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


Mike Oldfield

Crossover Prog

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2 stars One of Oldfield's worst albums. This one came at the end of his relationship with Virgin music, and the lyrics are full of references to freedom. Although this theme is usally featured in Oldfield's work, this time it is much more concrete, and the constant references at his fights with Virgin and Richard Branson in particular almost make this a concept album. This record is also noted for bein the one in wich Oldfield sings all the songs. He had done so sometimes, but mostly in his most tongue-in-the-cheek songs and in his folk rock debut 'The Sallyangie' at the age of 16. His perfomance is ok, and sometimes even powerful. As with other records from the 80s, 'Heaven's Open' is split in two parts: one with songs and one with a full side track. This was a good compromise Oldfield came with to continue producing prog albums and gaining commercial success, and I usually don't know why other prog groups never took this path. The problem is that most of the songs are just average, and some times even dreadful (the reaggish 'Gimme back'), and the side long track is something like the experimentalism of 'Amarok' continued but less inspired. The mix of weird noises and music doesn't work this time, althogh it has a trademark Oldfield epic finale that almost redeems the song. The only thing that saves this record is the title track, one of my favourite songs by the man from Reading. If you like this aspect of his work, this record can be considered essential just for this track. If not, this may be at the bottom of your wish list.
Report this review (#28445)
Posted Wednesday, April 21, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars Mike has a way with words. In this case, his words. I had heard that Heaven's Open had gotten bad reviews. Well, I didn't care. I WANTED TO HEAR HIM SING!!!!!

And, boy, can he not sing. Not that Oldfield is the worst vocalist ever. (Look at Islands.)

Musically, this album rocks! There is a strange absence of Mike's guitar work on "Make Make", but otherwise, the album is a great kiss-off to Virgin.

Report this review (#28446)
Posted Tuesday, June 22, 2004 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
2 stars The name's Michael

For his last album for Virgin, Oldfield produced a somewhat experimental album. While there is no question of him simply going through the motions to fulfil his contract, this has to go down as one of his least successful ventures. While the album is credited to Oldfield, (or more precisely Michael Oldfield, apparently as a joke), it is in fact a band recording.

The album consists of six tracks, five of which occupy side one, the final piece "Music from the balcony" occupying the whole of side two. The five tracks on side one all feature Oldfield's vocals. With the only previous reference point of note being "On horseback", it is pleasing to find that he does in fact have a rich and melodic voice. The only track to really benefit from this though is the softer ballad, "No dream". The other vocal tracks are diverse, including reggae, funk, and rock, but the song writing is weak, and uninspired.

"Music from the balcony" is experimental, with jazz influences, sound effects, minimalist passages, and sections which are more traditional Oldfield. It is however, largely disappointing, tending to wander somewhat aimlessly from one style to the other.

Credit is due to Oldfield for endeavouring to open up new directions, but ultimately this is a disappointing effort, with little to recommend it.

Report this review (#28447)
Posted Tuesday, July 6, 2004 | Review Permalink
Chris S
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars One thing Olfield can always be tagged with was his ability to be consistently inconsistent!! Hope that makes sense. Heaven's Open was his swansong with Virgin and seems to be a rushed affair. Side one with Oldfield on the vocals. The title track being the highlight and dare I say it very similar to a Talking Heads piece. Side 2 has a single song titled ' Music from the Balcony' and if you loved Amorok you will love this piece of music too. It is a real gem.Definitely an album for dedicated Oldfield fans only.
Report this review (#28448)
Posted Monday, August 23, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars Maybe it looks like he did not have to sing, and songs are too simple, and so on... but I like this album very much, and it seems to me that it is one of the most professionally-made albums. Four stars - just because his genre is not the greatest, and I'm not ready to listen for such music for monthes without listening anything else. But in his genre he's the best, and his simple things are beautiful in their simplicity. I don't like a lot of things in "Elements", for example, and I do like this album, "Tubular Bells", "Guitars"... And as for " Music From The Balcony" - it's a separate album itself, and a very good one! So, that was my opinion - just personal.
Report this review (#44758)
Posted Monday, August 29, 2005 | Review Permalink
2 stars The worst I've heard from Oldfield so far!

