Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells 2003

Tubular Bells, the best selling instrumental album of all times, gets re-recorded by Mike Oldfield for the 30th anniversary of the original. Oldfield recreates Tubular Bells using a combination of the latest recording technology, software synthesizers, and vintage instruments, including many of the instruments used to record the original. Tubular Bells 2003 sounds great!

Skeptics may think that Oldfield has milked the Tubular Bells teat dry. In addition to the original recording, he’s released an orchestral version, a live version, and two sequels. The original sold 16+ million records and is considered by many to be his greatest work, so it’s no wonder that he keeps revisiting it.

Oldfield has said that, while Tubular Bells is one of his favorite works, he was alway unhappy with the recording quality. He had to rush to complete it, and was not able to re-record parts that didn’t meet his standards.

With Tubular Bells 2003, Oldfield has given his signature work a loving recreation. It’s extremely faithful to the original, at times sound like the original recording remastered. The sound is much more open and airy. While the old recording holds up well, the new recording sounds brighter and fuller, and uses the full sonic range more effectively. Bass sounds much richer, and parts are more focused and delineated.

Oldfield uses a large collection of instruments, many of which are the same instruments he used years ago. His playing is as good as ever. Oldifield plays: grand piano, glockenspiel, electric organs, accordian, synthesizers, bass guitar, electric and acoustic guitar, mandolin, spanish guitar, typpani, percussion, and does the Piltdown man effect. Plus! Tubular Bells!

The music is an almost note for note recreation of the original. There are a few places where a few bars have been changed, but you’d have to listen closely to notice. On this release, Oldfield has provided section names:

Part One

  1. Introduction 05:51
  2. Fast Guitars 01:04
  3. Basses 00:46
  4. Latin 02:18
  5. A Minor Tune 01:21
  6. Blues 02:40
  7. Thrash 00:44
  8. Jazz 00:48
  9. Ghost Bells 00:30
  10. Russian 00:44
  11. Finale 08:36

Part Two

  1. Harmonics 05:21
  2. Peace 03:22
  3. Bagpipe Guitars 03:07
  4. Caveman 04:33
  5. Ambient Guitars 05:09
  6. Hornpipe 01:39

Other performers are Sally Oldfield, who recreates her singing from the original, and John Cleese, who takes over the Master of Ceremonies part.

The performance is excellent and the recording is crisp. There are no ugly surprises – Oldfield hasn’t remixed the original into a dance number. Like the original, the recording is an amazing example of what one musician can create in a studio.

While Tubular Bells 2003 is an excellent recording, it’s also a little disappointing. It’s so close to the original, that it almost begs the question of whether it was worth redoing. The overall faithfulness also makes the minor changes all the more obvious. Some listeners may find the little differences annoying, as if your favorite restaurant changed its menu.

If you can get beyond that, the new version can be appreciated in the same way as a new recording of a piece of classical music. There are unique qualities to both versions, and there will people to argue the merits of both.

There’s no question that the new version is technically far superior to the original. The sound quality is uniformly excellent. The playing is much tighter. The original, though, sometimes sounds more orchestral, because the timing varies more from instrument to instrument, while the new version sounds more sequenced. Some of the imperfections of the original are part of its interest, too.

Mike Oldfield fans will find Tubular Bells 2003 a must-have. For others, it is a perfect introduction to Oldfield’s music. It can’t replace the original Tubular Bells, but it’s a great recording of a groundbreaking piece of music.

Leave a Reply