• Mike Oldfield - Heaven's Open (1991)

     

    1. "Make Make" – 4:18
    2. "No Dream" – 6:02
    3. "Mr. Shame" – 4:22
    4. "Gimme Back" – 4:12
    5. "Heaven's Open" – 4:31
    6. "Music From The Balcony" – 19:44

     

    Mike Oldfield's Heaven's Open record is an album that was heavily criticized when it was published back in 1991 due to diverse reasons. First of all, the artist had a couple of arguments with his then record label Virgin Records and recorded this last album for them in quite a hurry just to join a new label and release his long awaited "Tubular Bells II" record. One can hear several passages on Heaven's Open where the musicians criticizes his record label, for example when a female voice sings the following passage in the perfectly entitled opener "Make make" : "Mona Lisa, you can stop seacrhing, don't you know we're not Virgin". At another moment, one can hear Mike Oldfield mumbling the word "asshole" in the ending of the closing "Music from the balcony". There are though some other reasons why this album is maybe one of the most complicated ones in the large discography of the British multi-instrumentalist. Five out of six songs are rather short and less progressive as usual because they focus on quite catchy hooks. For the first time ever, the vocals are mostly performed by Mike Oldfield himself and he took singing lessons over several months prior to the recording of thie album. Many fans disliked this change of style and didn't appreciate the vocals. Concerning the only instrumental piece on the album, many people described it as being too chaotic, others felt it was too repetitive after a while. To make clear that the artist would break with his usual habits, he even released for the first and only time a record under his full name "Michael Oldfield" instead of the usual "Mike Oldfield".

    I grew up with this record and have listened to this album many times of the last two decades and I have to disagree with the critics. It's by being completely different than usual, by radically breaking with his own musical past and by experimenting with more commercial sounds that Mike Oldfield happens to be more progressive as on many of his critically acclaimed releases. This album here comes as a big surprise from him. Each one of the six songs is quite unique and different and they all have their catchy moments you won't soon get out of your mind without forgetting about the artist's signature trademarks such as the charismatic guitar tones.

    "Make Make" is the opener and first single of this release and the mixture of clean male vocals and dramatic female vocals in the pre-chorus works very well. The song is definitely catchy enough to grip your attention and still has some sound effects to sound different from a usual pop song.

    The first true highlight though comes with "No Dream" that has a very calm and laid back atmosphere and shows a very versatile and probably the best ever vocal performance by Mike Oldfield. The emotionally driven guitar solos towards the end put tears in the eyes of any fan.

    "Mister Shame" convinces with an amazing chorus featuring convincing clean male vocals and several female canon vocals in the background. Some sound samples, a couple of signature guitar chords and a pumping bass line make this song maybe the most energizing one on the entire record. The opening sequence is though clearly influenced by another mastermind of progressive rock music being Peter Gabriel which isn't a negative thing at all. The beginning in fact makes me think a little bit of Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" single or other tracks from his solo album "So".

    "Gimme Back" is more of a laid back track with some truly danceable reggae influences. Instead of a chorus, one gets an epic and almost folk influenced melody that connects the different verses. Simple guitar licks, a lot of organ and keyboard sounds as well as a slow rhythm section make the whole track quite catchy. This track is maybe the most unusual song Mike Oldfield has ever written in his career and if his name wasn't written down on the disc one would not believe this song would come from him.

    "Heaven's Open" is one of the most amazing tracks if not the best song that Mike Oldfield has ever written in my humble opinion. The track opens with an emotional piano melody and amazing guitar licks carry this song over four minutes and a half of pure magic. The vocals are perfectly imperfect and convince with pure emotions instead of technique. The lyrics are very spiritual or religious without sounding pretentious at all. The positive words perfectly fit to some enthousiastic string samples and clarinet passages that are integrated in this track. This song definitely has a very romantic vein, too. Let's also mention one of the most crazy and emotional guitar solos Mike Oldfield has ever performed that appears towards the stunning ending of this energizing masterpiece.