What a disappointing album, although I knew I shouldn't except too much when I first heard this. The album follows a very typical Mike Oldfield concept - a bunch of shorter songs and one long, about 20 minute track. Okay, that's fine, it worked perfectly on Crises for example, but the problem here is that the songs are very bad.

The two tracks which prevent this from being a total catastrophe are No Dream and Heaven's Open, which are actually pretty enjoyable pop-rock tracks, but the rest are not worth mentioning. But still, the worst thing about the whole album is "Music From the Balcony". I don't know what it is supposed to be but it seems like 20 minutes of random unpleasant noises in no particular order. It is extremely annoying and quite a painful listen, very hard to sit through.

Not recommended for anyone, but especially not for Oldfield-beginners. Get Ommadawn if you're interested in Mike, and if you're interested in this, I tell you, it's not worth your time. Move on and live your life happily without this one. **

Report this review (#55949)
Posted Friday, November 11, 2005 | Review Permalink
The Crow
2 stars A lot of people say that this is the worst Mike Oldfield´s album...But I disagree. I think that this album surpases, for example, the pop adventure of "Earth Moving", or the failed experiment of "Orchestral Tubular Bells". I don´t know yet the Oldfield´s discography beyond "Tubular Bells II", so I can´t give a comparation of "Heaven´s Open" with later albums...

The best thing I find in this album are the lyrics and the Mike Oldfield´s singing! Mr.Oldfield talked here about his very bad relations with Virgin and Richard Branson (Virgin´s owner...) I think that these lyrics are very sincere and here the autor opened his heart to offer us a lot of his feelings...In other Oldfield´s albums, the lyrics were a little "impersonal" (with some exception, like the song Holy on "Earth Moving"...), so I really like the acid way of describing his relation with Virgin, because it showed the strong personality of Mike Oldfield.

When you hear this album, one of the first things you notice it´s that the sound and the songs´s arragements are a little poor, too simple if you compare it with previous Oldfield´s albums...I think this is because this album was made in a hurry, only six months. Oldfield was desiring to finish his relations with Virgin, so after the masterpice "Amarok" he made this album very fast, for after that giving more time to the making of "Tubular Bells II" for Warner...For example, the instrumental Music From the Balcony has some lack of good ideas, it´s too repetitive, like it would make too fast...It´s the only Oldfield´s long instrumental I find a little dull and unispired sometimes...

Nevertheless, I think that the vocal songs are good! Maybe this songs are too simple in arragements, with too much keyboards, loops and programmed drums...But the passionate Oldfield´s singing made these songs very special, and brilliant sometimes (No Dream and Heaven´s Open are two great songs!) Mr.Oldfield singed his own lyrics with very much sensitivity and sincerity that all the singers that has worked with him previously. Maybe he has not a very technical and polited voice. Sometimes, it´s even difficult to understand some words...But the amount of feelings he wasted singing this dark lyrics solved that! Just heard the soft and beauty beginning of No Dream...He put his heart in his throath!

Best songs: No Dream (fantastic singing, lyrics and ending guitar solos...), Heaven´s Open (one of the best Oldfield´s vocal songs without a doubt!) and some parts of Music From The Balcony (like the soft and beautiful beginning, and the great ending passage with the double pedal of Simon Philips blasting savagely and the fantastic crying guitars of Mike...) But Make Make, Mr. Shame and Gimme Back are not bad at all too!

Conclusion: definitively, not a bad album in my opinion, just underworked...

My rating: **1/2

Report this review (#59637)
Posted Wednesday, December 7, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars This album is commonly dispensed with as one of his less serious and less important works. It is usually said that Oldfield recorded this album only to end his contract with Virgin Records, with which he was in conflict since quite a long time. On this album Mike presents himself as "Michael Oldfield" while his producer Tom Newman appears as "Thom Newman" - which was a small joke by Mike.

