I’ve been a Mike Oldfield fan since the early 1990s when my younger brother played my dads Tubular Bells tape a few times, and I discovered Mike had produced Tubular Bells 2. Although he is known for the “Bells”, he has also written classic pop (Moonlight Shadow), a sci-fi inspired album (The Songs of Distant Earth), an album solely of guitars (Guitars!) and a classical album (Music of the Spheres). After his performance at the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony news broke that Mike was working on a rock album, and Man on the Rocks is the result. The album features vocals by Luke Spiller, from The Struts, on every track, as well as Mike on guitar and other session musicians.
In January 2014 the first track from the album, Sailing, premiered on BBC Radio 2. When I first heard it, I wasn’t that impressed. It didn’t grab me at all. The British newspaper The Daily Telegraph had exclusive rights to the video which appeared on it’s website in February. Again, the song did nothing for me.
I think it must have been either the format of the video on the Telegraph website (Flash, I expect) and the quality of the radio sound, because as soon as the Sailing video appeared on YouTube and I watched it, I grew to like the song. Then some videos of acoustic sessions were also uploaded to YouTube and then I got excited at the album. I think it partly was the sound of Luke’s voice, whom I have never heard before as far as I’m aware, and his delivery of the vocals that got me interested. I’ve now bought the album and think it’s great. In fact it’s the best album of songs, rather than long instrumental pieces, that Mike has done.
After the opener, Sailing, an expanded version of the song of the video, the albums is mostly rock with some celtic and pop influences thrown in. Songs such as Moonshine (not to be confused with the Tubular Bells 2 track of the same name), Man on the Rocks, Castaway start quite gently and then when you think that’s it they turn into an Irish gig or guitar busting rock. Dreaming in the Wind reminds me of the Travelling Wilburys, a great driving track and a pleasure to listen to. With Nuclear as soon as the song starts you know it will be filled with raw power, both vocally and with instruments. Irene, a song about the hurricane, could feature on a film soundtrack, and the closing track is lovely version of a hymn I Give Myself Away.
I was a little dubious when I heard Mike was doing a new album after so long since the release of his previous album. I did wonder whether he still had it, or whether he should stick to Bells. What Man on the Rocks proves is that Mike is a fantastic musician and song writer, and when he’s teamed with the right people he can produce amazing work. This album deserves a place in the top 10.