The Twisted Bell

Tubular Bells II

Date: Tue Dec 17 11:40:47 1996
Subject: Re: Tom Newman: the evil co-producer?

Why is everyone so down on TB2 all of a sudden? Most of it works just fine; the only bits that get up my nose are the Meco-sounding 'Dark Star' and the horrible kiddie lyrics on 'Altered State'. I listen to it more than TB (though I listen to both of them less than I once did).

As for the perennial 'Why didn't he do it all like Early Stages' debate, can you imagine the critical drubbing he'd have got if TB2 had sounded practically identical to TB? ('Only the Notes Have Been Changed'). In the early stages of planning, Mike had intended to do TB parts 3 and 4, keeping the instruments the same but writing differently-structured music; then he shifted to the remake idea, writing similarly-structured (but different) music and using modern instruments to give it a new feel. The original idea would have been interesting, sure. But to combine the two ideas - i.e., do a remake with the original instruments - would have been practically pointless. Only the die-hard fans would have been interested; and Mike wanted a trump card to win some big sales, not 'one for the fans'. (He'd just done one for the fans, remember - it was called Amarok.)


Date: Thu Feb 06 10:29:41 1997
Subject: Re: TB II, etc.

Kenny Low wrote:

I think Pedro put it quite well when he said that TB II was "nice", but didn't ( really ) compare to TB. In TB, you can hear the excitement in Vivian's voice, and as they move on, he appears to struggle not to shout! Could you imagine "The Bell" having that sort of effect on someone? Well, yes, okay, but I couldn't see it having quite the same impact.

Time to break my silence on this one. For some time I've been considering posting here a review I wrote of TBII at the time it came out, which David Porter kindly ran in Airborne. This was just before I joined this list (or its precursor, anyway), and of course there's been a loooooot of water under the bridge since then - not least, two more Mike albums. And it's hard for me now to avoid reassessing TBII in the light of TSODE and Voyager, and marking it down as a consequence. But at the time - late 1992, early 1993 - it was a different story. A poll I ran on the Oldfield list revealed that TBII was rated very highly indeed by list-members - equal, in fact, with TB, and beaten only by, you guessed it, Ommadawn and Amarok.

So here it is. My review of TBII, written when it was hot off the CD-presses.


Tubular Bells II: A Joyous Experience

Having listened to the new Mike opus a dozen times in twenty-four hours, and keeping in mind the totally unjustified luke-warm response Amarok received at the hands of some "Airborne" reviewers, I figure I'd better have a go at reviewing TB II myself.

The first listen, of course, was one of delights and surprises. I hadn't expected Mike to do what he's done: produced a structural/stylistic equivalent of each section of the original. I'd thought he'd produce a part 3 & 4 that extended the original in the way part 2 extended part 1 without repeating it. That said, I don't dislike the end result. On the contrary, there are parts which I like more than the original. Figuring out the reason why has kept me thinking for the past day, and I'll try to explain later.

But first, to get them out of the way, the features of TB II which I don't like. There aren't many. The main drawback of the method he's used of paralleling TB I is that side two, as in the original album, ends up being weaker than side one, and the fantastic "Oldfield climax" comes halfway through the album. Still, there is a lot of good music on side two ("Weightless" and "Maya Gold" especially), and the new section, "Tattoo", is a welcome addition, and must have been great to see live at Edinburgh. My main objection is to "Altered State"; and only then, when I think about it, to the incredibly irritating kiddie vocal ("Where's my Mummy?") which had me climbing up the wall. I guess it was always true that Mike's lyrics weren't his strong point! Still, the storming guitar in that section goes a long way towards making up for it. Finally, I thought the cover was a bit weak. I was hoping to see the bells twisted into a different shape, which given the nature of the album would have been more appropriate.

Now to what I do like: everything else. Trevor Horn, to my relief, has done a sterling job of producing, and the sound of TB II is a very satisfying mix of the original and latter-day Mike. The individual pieces, while designed to echo the original, are distinctively new in all but a few cases, and hit exactly the right note of homage while remaining fresh.