No doubt - this is a strange album, quite different, from his other works. It is however also more personal and more experimental. The five pop songs that fill the first side of the album are all written by Mike and sung by him. All of them (possibly) show his disappointment with Virgin Records and its leader, Richard Branson, who became a millionare when Mike's first longplay, Tubular Bells became a huge hit. They are quite personal and the lyrics are very well written, and very well performed - Mike is a very good vocalist, as he proves, he has a very appealing voice and his emotional involvement can be seen most on the title cut and No Dream. The pop songs are not just a filler, they are better than many of his previous pop songs.

The long suite Music From The Balcony is more problematic. It is quite chaotic and, contrary to his normal instrumental pieces, contains almost no melodies. It may be considered as an etude, rather than a regular track, but has a feeling and atmosphere of its own and probably needs time and re-listening to like it. It is filled with lots of strange sounds, the ones you would never suspect Oldfield to put into his music. Several motives (like the chirping percussion sample) are reprised a few times, but the track doesn't seem to have any regular build. Is it wrong?

All in all this album doesn'r sound as bad as many people picture it. The songs are great and the participation of the composer himself makes them really stand out from the line of his previous pop songs.

Report this review (#64750)
Posted Saturday, January 14, 2006 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars This album was probably an adventure for Mike Oldfield into R&B music with some flavors of multi-instruments sounds through some effects. The opening track "Make Make" is definitely under this category as it shares the same beat as disco music. "No Dream" is a mellow pop song with vocal. It also happens to "Mr Shame" which has an R&B style of music. "Gimme Back" is a reggae and R&B outfit. "Heaven's Open" still has the same style but this time with unique guitar work of Mike Oldfield. "Music From The Balcony" was I thought would be an epic full of progressive sounds. In terms of music structure and compositions this final track represent what typical prog music would sound like. Despite many textures Mike tried to offer with his music here, this tracks sounds like a collection of songs with disjointed parts and practically no smooth transition between styles. It seems obvious as well that this concluding track is weak in melody and harmony. Yes, there are multitudes of sound effects but they all sound odds to my ears.

At album level I'm a bit confused with the fact that there is no single storyline from track one to the end that represents certain theme of the album. So, I conclude this album should be suitable only for Mike Oldfield die hard fans - two stars is an appropriate rating. Keep on proggin' ..!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Report this review (#75914)
Posted Saturday, April 22, 2006 | Review Permalink
3 stars Good. Very good.

Mike Oldfield can sing, and sings really good. You can like it or not, but that's the fact. And songs are good, maybe even great.

This album is credited to Michael Oldfield and he does not like it at all. He did not spent much time with it, and this is and album by band, not by Mike.

But neverthless this album is very interesting and totally different from any other his works. First of all, it's conceptual and very personal, 'cause this is the last album for label Virgin, and so lyrics on all tracks are about commercialized recording company versus Artist.

The point is, nobody likes Oldfield's songs. And while in 80's songs were weak enough and side-long instrumentals were strong, here we got totally different situstion. The instrumental is a weak place. Some kind of avant-garde, comparable to Amarok, but not that interesting. Anyone who don't like singing/songwriting Oldfield should not touch this CD.

So. Not recommended for newbies. Recommended for those who like Oldfield's songs. Not recommended for those who like instrumentals.

Report this review (#78286)
Posted Monday, May 15, 2006 | Review Permalink
2 stars After a slew of sub-par albums in the late eighties, in 1990 MIKE OLDFIELD released his experimental 'Amarok', which many consider the best thing he ever did (though I'm not one of them). Within months he'd followed it up with this, his contractual obligation to Virgin fulfilled by its release.

For once, the pop side outshines the progressive side. OLDFIELD offers five finely crafted tracks, all featuring his own vocals, albeit heavily processed. A brave move, but perhaps not so brave given his mind was already on his next project, the first with his new label. 'No Dream' is perhaps the highlight of the album, a slow building track, with dozens of layers of sound. OLDFIELD really was getting good at this sort of pop-rock, just as it vanished from the charts. Of the other tracks, 'Make Make' is a good effort, 'Mr Shame' and 'Gimme Back' are dispensable, and the title track is excellent.