    The final "Music From The Balcony" is almost twenty minutes long and features several passages that all come back after a while. I don't know if the title is influenced by Shakespeare but teh track makes me in some weird way think of the famous balcony part in "Romeo and Juliet" . The calmer passages could stand for the two lovers waiting for and seeing each other, the jungle sounds could be an interpretation of the surrounding nature of the garden and the heavier parts may be a hint at the more dangerous and emotional parts of that scene where the lover is close to get discovered by the approaching nurse. In the end, this is only a personal interpretation and maybe the artist wants to tell us something completely different but the fact that this song can lead to this sort of reflection proves how intriguing it is.

    The whole track thing starts with some sound samples and very calm piano melodies before a hectical free jazz passage suddenly kicks off to interrupt the beautiful harmonies. These kind of sudden changes after hypnoting minutes of tranquility are frequently used and make this track probably more unpredictable than any other Mike Oldfield song before. After a while, a weird part comes along with jungle noises and some electronic samples that lead to a rhythm orientated passage dominated by some hectical guitar parts. Strange computer voices also appear from time to time. After a while a calmer part comes in that is interrupted by the previous hectical jazz parts that surprisingly lead back to the calm opening melody.

    After that a more bass orientated part sets in and some big band passages come across after half of the song has passed. The whole thing leads to a more and more jazzy part with an amazing saxophone performance before the track goes back to the jungle part and the calm opening melody once again. Then comes another calm and introspective passage driven by a piano part, some string passages and a versatile drum performance before a more orchestral parts sets in. After this, we get back to the jungle sounds and the big band section.

    Having passed three thirds of the track, a calmer passage sets in that is hectically interrupted by the agressive jazz parts once again and some heavy drum fills. This part plays once again a lot of the opposite tones of heavenly soft and hellish heavy moments. Towards the end, we get again a calmer passage build up around the opening sequence that leads to an epic ending where orchestral parts, emotionall driven guitar sounds and heavy drumming fusion with a big bang. The final fade-out leads us than back to the jungle parts with some hectic saxophone and bass clarinet parts that make me think of a hard bop performance which is a jazz subgenre.

    In the end, we get a quite stunning, diversified and mysterious instrumental song over almost twenty minutes and five versatile but short and commercially orienteted songs on one of the most diversified records ever done by Mike Oldfield who took a lot of risks by releasing this album. Many negative critics should though give this album another chance more than twenty years after its release and take into consideration the difficulties around the artist and his record label that hevaily influenced this angry and offensive record that radically broke the habits. I have always been fascinated by the quite direct attitude of this album, by its honest emotionally driven energy and by its artistic courage and I still am today. In my humble opinion, this is the best record Mike Oldfield has ever done and the album is still in the top twenty of my favourite albums ever.

     

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  • King Crimson - In The Court Of The Crimson King (1969)

     

    1. 21st Century Schizoid Man (7:20)
    2. I Talk To The Wind (6:05)
    3. Epitaph (8:47)
    4. Moonchild (12:11)
    5. The Court Of The Crimson King (9:22)  

    "In The Court Of The Crimson King" is one of the very first and until today most essential progressive rock record including five stunning proto and eclectic progressive rock pieces. Even nowadays, this outstanding release hasn't lost anything of its visionary magic and never feels old-fashioned. Everything is perfectly worked out on this release: the iconic cover and booklet artwork, the warm productional sound, the catchy but highly diversified song structures, the instrumental experiments and the addicting ethereal vocals featuring cryptic and mysteriously intriguing lyrics. Today, fans and experts always mention bands such as Genesis, Pink Floyd or Yes when it's time to name the biggest names but for me King Crimson easily stand above them all and not only because of this brilliant debut record. This album is still in my all time favourite top twenty records ever done even after thousand of releases I was able to listen to in my life. This here is definitely one of those records anybody should have listened to at least once in a lifetime, no matter what you are usually used to listen to.

