Mike Oldfield – Sentinal (90s – 95)

August 18, 2010

Poor Mike Oldfield. He’s forever being maligned as part of some less interesting, in no possible way experimental thread of progressive rock by the same publications who are happier fawning over Henry Cow and King Crimson (The Wire, I’m looking squarely at you.) I fawn over Henry Cow and King Crimson too, but my teenaged obsession was the music of Mike Oldfield. He, more than any other artist, led me delve further into music.

In 1993 Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells turned 20. To celebrate, on ABC local radio, the Coodabeen Champions played side one in full, uninterrupted. To them it was a nostalgia trip; me an epiphany. Some weeks later, they would replicate their feat by playing side one of Jethro Tull’s Think As A Brick. And thus I was introduced to progressive rock.

Meanwhile Oldfield released the long awaited Tubular Bells II. The single, “Sentinel”, started getting some play on the video shows. Impressed, I bought TBII on my next trip to a sizable town. On my next trip, I bought the original. Over the next couple of years they were joined by Ommadawn, Hergest Ridge, Crises and Five Miles Out. I was hooked.

These two albums did something no other albums had done – taken me on a journey. I never realised good music, especially rock music, could be lengthy. That it could evolve. Surely that was what classical music did, and classical music was, well, boring.

Oldfield taught me the importance of repetition and variation – meaning Oldfield was my first exposure to minimalism. I learnt heavy guitars didn’t have to be wielded by crap metal acts like Guns ‘N’ Roses (bleah).

By the end of the decade I owned every studio album up to, and including, The Millennium Bell, at which point I conceded defeat. Oldfield had taught me another important lesson – even your favourite artists can release utter tripe. But that said, even the tripe often contained tracks, passages, or inventions which were wonderful, making me want to pull out my hair as I wondered why he couldn’t he something worth for these specks of gold dust.

(As a digression, I always thought the tune of Frank Zappa’s Dinah Mo Hum would have topped the chart – if only the track was about ANYTHING else. Surely you have all though about that in regards to various people’s music…)

Oldfield led me directly to ambient and the burgeoning underground electronica scene would I encountered in college. It was Oldfield who gave me the patience to listen to slowly unfolding, changing tracks. Ambient would be where the real pay-off would come. In a parallel listening thread, I also actively looked backwards to the seventies and the progressive rock movement. Soon I became balanced between the past and future, which is really the best place for a music fan to be.


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