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Mike Oldfield - Heaven's Open CD (album) cover

HEAVEN'S OPEN

Mike Oldfield

 

Crossover Prog

2.49 | 171 ratings

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thief
1 stars It's fascinating how unpredictable Mike's (Michael's?) career turned out to be. But if I were to pinpoint the most puzzling period, it would be 1989-94, hands down. In this context, "Heaven's Open" is a crucial piece of the puzzle.

To my knowledge, "Heaven's Open" is the most light-hearted, "I don't give a damn anymore" album up to that point. Stylistic choices point in this direction: another portion of inane pop songs, bits of reggae, female choirs popping out like mushrooms, and that incomprehensible long track on B side, bordering on cacophony so often... Clearly it wasn't a work of great vision or artistic importance, just a batch of loosely developed ideas. What's more, Michael was the lead singer for the first time, not counting him reminiscing childhood days on "Ommadawn". I'm not too sure what lay behind this decision; it generally fits my view of "Heaven's Earth" as a partial joke. Not that the vocals are atrocious - he does ok in a limited range - but to sing an entire album? Worth noting, he hasn't repeated that feat, as of 2018.

Side A tries to be catchy and fancy with sleek basslines and new generation of synths/samplers. There isn't much to say about these tracks, I'm afraid. "Make Make" is too repetitive and silly, not my cup of tea. "No Dream" picks up a bit during second half, but let's be honest: too little content to pull out a four, let alone six minutes song.

Surprisingly, "Mr Shame" works for me quite well. So called Sassy Choir sounds hot and fantastic this time, actually the whole chorus section is very recognizable and satisfying. Bonus points for nice keyboards and Michael not spoiling the show. The highlight, even if it's more R&B influenced than prog rock.

"Gimme Back" is just a pure reggae kitsch in my eyes. Skip it ASAP. The title track is a relief, in comparison - so buoyant and single-worthy. Not enough to save the album, but it has good moments.

I don't know what to make out of "Music from the Balcony". On one hand, I'm always fond of Oldfield's side-long epics, but on the other, this one is vastly different than others. It's split almost evenly between unmelodic experimentations with tribal drums, odd monkey samples, sudden bursts of synthesizers, and uptempo, guns blazing funky bits. Admittedly, there are also brief, uplifting moments refusing that scheme, especially towards the end, but the general impression stays the same. Mike opted to mix chaotic pieces together without stressing too much about structure. The result is intriguing, but after repeated listens I think it's more about experimentation, seemingly without rhyme or reason, than actually Good Music. Strange, since 20 minute tracks usually were the highlights of his 80s output.

It's quite possible that Oldfield decided to rush recording process a bit to free himself from Virgin contract. At least that's how this album sounds in general, and the hidden message at the very end - F*** OFF - seems to confirm it, if you ask me. I recommend you to check out "Mr Shame" and "Heaven's Open" if you enjoy poppy side of Oldfield. And maybe try "Music from the Balcony", if you have much time on your hands. Who knows if it clicks with you - for me it's the poorest "epic" of the era. In these circumstances, it's hard to justify two star rating, especially when I consider "Islands" a decidedly better album.

thief | 1/5 |

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