Mike Oldfield - Five Miles Out [1982]

So where did I dig this out…?

I understand the fascination with Tubular Bells. Everything about it. The one-man band. The intricacies of the production. The first release on Richard Branson’s Virgin Records label…

I don’t own Tubular Bells.

In 1982 Mike Oldfield released an album called Five Miles Out. If you where an absolute fan of Tubular Bells [six albums and nine years earlier] or his work up until this point, you may not have appreciated his venture into the easy listening Pop market. Oldfield’s work had mostly involved intellectual [and largely instrumental] ‘Progressive’ musical forays. However, delving into more conventional songwriting [and finding a good balance between the two] was probably a significant contribution to Oldfield’s longevity. Can you sing along to any of the tracks from Hergest Ridge? Do you remember the album? It only has two tracks.

Balancing extreme musical experimentation with well crafted radio friendly songs is not something many recording artists can do successfully. Right now I can’t think of any besides Mike Oldfield… He does it well.

Five Miles Out starts off with a distinctively Mike Oldfield ‘Taurus II’. A layered dance through a variety of finely timed tempo changes. It’s almost like a prelude, with snippets of a variety of musical themes – perfectly assembled. These kinds of tempo- and theme changes are only listenable if they are well constructed – like they are here. There is a Celtic theme that runs through this piece and is echoed in other parts of the album that conjures up notions of celebration, drama, solace, romance… ‘Taurus II’ is the concise guide to musical Celticism. It’s fantastic, and with all its twenty four minutes length already makes the album worth it. To followers, the use of the theme of ‘Taurus I’ from Oldfield’s 1980 album QE2 makes a notable appearance.

The second track [or the first track on side two if you are able to reference historical formats] is significant in that it is Mike Oldfield’s first true venture into recording Pop songs. If you’re a more casual fan, ‘Family Man’ will be recognizable due to it often appearing of collections and compilations. You may also remember that it became a big hit for Hall & Oats back in the Eighties.

Orabidoo’ picks up parts of the main up-tempo theme of ‘Taurus II’, but is mostly a much more subdued and meditative piece.

The familiar and slightly ominous title track ‘Five Miles out’ closes off the album.

With only five tracks and being just under fifty minutes in length – you’ll be left feeling a little like you want some more. Not because it was short or you feel cheated, but because when the music stops, it has taken you on such a ride that whatever else is going on around you will seem totally unfamiliar. The good thing is – if you own this album – you can take the ride anytime you want.

Surely worth the petrol money for a day trip around the Cape Peninsula - including a hearty lunch along the way.

Mike Oldfield - Five Miles Out [1982]
Mike Oldfield - Five Miles Out [1982]
Mike Oldfield
Mike Oldfield


U2 - All That You Can’t Leave Behind [2000]

By the year 2000, it seemed that U2 had already done everything they could have. They had managed to bridge the gap (or cross the line…) between being innovative and successful numerous times, and each time you’d think that they just couldn’t really do it again. Every time they released an album they would surprise us with the unexpected. After a 24 year existence and the release of nine albums during this time, it would not be surprising if there was just nothing left for the band to offer.

This possibility was almost true. On the surface U2’s 2000 release All That You Can’t Leave Behind doesn’t really break much new ground and there seems to be no real innovation.

But there is something going on here. For the first time the band revisit their roots. The raw rock and roll energy of early albums like Boy comes to mind. Fortunately it’s no re-hash. The triumphant ‘Beautiful Day’ is a perfect opening track and comfortably reintroduces us to U2’s straight forward rock and roll origins. ‘Evaluation’ is another pumped up celebration and displays the post-modern fusion of the resurgence of the old-school rock and roll sound with all the hi-tech stuff that has been learned in the interim.

There is also a more personal angle on subject matter [‘When I Look At The World’, ‘Peace On Earth’, ‘Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of’ and ‘New York’]. Songs have more to do with matters and less with issues. Although U2 have always dealt with issues that were close to them, there was always a universal, and often a non-personal approach. One with which there was always a bit of distance between the speaker and the issue. Face it – if you wanted to save the world on a personal and intimate level, you would not get very far. I suspect you’d realize that your own life was so insignificant that you’d probably give all your cool stuff away and go and live in a cave. What use would you be to the world-saving community then? Huh?

There’s a subtle cynicism in some of the lyrics [‘Peace On Earth’]. It’s a kind of realization that despite all the good intentions and all the hard work done (particularly by Bono) to deal effectively with real humanitarian issues – there is often much more involved to political decision-making than purported good will and perceived integrity. With All That You Can’t Leave Behind you feel that the fight is not over, but let’s just stay at home for a couple of days…

To add to the new immediacy, Bono’s voice has become slightly raspy. At first it feels a little awkward, but once you’re over it - it adds a new sense of vulnerability that is quite welcome. Especially after being almost untouchably clean for almost 20 years.

Despite not being my all-time favourite U2 album, it is still a good album and contains some of my favourite U2 songs.

It’s worth a fully packed picnic basket and a day spent in Tokai Forest.

U2 - All That You Can't Leave Behind [2000]
U2 - All That You Can't Leave Behind [2000]
U2
U2


Ungdomskulen - Cry Baby [2007]

Norway has produced some fine things over the years. Things like snow. And Vikings. Musically speaking, the ECM label introduced us to some Norwegian jazz musicians: Jan Garbarek. Terje Rypdal. Misfortune introduced us to some people who were probably blinded by the snow; and therefore thought they were Vikings. These people formed groups and also made music. Borknager, Enslaved, Dimmu Borgir. In fact – much of the better known Black- and Death Metal bands are from Norway. Much of it purports to be evil and Satanic. The use of cheesy keyboards is prevalent. I know for a fact that most is it is rubbish.

