Mike Oldfield: Two Sides: The Very Best of Mike Oldfield

Although not every piece is great, the collection nonetheless does justice to Oldfield's musical dichotomy.

Mike Oldfield

Two Sides: The Very Best of Mike Oldfield

Label: Universal
US Release Date: 2012-08-12
UK Release Date: 2012-07-30
Artist website

Composer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield is an artist like no other. As one of the pioneers of DIY instrumental recording (in which a person overdubs successive timbres over melodic foundations, creating something similar to a musical jigsaw puzzle), as well as a well-respected pop songwriter, he’s spent the past 40 years reinventing himself and taking his audience to new places. While there have been plenty of compilations in the past, they’ve never really represented effectively the full scope of this dichotomy. Fortunately, with Two Sides: The Very Best of Mike Oldfield (compiled by Oldfield), fans and newcomers alike can revel in the unique, influential, and [mostly] enjoyable work of a brilliant musician.

Even if you’ve never heard of Oldfield by name, you’ve no doubt heard some of his music. His first release, the two-part, fifty minute Tubular Bells, sold millions of copies, which helped launch Richard Branson's fledgling Virgin Records label. In addition, the opening of "Tubular Bells: Part One" was made famous in 1973 as the theme to what is often considered the scariest film of all time, The Exorcist. Of course, there is much more to Tubular Bells than those opening minutes, and similarly, there is much more to Oldfield than his initial stroke of genius.

As a self-taught musician and composer, his work has extended across many genres, "from folk and progressive rock to jazz, electronic, ambient, new age, world, pop, and even disco." Needless to say, his releases have influenced countless other artists (including me) and popularized entire genres. As he puts it, "All I want to express with my music is my feelings. I think it's the purpose. To show images, landscapes, love, hate, fury."

Of Two Sides, Oldfield says:

This collection is my own personal choice of what I consider to be my best instrumental and songwriting works to date. These tracks may or may not have been my most critically or commercially successful at the time, but in my heart of hearts and in my judgement, they represent the closest I have come to my best creativity.

The first disc, which is sequenced to represent "his more esoteric, experimental side," logically begins with an abridged version of "Tubular Bells". As you can probably tell, I absolutely adore it, so its inclusion is a welcomed way to start the collection. Afterward, listeners are treated to more instrumental pieces, including a selection from Oldfield’s ethereal third release, Ommadawn, as well as the hyperactive, electronic frenzy of "Crisis", the classical, Middle Eastern flow of "The Lake", and the reserved yet experimental two-part "Amarok". There’s also "Tubular Bells, Pt. 2: Sentinel", which interweaves familiar themes into new ideas. "Ascension" is wonderfully atmospheric and emotive, while "The Tempest" is strikingly regal due to its luscious string arrangements. All in all, the first disc is superb representation of Oldfield's exceptional skills as a composer.

Disc two, which captures his "best loved tracks and hit singles," reveals an entirely different side to Oldfield's musical prowess. Like Alan Parsons and Arjen Anthony Lucassen (Ayreon), after releasing his avant-garde records, Oldfield ventured into writing pop/rock songs for other vocalists to sing. One of his biggest songs, "Family Man" (which was sung by Maggie Reilly and covered by Hall & Oates), appears here, as does the romantically regretful "To France". There's also the schizophrenic synth of "Files Miles Out", the pleasant warmth of "Moonlight Shadow", and the hard rock gruff of "Shadow on the Wall". Several more instrumentals appear, too, including the inspirational and melodically engaging "The Song of the Sun" and "The Doges Palace". The collection ends with "On My Heart", an operatic, sublime synthesis of falsetto harmonies, delicate strings, and eclectic percussion.

While Two Sides is definitely named appropriately, one of those sides is much more interesting and listenable than the other. Oldfield is unquestionably incredible as an arranger of affective, grandiose, and dynamic compositions; however, his songwriting is far from intriguing or memorable. Honestly, just about every pop/rock track on the record is embarrassingly dated, cheesy, and odd. Granted no one writes and produces commercial material like Oldfield, but perhaps that's because no one ever wanted to. Still, the juxtaposition of these two wildly different approaches to music really shows how diverse Oldfield was, and that fact alone is enough to make him a remarkable artist.

Two Sides: The Very Best of Mike Oldfield is a fantastic collection not because its contents is perfect, but because it does justice to its creator's amazing range. Although his work can sometimes be repetitive, it is still commendable for being utterly distinctive. Oldfield was a pioneer and a visionary, and while many have followed in his footsteps, no one has even been able to match what he does with sound. As for his songwriting, well, it's a novelty, to say the least, and there are worthwhile moments here and there that make up for the cringe-worthiness of the majority. In the end, the retrospective is a sufficient way to celebrate a one-of-a-kind artist, and fans couldn't really ask for more than that.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.