Indeed, there are moments on TB II which hit the heights that only Mike is capable of hitting (at least in the rock music world). Rather than drone on and on about each section of TB II in detail, I'd like to talk a bit about those heights.

What is it that makes Mike's best work so compelling? Jethro Tull produces folk rock; Pink Floyd produced extended rock instrumentals; Jarre and Vangelis produce synthesiser instrumentals. They all have their strengths. But Mike has something else, the like of which I've only found elsewhere since discovering Brahms and Sibelius (their symphonies are essential listening for die-hard Mike fans).

The joy in listening to Mike's best stuff is that soaring feeling one gets on the way to the "Oldfield climax". Listen to the ends of side one of TB I and II, both sides of Ommadawn, the ends of "The Lake", "The Wind Chimes", "Platinum"; and at various points in "Taurus II" and especially Amarok. You all know what I mean. Mike can leave you gasping. It's the best drug going.

But the way he does it is different in each case; and it seems to me that in recent years, he's hit on the perfect formula. I may be verging on blasphemy here for some, but I think Amarok is the equal of, if not superior to, Ommadawn; and the same may almost be true for TB II over TB I. If Mike can forge ahead with that new spirit, he'll produce his best work.

For years, Ommadawn and Platinum were my favourites; especially the end of side one of Ommadawn. The sense of pain and anguish it evoked has never been bettered (possible exception: John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band). Other Mike climaxes have been equally effective at evoking a sense of grandeur ("Platinum" and "Tubular Bells Part One") or even a spirit of contemplation, almost verging on melancholy ("The Lake"). Given what we know about Mike's changing life, his work reflects its changes pretty closely, in which case, I'd say Mike is one happy guy right now. Amarok and TB II, to my ears, evoke an over-whelming sense of joy, one that reaches the heights of Beethoven's 9th. The three successive climaxes of "Amarok" (its last 15 minutes) are probably the best example of this: it's the sound of someone who's glad to be alive; it's the sound of Mike finding what he does best, after a decade of hits and misses; it's a masterpiece.

On TB II, in "The Bells", we have the successor to this (although I wouldn't neglect Heaven's Open completely: the title track is informed by that same spirit). "The Bells" is uplifting, joyous music, although here Mike's more relaxed about it, whereas on Amarok he was shouting it out. The key, for me, is when Master of Ceremonies Alan Rickman (for surely 'tis he) announces the long thin metallic hanging tubes: "And Tubular Bells". There's a note of satisfaction, of knowing that this is good stuff, with which Mike must have empathized. The bells come in, we get the Oldfield climax, and as a bonus we get it again over a layer of acoustic guitars. The whole thing leaves me unspeakably happy.

If Mike can keep that tone in future releases, he'll bequeath Warner a catalogue as impressive as Virgin's, if not moreso. And if TB II and especially the BBC2 broadcast win him enough new fans, those future efforts will have the audience they deserve. For me, it won't particularly matter what instruments he uses (even though I love his guitarwork best of all), or whether his influences are Celtic, Indonesian, African or Eskimo; if the joyous spirit is there, the music will be great. Which was why I loved Amarok, even though it couldn't have been more different from my expectations; and also why, on balance, I love Tubular Bells II. Now that Mike's made his new beginning, let's hope there's a lot more of the same on the way.


OK, so I wouldn't say exactly the same things about TBII today (though I would say the same things about Amarok). But as first-reactions go, it's pretty interesting, because my first reaction towards TSODE (which I've since grown to like quite well) was much more guarded, and my first reaction to Voyager was one of extreme disappointment!


Date: Wed, 25 Sep 1996 14:28:42 +1000
Subject: Virgins and Iron Ladies

From: Gareth Randall
I'm on the point of laying a bet on his announcing Tubular Bells 3 before the year 2000... =;-)

That wouldn't be the one where the villagers spend the first ten minutes patting each other on the back and saying 'Phew, glad we got out of that one alive', and then the lid of the coffin slowly rises up in the background to reveal an enormous drunken zombie Viv Stanshall lumbering up to the screen to an accompanying crescendo of Bernard Herrmann chords?


[Oh, the irony...]

The Twisted Bell

©2001 Rory Ewins