So when you think of Norway and music – usually you’d think of Jazz and sometimes of Death Metal, but when you hear of a band called Ungdomskulen who play neither of the above-mentioned forms of music – you know you’ve probably come across something quite different. So wot’s…uh the deal?

In 2007, the Norwegian band Ungdomskulen released an album called Cry-Baby. I don’t think I’ve ever heard music that is this difficult to describe. It is not Jazz. And it certainly is not Death- or Black Metal. The encyclopedias call it Progressive. They usually say that when they don’t know how to classify music. Picture (maybe) Pixies – the band – playing versions of Tool songs while trying to sound the Springbok Nude Girls. Backwards. With ear-pugs. In a daisy field. After listening to Frank Zappa’s Playground Psychotics non-stop for five days.

Yes. It has many angles. Unfortunately the initial impression – that you’d get if you hear it coming from behind a bedroom door while washing (someone else’s) dirty dishes in the kitchen – is a messy noise. If you’re paying attention – to the point that you’ve forgotten about your dirty dishes in the kitchen – you’ll pick up that the music is precise, accurate and purposeful. Sometimes [‘Feels Like Home’, ‘My Beautiful Blue Eyes’] it’s almost happy. Like Hippies, but ones that have direction and are schooled in their instruments and general musicianship. But Ungdomskulen’s music refuses to be characterized by any conventional method. As soon as you think you’ve found something to latch on to – the music will give you something else. Possibly something like… um, Viking Snow… Just different. (And not the tires.)

You may (at first) be put off by the noisy element of Cry-Baby, but give it the attention needed and it is definitely worth a bottle of Vodka and a big packet of slap chips.

Ungdomskulen - Cry Baby [2007]
Ungdomskulen - Cry Baby [2007]
Ungdomskulen
Ungdomskulen


Sandra Bernhard - Excuses for Bad Behavior Part 1 [1994]

You may think this is a strange place to start my album based reviews, but all things considered – what did you expect?!

Sandra Bernard was once notoriously well known for being a hot lesbian who had a thing with Madonna. Right? Actually, she’s a stand-up comedienne who has been active since the late Seventies; has appeared in a Martin Scorsese film [The King Of Comedy]; featured on Roseanne for six years; been in Playboy magazine and has released a string of albums – two of which are music – the rest comedic. She was most successful during the Nineties. She’s still pretty active, but the list would be long, so look it up yourself.

‘Excuses for Bad Behavior Part 1’ is Ms Bernhard’s first release that concentrates on music and – for the most part – is a bit random and awkward. However, there are a couple of tracks which are quite plausible and can easily get lost in the mix. Here – if you’re not a pre-determined fan – you clearly have to be selective to get to the better stuff.

Production by Mitch Kaplan and Derrick Smith and Ted Jensen’s mastering skills have made the album really cohesive, which – maybe strangely – makes it easier for the good stuff to get lost.

The first track that really catches your attention – ‘Manic Superstar’ – is a mash-up of sorts of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Manic Depression’ and ‘Everything’s All Right’ from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. This is a pretty clever mix and believably pulled off.

A couple of cool lounge-y / disco-y tracks [‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’, ‘Who Knew’ and ‘Prophecies’] are good for background music while having cocktails on the balcony and might lead to a little unconscious foot-tapping, but when Sandra tries to get all serious [‘Innocence’, ‘The Letter’] – you’re either going to get teary eyed, or you’ll take the CD out of the player and burn it. Some of her references – to herself and the ‘lesbian community’ – are mildly entertaining, though.

Sandra’s ability to sing should not be questioned. Just her ability to find an audience within a music loving community. She just hops around between commitments too much to maintain musically cohesive integrity.

Sandra’s interpretation of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ is almost beautiful. It’s lounge-y, clear and sincere. That might sound odd. Too bad. It’s one of my favourite Rolling Stones songs, and I’m not often impressed by cover versions.

’50 Ways To Leave Your Lover’ is another cover, and also one of the better executed tracks on the album. Sandra is good at performing other people’s songs. Her selections here are suited to her and she does them with a sense of confidence that is not present in the own songs.

Unless you’re a huge fan of Sandra Bernhard – don’t pay more than the price of a packet of cigarettes for this album (if you can find it…).

Sandra Bernhard - Excuses for Bad Behavior Part 1 [1994]
Sandra Bernhard - Excuses for Bad Behavior Part 1 [1994]
Sandra Bernhard
Sandra Bernhard


Blue Notes

I have a theory that one should not be expected to understand or necessarily relate to things that happened before (erm… or after) the period during which you were / are alive. This is not meant to exclude the possibility of there being an understanding / ability to relate – only the expectation.

Until relatively recently, my own collection of music has (automatically) stayed within this framework. Yes, I like The Beatles - including the early stuff – but my collection only included The Beatles from 1968 and Abbey Road from 1969. A later addition and probably the first acquisition outside my ‘happened during the time I was alive’ period was Rubber Soul. I’ve wanted to get the Box Set for a very long time, but this has somehow just not happened…

More recently I have acquired some of the early Blue Note titles. Some of the recordings go back to 1956. The intensity of this music ventures into a world of defiance and integrity. I like it.

The Rudy Van Gelder series of re-issues is well priced and really worth looking into – even if you don’t have an affinity to jazz. It might change your mind.

And yes, I still want The Beatles’ Box set.

The Beatles
The Beatles
Blue Note
Blue Note
Rudy Van Gelder
Rudy Van Gelder

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