Mike Oldfield – Incantations
WHAT’S THE STORY?: Hands up who remembers the Exorcist?
Good work, John. Five team points.
Now who remembers the theme tune?
Goddamn incredible wasn’t it?
Mike Oldfield. Tubular Bells. Cracking theme track.
HISTORY LESSON OVER. EVERONE GETS A FIRST. NOW GO HOME WE’RE MOVING ON TO THE PRESENT.
Incantations is OldField’s latest (re)release (argh, the past catches up with us) and this happens to be the Deluxe edition. Fancy!
SOUNDS LIKE: This isn’t quite so obstinately pioneering as the original Tubular Bells – there’s an almost narrative structure to the tracks for a start, making it a sort of ‘ambient opera’ – but it still retains that experimental nature of his earlier works, though with a dropping of his distinctive guitar arrangements for a grander orchestral sound. There’s certainly nothing conventional or at least fashionable in what’s being reached for here, but it’s grasped with thorough and convincing skill.
Let’s take a close-up of an individual track to see what makes it stand out so well:
Incantations Part One.
Heavy use of pan, synth, string… it’s hard not to use hackneyed phrases like ‘sense of wonderment’ without sounding like a complete and utter tosser, but that’s really what gets evoked here. High reaching, emotionally uplifting, it’s the audio equivalent of a kid and their dog setting out one fine summers day on an epic journey of discovery. Leaves dappled by summer sun, a sense of unease about how far you’ve come and how much further there is to go… All that nostalgic halcyon bullshit. Except instead of getting tetanus on some abandoned wasteground, you’ll probably meet an elf who’ll teach you how to whisper to spiders. Anyway, you definitely won’t get chased off by a crazy homeless guy spitting obscenities and while waving a broken bottle of New Castle Brown… Anyway, six minutes in we switch to a shrill, marching song and nerds of a certain age won’t be able to see anything but pennants flapping as the dusk sets over Junon harbour. Then we get some female quire chanting in an impenetrable language; so that’s the ring of dancing spirits at the warrior king’s funeral checked off the list. This all sounds a bit over-blown and whimsical, but it’s created through a bare minimum of musical instruments, built up through layers of repetition, but without itself sounding repetitive. So there’s a lot of technical ability to admire even if your imagination brims with all the warmth and vitality of soggy, day-old Ginsters pastie.
The standout component though, which breaks the instrumental pace wonderfully is the use of Henry Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha at key points throughout the album. An extract of which you get below:
By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest,
Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them;
Bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water,
Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.
(Hope you enjoyed that flashback to your GCSES)
Performed in a beautiful, diving and dipping witch-like chant, it’s a masterpiece in evoking the mystical/folklore tone of the piece. Love.
The album isn’t complexly flawless – the first 30 seconds of Guilty haven’t aged terribly well, though this is more of a bonus track. And The B-side selection is considerable weaker – they wouldn’t be B-sides otherwise – and essentially serve as cut-shots of the superior A-sides. Pretty nitpicky to hit from these angles though.
Despite its age, this is a cracking rerelease and certainly worth picking up if you’re a fan of concept albums, Lord of the Rings, or modern opera (more synth, less large singing lady). An organic, fable-like, seventy minute ride into one man’s personal fantasy kingdom. It’s pretty much a Ghibli soundtrack waiting to happen. If he and Miyazaki ever did a team up… World ending.