    The album kicks off with the visionary heavy metal prototype "21st Century Schizoid Man" that has been covered so many times over the years because it's simply an essential masterpiece. The distorted vocals, the agressive big band sounds, the unchained but always technical drumming, the wildly pumping bass guitar and teh hypnotizingly noisy guitars create an apocalyptic atmosphere with an unsurpassable intensity.

    The rest of the record has a rather floating tone that breaks a lot with the first song which is the only negative part I could find out about this release. Even though this radical change doesn't really want to fit, the remaining four songs are excellent in their own way as well. We get the calm, dreamy and folk influenced hippy anthem "I Talk To The Wind", the beautifully sung spiritual ballad "Epitaph" that makes me think a little bit of The Moody Blues, the floating "Moonchild" with a weird and unique instrumental section that immediately puts you in an eerie mood and finally the catchy and peaceful epic hymn "In The Cour Of The Crimson King". Each song is profound, unique and shows the band's open minded versatility.

    In the end, we have one truly heavy track and four songs that discover all possible aspects of the musical power of tranquility. Today, the album still feels magic and relevant and finally gets the credit it always deserved. If I had only one progressiev rock record to choose to introduce someone to this kind of music, it would definitely be this album. King Crimson prove right from the start that they are the true kings of progressive music and it's sad that they were never able to equal or top this release and get a little bit more recognition but once you will discover this album you may realize why it's almost unbeatable and was never surpassed by any other band since its release.

     

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  • Muse - The 2nd Law (2012)

    1. "Supremacy" - 4:55
    2. "Madness" - 4:39
    3. "Panic Station" - 3:03
    4. "Prelude" - 0:57
    5. "Survival" - 4:17
    6. "Follow Me" - 3:51
    7. "Animals" - 4:23
    8. "Explorers" - 5:48
    9. "Big Freeze" - 4:41
    10. "Save Me" - 5:09
    11. "Liquid State" - 3:03
    12. "The 2nd Law: Unsustainable" - 3:47
    13. "The 2nd Law: Isolated System" - 4:59

     

    Muse are probably the most famous contemporary Rock band coming from United Kingdom and they have perfectly managed to walk the thin path between musical innovation and commercial success in the past. The trio continues to walk on this path with the new release "The 2nd Law". On one side, the quite unique vocals of Matthew Bellamy, the diversified progressive song writing and the multiple influences from rock bands of the seventies and eighties such as Queen can still be found as trademarks on this record. On the other side, the band added a few calmer and introspective songs to their repertoire but also included a few more Electronic Rock and especially several popular Dubstep influences on the new album. One could perfectly describe this record by saying that Queen meets Skrillex with some Coldplay moments. The new album though definitely tries out some new elements but in its whole it's less innovating and especially surprising as the previous "The Resistance".

    As highlights, I would first of all cite the vivid Dubstep single "Madness" where the title fulfills all its promises. Another potential hit is the upcoming single "Panic Station" that sounds like a Funk orientated mixture of Queen and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Of course, there also is the almost exaggeratedly bombastic "Survival" that has been very well chosen as song for the Olympic Games in London last summer. A different kind of highlight is the more laid back and danceable "Follow Me" that could have been a big hit in the eighties and coming from a band such as Pet Shop Boys. We also get the dark and bass guitar driven Alternative Rock song "Liquid State" which is one of two tracks featuring bassist Christopher Wolstenholme on the vocals. Finally, there are the two closing parts of "The 2nd Law" that mix atmospheric and dramatic orchestral parts with up-tempo Dubstep influences which gives the whole thing a weird science-fictional sound. It's an interesting experiment but is definitely less gripping than the "Exogenesis" trilogy on the last release.

    This means that the new record is still diversified and entertaining and contains many strong potential singles. The only negative point I would cite out is the fact that there are a few too many calm tracks in the second part of the release and that the material is overall less gripping and surprising as it has already been in the past. There are also a few too many influences taken from the eighties that almost feel like plagiarism from time to time. But in the end, this record is neither a true step back nor a step forward but rather a step towards new directions and trends after the strong last output. Personally, I prefer the previous release but the new album is still better than about ninety percent coming from other popular Alternative Rock acts in the world.

     

     

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