“This stereo record can still not be played on old tin boxes no matter what they are fitted with. If you are in possession of such equipment please hand it into the nearest police station.”

An album by Mike Oldfield, released in May 27, 2003.

This album is a reworking of Mike's first work Tubular Bells, originally released in 1973. The original album, sometimes termed a “rock symphony” and ocassionally known as “that 48 minute instrumental thing”, was a huge success.

A thorn in my side

First, a warning: the album uses a form of what the record companies call a “copy protection” and what the customers call “that stuff on the new CDs that makes my player jump, just like the LP fans wanted”.

This nuisance is present in the European release of the album—the Canadian release is happily unaffected.

The album uses a variant of Cactus Data Shield. Quite absurd, really—people had reported that there were audible sound quality loss, problems getting all tracks played or extra gaps between songs, and some even went as far as claiming this pathetic excuse for a Redbook CD damaged their players.

In fact, while my piece of crap portable CD player from the turn of the millennium played the CD just fine, my early-1990-something CD player did skip when I did an analog copy of the CD. (Yes, analog copy. I don't care what the supposed audiophiles say. =) Strangely enough, at least some tracks were extractible in my father's laptop with Exact Audio Copy in Synchronized mode. (My own CD-ROM drive didn't cooperate.)

Hmm. Maybe the clicks and jumps just make the people who originally bought the album on vinyl more comfortable... Either way, I'm expecting, nay, I'm demanding that Warner releases this thing on Europe without any of this nuisance.

Update 2004-04-01: (Not kidding) The whole shebang is actually trivially easy to rip. I just used the read-cd command on cdrdao, giving it the --session 1 parameter to only extract the first session on CD. It ripped it without problems, and it sounds mighty, even when it complained about a few hundred subchannel errors.

This time we tune the bells, too

Enough of the copy protection—onward to the actual album.

The story is this: Back in '73, Mike was doing his first album. Of course, before Tubular Bells he wasn't known as the Musical Genius Who Did Tubular Bells, so he had problems getting studio time (not to even mention budget—one of the execs said something like “£20 for renting tubular bells? This had better be worth it...”). The first part was mostly recorded in a week of studio work, and for the rest of the remaining recording, Mike could only use the studio when no one else was there. In other words, the conditions for producing the work were less than optimal, and it took a long time to get the whole thing done

Mike wasn't happy with the results even when the album sold like hot cakes. He wanted to redo the album later, but Virgin, his record label at the time, had in his contract that he couldn't redo the album for 25 years.

Nowadays, this clause had obviously expired, and to commemorate the 30 year anniversary, he redid the album with all of his modern stuff. And fortunately, this time he has all the time in the world to tune his instruments.

And the world was divided...

The most obvious change from the old days is the fact that the album now has 17 tracks instead of 2. The album is still divided in two long sections, Part One and Part Two. In addition to this, the tracks have Mike's original work names for each small part of the work.

Specifically, the tracks are:

  1. Introduction (5:51)
  2. Fast Guitars (1:04)
  3. Basses (0:46)
  4. Latin (2:18)
  5. A Minor Tune (1:21)
  6. Blues (2:40)
  7. Thrash (0:44)
  8. Jazz (0:48)
  9. Ghost Bells (0:30)
  10. Russian (0:44)
  11. Finale (8:36)
  12. Harmonics (5:21)
  13. Peace (3:22)
  14. Bagpipe Guitars (3:07)
  15. Caveman (4:33)
  16. Ambient Guitars (5:09)
  17. The Sailor's Hornpipe (1:39)

The Part One consists of tracks 1-11, and Part Two is 12-17.

So does it sound different?

I have always had rather mixed feelings about the first Tubular Bells. On one hand, the whole was pretty nice. On the other, some of the parts sounded pretty awful.

Before I heard Mike's own interpretation, I heard someone else's performance. Many parts in Mike's work were pretty cool compared to this stranger, but the odd thing was, I thought the other guy played some parts far better. Regrettably I don't have the other performer's name here...

Now, I can safely say this album is finally at least as listenable. Regrettably some of the parts I liked in the original sound far too different—for example, the “nasal choir” is gone and we hear synthetizers instead! Then, in some parts, the change has been only positive: The “caveman” part now has two werewolves—er, sorry, Piltdown men—a male and female one.

In my own opinion, the album is indeed how Tubular Bells should sound like and it makes the original pale in comparison in many may ways.

No fake instruments. Oh, wait... fake instruments.

Mike uses quite a few instruments on the album, as in the original.

However, he now uses quite a lot of synthesizers, including quite a few of soft synths. This is probably the biggest difference between this and the original – a lot more synthetic sounds.

Yet, there are some instruments that are more “real” than the ones in his previous albums. He uses real tubular bells, as opposed to sampled tubular bells he used in TB2 and TB3. There are also interesting instrument choices like a Hammond organ from 1970 that apparently sat in Mike's garage.

The recording is, in spirit of the time, all digital. Editing was done on a Mac using the usual professional software (ProTools and Logic).

“Grrrrand Piano!”

In the Finale part, basses repeat same pattern and one by one, the master of ceremonies announces the name of an instrument, which begin to play the melody. In the original Tubular Bells release, the master of ceremonies was late Vivian Stanshall. For this reworking, Mike gave this part to John Cleese of Monty Python fame.

Maybe the silliness of John Cleese's appearance is justifiable – the whole part was somewhat humorous (and I actually laughed at the absurdity of the similar part in Tubular Bells II, with all of its strange instruments... “Vocal cords! The venetian effect!”)

The other replacement is in the cover art. Original cover was designed by Trevor Key, and the new cover was done by Steve Bedford. Not much of a change, except for more photorealism - some environment mapping in the 3D rendering of the bell.

References

Richard Carter. "Tubular Bells 2003". Tubular.net, 2003. Online. <URL:http://tubular.net/discography/TubularBells2003.shtml>. Accessed 2003-07-17.

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