Tubular Bells III

Mike Oldfield

Warner Brothers UK, 1998

http://mikeoldfieldofficial.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/16/2014

“After finally getting through Tubular Bells II, I'm almost afraid to hear what the third installment sounds like. Here's hoping [Mike] Oldfield learned his lesson with the second effort.” - Review of Tubular Bells II, 4/14/2001

After all these years, I have finally gotten up the courage to listen to Tubular Bells III. You can understand my hesitancy to do so – I grew up on the original Tubular Bells, which remains one of my favorite pieces of music to this day, and I was totally disgusted by what Oldfield did with Tubular Bells II.

In one sense, Oldfield didn't learn his lesson – and that simply is by naming this collection of music (which, to the best of my knowledge, was never officially released in the United States) as the third installment of Tubular Bells. This album has absolutely nothing to do with the original – which, in this case, is a good thing, and evidence that Oldfield might have understood it was better to leave well enough alone.
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Despite keeping it in the franchise (if in name only), Oldfield actually successfully creates an album that captured where he was in his life at the time, and the end result is not only surprisingly listenable, but damned enjoyable.

Oldfield had been living in Ibiza when he recorded Tubular Bells III, and the influence of the island and its style of trance-like music is evident through many of the numbers here. But, instead of being a distraction, it actually allows the opening number “The Source Of Secrets” to carve out its own identity. It's a bit of a merge between dance music and new age – but, to my amazement, it works well.

While a few songs segue together courtesy of either the backing beats or ambient sounds, Oldfield wisely allows many of these to stand apart as their own unique works, not interlocked into a larger scheme of music. By doing this, he literally gives Tubular Bells III room to not only breathe, but to grow.

And it's here where I'll actually give this disc props over the original... when you hear tracks like “The Watchful Eye” segue into “Jewel In The Crown,” it is a natural progression (unlike the sometimes startling, albeit enjoyable, stylistic shifts throughout the movements on Tubular Bells). Going from the pseudo-Irish jig of “The Top Of The Morning” to an almost eerie setting on “Moonwatch,” likewise, seems like it is the natural ebb and flow of the material.

In fact, there are several tracks that stand out on this disc. I like the Spanish references on “The Serpent Dream,” and “Far Above The Clouds” is the ideal way to close out this album. Some have criticized Oldfield for the track “Man In The Rain,” due to its similarities with “Moonlight Shadow” off Crises – but since I have yet to get to that particular album, I'll withhold any judgment on that regard. I will, though, question why this particular song has a pop-rock sensibility to it while the other tracks on the disc are almost new-age mood pieces. (That is not meant as a criticism of the bulk of the album, mind you.)

Tubular Bells III could have easily been a disaster, but Oldfield does something very intelligent and makes sure that this is not a blow-by-blow reworking of his original masterpiece (like what he tried to do on Tubular Bells II). Instead, this is a wonderful disc that, despite sharing the familiar name, is in a league of its own, and deserves to be given a fair chance.

Rating: A-

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