Mike Oldfield - Incantations (Remastered)
Oldfield’s 1978 album – his fourth – gets the deluxe re-issue treatment. With the emphasis more than ever on production, and the sound and the mood of the work, Incantations is an ambient, minimalist affair. If previous works were more orchestral and built around longer, more formal movements, this ditches some of those elements in favour of freer soundscapes.
Over thirty years later, it still works remarkably well but, more tellingly, it sounds oddly current. The instrumentation gives nothing away; Oldfield’s fuzzed-up SG is much in evidence, burbling rhythms, choral backing, a wash of strings, piano and synths. Pay attention over the course of the four movements and the narrative flow emerges - themes and motifs backtrack and begin to snake around inside the (seemingly) loose structure. It’s not as grand as Tubular Bells and it certainly doesn’t play to the gallery like his billion selling debut did. It’s a braver more compelling work than its predecessors (the pastoral Hergest Ridge and the Celtic folk of Ommadawn) and it gives ample indication where Oldfield would go next, subsequent albums abandoning the long-form approach in favour of shorter pieces and commercial pop.
If this shift to more bite-sized offerings jarred with the hardcore fanbase, it didn’t hurt sales, 1983’s Crises shifting by the bucket load, propelled by the ubiquitous ‘Moonlight Shadow’. With the 90s and later years given over to what seems like endless reworking of his legendary debut along with bloated semi-classical meanderings, no-one could argue with tarting up what could well be his most interesting work. The extras, bar the delicate and beautiful ‘Piano Improvisation’, are probably only for the diehards. It’s the main work itself, most notably its stirring, luminous fourth movement, that deserves re-evaluation.