returning to that land I finally believe that time travel was possible. For me Ommadawn is not just a music album; it’s a state of mind and the exploration of a soul. It’s the deepest and most wonderful reflective album where melancholy, nostalgia and inspiration come together into something, I thought, unique.

I imagine that the opening Celtic sequence of “Return to Ommadawn” is the call that Mike Oldfield heard inside him from that special place; it sounds like a magical land beckoning me, us, to visit it again, it’s a call that can’t be ignored and I imagine Mike heard it and felt it and that’s when he decided to write this album. The flute silences everything else around it and opens the musical portal to perfection. This Celtic longing that opens and closes the first part of the album is something out of this world. The caress of the music I can only compare with the feeling of warmth and home I get when I touch my loved one’s skin; it’s a mix of comfort, love and desire never to leave that place. It’s the scent and touch you love and recognize as yours, it’s your rock. It’s something primal and beautiful that you feel without thinking ; it’s home.

Mike could have entitled this album any way he wanted to but the echo that ties the Celtic flute intro with the introduction of his beloved guitar is pure Ommadawn; it’s a shadow, barely noticeable, but those few seconds where time just seems to linger in the air with the weight of one’s soul convince me that I’ve returned to Ommadawn. From 1:08 to 1:20 of “Part I” the most wonderful of ghosts visit and I just follow it back to my favorite place.

It’s incredible to me that 40 years have passed and that this genius artist hasn’t lost the ability to channel these emotions into music. For me his first few years of lonely creation, the TB / Hergest Ridge / Ommadawn / Incantations period is simply perfect and unrepeatable and the best string of compositions ever to come from a single artist.

And yet now as my emotions become a simple vessel for “Return to Ommadawn” to flow and fill I recapture the moments when I first heard his music. There is no better form of time travel or reconnecting with one’s self than music and if I feel this way listening to it I imagine how Mike must have felt writing it. How can one man create such a soundscape that I can barely dream of? It’s just one man, his inspiration, his craft and his instruments and I can barely grasp how something like this can come out from just…someone expressing his emotions through music, so clearly, so intensely and so beautifully. As the music develops and plays with me and for me I feel I can touch immortality. Mike Oldfield has achieved it through his music and this is something that will never end.

“Return to Ommadawn” is simple and bare, honest and beautiful and as spacious as I need to feel in the same time overwhelmed and welcomed; it’s a gentle rain of sound where the guitar, Mike’s faithful and favorite companion sparkles and draws an entire world behind my closed eyes. The music is stripped of anything other than pure emotion and every now and then I recognize sounds that have charmed me for 30 years going. I want to play this album for my 2 year old little girl and bring some extra magic in her life.

I find it trivial to mention specific moments in the music and not treat it as whole but the soft percussion and distant ancient voices that come in at the 13:10 point of “Part 1” are another anchor that ties this album to the first one. The percussion and vocals were among my favorite pieces of the first “Ommadawn” and I find them here again, reworked with care and filled with the same feelings. The echo of the percussion blends with the guitar section as if it was a guide down familiar paths and the adventure continues.

“Return to Ommadawn” is not just melancholic and a trip down memory lane; it’s a fresh and exciting new composition that shows Mike hasn’t lost his stride and passion for writing music. Once “Part I” lays the foundation and firmly reattaches me to the Ommadawn world, “Part 2” comes and expands it. I hear how 40 years of life experience and emotions can bring a fresh vision and overlook over the most familiar of places. It’s not like applying a new coat of paint to the old childhood home; “Ommadawn” didn’t need it. It’s opening different windows and doors and letting the sun or rain play differently with the surroundings; it’s looking through more experienced eyes to a place that hasn’t lost a bit of its innocence, it’s stepping on different paths that go to the same destination and it’ss sleeping under a different tree in the same yard. It’s music for the soul.

If you want to revisit your childhood home or your favorite places that used to mean something to you when you were younger or in a special period in your life, be it a street, a store, a forest or a sidewalk you used to sit on every day at noon and count the cars that passed by color thinking about where the people inside might be going, you might discover that things have changed: a new construction appeared, the sidewalk is cracked or the store is closed; music is different. If you used music to bookmark the favorite moments of your life, it will stay unchanged forever. The flute will sound the same, the voices will evoke the same moods and the instruments will play on tirelessly.  Music is permanent and you can return to a place like Ommadawn and be sure that it’s still there, just as majestic and comforting. How many things are as certain in life and the world as this?

There’s nothing more I can ask from music than to bring tears in my eyes and a constant shiver inside me; there’s no other compliment I can make to an artist than to tell him how much his music still touches me after all this time and to tell him that my life would be as full without his inspiration. I feel gratitude that I can listen to and feel music like this and that Ommadawn is real and still exists outside of my memories. I hope Mike Oldfield stays healthy and inspired for many years to come because the world is a better and more beautiful place with him in it. If you are a Mike Oldfield fan you’ve already heard and loved this album; if somehow you are not, it’s never too late to join us and “Return to Ommadawn” is the perfect (emphasis on this word) doorway for you. Magic is real.

 

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