Year of Release: 2003
Catalog Number: 2564 60204 2
Total Time: 48:33:00
You are standing in line at the bookmaker's office, hard-earned dollars clutched in your fist. It's a two horse race and you're sweating over the choice.
On the one hand we have a 19 year-old English prodigy. He creates a brilliant album in no time at all in 1973 using low cost, old fashioned techniques. He calls it Tubular Bells.
On the other hand we have an accomplished 50 year old musician living in the Spanish sunshine with a discography running into the dozens, and more platinum discs than he can count. He takes his time and creates a brilliant album in 2003, with the very best recording and mixing technologies. He calls it Tubular Bells 2003.
So - where does the smart money go?
Tubular Bells 2003 is not simply a remastered version of the original. It was re-recorded from scratch, so that Mike Oldfield could correct - in his own words - all the ??imperfections, notes out of tune, out of time, rushed playing, mistakes in performance, electronic noise etc??. We understand that Oldfield's contract with Virgin included a clause blocking the re-recording of Tubular Bells for 25 years after the original release. So now - 30 years after the original - he has finally managed to correct the earlier flaws.
All due credit to Mike for sticking to the script, as there is hardly any embellishment. It is almost note-perfect, and the two albums run within 20 seconds of each other. The new album is impeccably produced, and the playing - on every instrument - is nothing short of outstanding. Tubular Bells 2003 is sharper than the original, with each instrument sounding crisper and more vivid, with considerably more dynamics than the original.
And you know what? The 19 year old kid played with more heart, more raw emotion and anger and flair. Those imperfections Oldfield speaks of made it the album more human, and consequently more approachable. The new album just may be too perfect.
The real differences between the kid's LP and the old man's CD are in the mood and the overall ambience of the music. Technically, the albums are so similar that you really have to look at the details to find the variances:
The original album had Viv Stanshall doing the roll call of instruments. Sadly, Stanshall died in a house fire in March, 1995. On the 2003 album his place is taken by ex-Monty Python, actor, John Cleese. The first time I heard John Cleese's distinctive voice on the album, I started smiling. It was a Pavlovian response - I was waiting for the punchline. Isn't that what you always get when Cleese starts up? You half expect him to declare that the two slightly distorted guitars are ?pining for the fjords?! There is no humor, of course, and frankly Cleese's delivery is ridiculously overdone. He has a good voice and excellent diction, and Oldfield should have made him emulate Stanshall.
Remember the caveman bit on the second side of the LP? (Remember LPs?) That also gets a makeover, and the Piltdown Man now does a grunting duet with Piltdown Woman, played by the once golden voiced Sally Oldfield (Mike's sister).
There's another difference that may or may not be important, but I found it disappointing: The 19 year old had just 2 tracks on his album, named (very maturely) "Part I" and "Part II." The 50 year old gave each piece a name, and there are now 17 separate tracks with poorly chosen names, many of which have little bearing on their content.
Other more subtle differences: A more distinct bass guitar. A better ?bagpipe guitar? sound. A softer feel to the whole of what used to be called "Part 2." Beautiful little touches added to many of the melodies, and subtle twists and variations in the instrumentation and the mix.
All in all, though, these differences are minor because the music is essentially the same, and still as compelling as ever. The distinctive voice Oldfield wrung out of his guitar (we understand the original was a Fender Telecaster) is still there. The catchy tunes, the Irish ditty now called a ?Sailor's Hornpipe?, the elegant mix of electric and acoustic guitars, and those Tubular bells ... all still there.
Tubular Bells 2003 is a must-buy for connoisseurs and ardent Oldfield fans. For the rest of us discerning listeners, you can't go wrong with either album. But if you already own the original, you'd be hard-pressed to justify shelling out the full price for an album that you already own.
So who'd you pick? The 19 year old, or the 50 year old?
My money's on the kid.
Part One: Introduction (5:51) / Fast Guitars (1:04) / Basses (0:46) / Latin (2:18) / A Minor Tune (1:21) / Blues (2:40) / Thrash (0:44) / Jazz (0:48) / Ghost Bells (0:30) / Russian (0:44) / Finale (8:36) / Part Two: Harmonics (5:21) / Peace (3:22) / Bagpipe Guitars (3:07) / Caveman (4:33) / Ambient Guitars (5:09) / The Sailors Hornpipe (1:39)
Mike Oldfield - pianos, organs, glockenspiel, synths, guitars, tympani, tubular bells?
John Cleese - master of ceremonies
Sally Oldfield - background vocals
Tubular Bells (1973)
Hergest Ridge (1974)
The Orchestral Tubular Bells (1975/1999)
Mike Oldfield (1976)
The Essential Mike Oldfield (1980)
Five Miles Out (1981/1994/1999)
Music Wonderland (1981)
The Killing Fields (1984) (OST)
The Complete Mike Oldfield (1985)
Earth Moving (1989)
Heaven's Open (1991/1999/2000)
Tubular Bells II (1992)
The Best Of Mike Oldfied (1993)
The Elements (1993)
The Songs Of Distant Earth (1996)
XXV: The Essential (1997)
The Essential Mike Oldfield (1997)
Tubular Bells III (1998)
The Millennium Bell (1999)
Best Of Tubular Bells (2001)
Elements: Mike Oldfield 1973-1991 (2002)
Tr3s Lunas (2002)
Tubular Bells 2003 (2003)
Tubular Bells 2003 (DVD-A) (2003)
Light + Shade (2005)
Music Of The Spheres (2008)
Music Of The Spheres: Live In Bilbao (2008)
Tubular Bells (Remastered Edition) (2009)
Tubular Bells (Special Edition) (2009)
Tubular Bells (Deluxe Edition) (2009)
Tubular Bells (Digital Box Set) (2009)