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Mike Oldfield - Islands CD (album) cover

ISLANDS

Mike Oldfield

 

Crossover Prog

2.62 | 202 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

thief
2 stars "Islands" has to be that "forgotten album" of the eighties. We listen regularly to succesful hits such as "Moonlight Shadow", "To France" or "Family Man", surrounding albums are widely discussed, even lackluster "Earth Moving" seems to be picked apart more often. Honestly, if not for the reviews section here on Progarchives, I'd never read a word on this LP anywhere. Is it fair though?

As on many previous records, Oldfield follows "compromise" formula: 20 minute track on Side A and bunch of 4 minute trifles on Side B. "Islands" features very catchy vocals of Bonnie Tyler in a power ballad, interestingly backed with saxophone, oboe and omnipresent synths. Although I find it too sentimental and a lacking in structure, pretty melodies and non-typical instruments make it recognizable. A good listen once you accept Oldfield's general approach and standards in the 1980s.

It's good to mention that vast majority of this record is showered with reverbs, delays, chorus pedals, lush production and so on. While most Mike's albums are either 'green', 'blue' or in-between, "Islands" is definitely 'pink' for long stretches. Especially "Flying Start" and "Magic Touch", which got way too close to Summer Hits Territory for my taste. The latter could find its way to early episodes of Baywatch or 90210. Very disappointing.

"North Point" and "The Time Has Come" feature Anita Hegerland vocals and I appreciate it. The best I can say though is that these are decent, maybe of Kate Bush outtake quality. My CD version concludes with a bonus track, "When the Night's on Fire", which is another mellow Hegerland piece. It also left me unimpressed, I can't even recall its melody now.

Thankfully there is still Side A, twenty-two minutes long "The Wind Chimes" epic. Most segments consist of pleasing melodies, engaging rhythms and interesting arrangements, usually led by Mike's guitar and... a flute! Bjorn Lindh, a Swedish flautist hired to record this track, excels at breathy, almost percussive articulation, somewhat similar to Ian Anderson's style. Some three minutes before the end the music rapidly intensifies, transforming into a magnificent, lovely coda.

Admittedly, "The Wind Chimes" is far from perfect. Sometimes it resembles a bunch of minor compositions thrown together without proper bridges/passages. At times it loses my interest, getting a bit too experimental (~6:00 minute mark) or unfocused. But in the same time it's so peaceful (3:15) and has a good dose of charming moments. I believe prog lovers will appreciate it the most, and it deserves to be called a highlight.

As much as I like delving into underrated albums and searching for overlooked gems, like pearl fishers, "The Wind Chimes" is not enough to compensate for lackluster Side B. The shorter set isn't as strong as preceding ones and foreshadows the following "Earth Moving". Sure, I could revisit the title track once in a blue moon; I can even sit through the entire album without MUCH harm, but music shouldn't be just "tolerable".

So, is it fair that "Islands" isn't really discussed anywhere? To some extent, yes. I was expecting to hear some New Age/prog, appreciating nature's beauty and wonders of the world, in a very Oldfield manner. And I got just twenty minutes of that. It falls a little short of three stars, in my book.

But yes, try "The Wind Chimes" with an open mind. This is my pearl for today.

thief | 2/5 |

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