I'd like to know what the great man was thinking with 'Music From The Balcony'. It sounds like he's picked up music fragments from Amarok's cutting room floor and pasted them together with no regard for the overall shape of the composition. 'Experimental' is a label that really means 'buyer beware': in my experience it really should be preceded by the word 'failed' - as is the case here. OLDFIELD dispenses with melody, instead relying on his sound collage and sudden changes in volume to make an impression on the listener. It's a fun fest for lovers of unusual rhythms, but he doesn't give you enough time to get used to one beat before he's on to the next. We even have a Duane Eddy lick about half way through. And what's with the chimp noises? Listening to this track is like flicking through all the stations on an avant-garde radio spectrum. Sorry, but this is MIKE OLDFIELD'S nadir.

Things could only get better from here - and they did. His output in the 1990s was consistently better than that of the 1980s.

Report this review (#138894)
Posted Tuesday, September 18, 2007 | Review Permalink
1 stars When you listen to "Heaven's Open" you immediately know that "Amarok" was a casting mistake. The one and only good album in the midst of many average (at best) ones.

Mike turning disco / soul ("Make Make"). Mike turning reggae ("No Dream"), Mike turning AOR ("Mr. Shame"). Three press next tracks. In a row. The question here is rather to know what happened to Mike while he produced "Amarok" than why such a poor album is released only a year later.

Reggae (which I like) seems to be the major "inspiration" so far. "Gimme Back" is the third one (if you would consider that the opening number has some Babylonian flavours as well). The whole of this first part is just rubbish. One weak track after the other, and there are not ONE that could be considered even average.

So far this album is just as weak as "Earth Moving". This should get you the picture.

Mike is using the same format as several of his eighties work, holding a good chunk of an album for a long piece of music. In this case "Music From The Balcony".

It starts as a good old one, but there is not much of a consistency here. Useless and disorganized at times. But by no means coherent nor interesting. Weird and improvised music for the most of it, very short interludes of pleasant stuff. But it is to be confronted with some truly unbearable moments. What happened Mike ?

This treat during almost twenty minutes is hard to believe. I would have wished to be confronted with a grand epic, just to balance the very poor first part, but "Music." is so versatile and poor!

I understand that artists are changing their musical roots, but if it is to produce such a work as "Heaven's Open", it is pointless. And I am not impressed with Mike's vocals all the way through this album.

This is a very weak effort. Three out of ten is the maximum rating I can think of. And to upgrade it to two stars is not on the agenda. One little star for an album which holds none. Sorry Mike.

Report this review (#161192)
Posted Thursday, February 7, 2008 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
3 stars Michael sings!

Compared to the previous Amarok, Heaven's Open is far less experimental and clearly more conventional. But this is not necessarily a bad thing though! This album has the same structure as albums like Five Miles Out, Crisis and Islands in that half of the album consists of shorter songs while the other half is one longer piece. However, this album has a kind of consistency that these other albums lacked. Most of Mike's 80's albums felt more like compilations of random tunes than genuine albums. These albums often lacked any clear direction, featuring pure pop songs side by side with Mike's more progressive and experimental excursions. Often he also had several different guest singers (both male and female) further contributing to making his albums shattered and incoherent. Mike appeared to be unsure of where he wanted to go.

Here Mike (or Michael as it says on the cover) handles all the lead vocals himself which contributes greatly to the album's consistency. Mike is a good singer, slightly reminding me of Marillion's Steve Hogarth in some tones. It is a wonder he didn't sing more often on his albums.

Another factor speaking in favour of this album is the presence of real rock drums. There is a much stronger band feeling on this album than possibly on any other Oldfield album!

As I said, half the album features shorter songs. There is a slight gospel feeling to some of these songs that might put some people off, as it did me at the first couple of listens. However, somehow I immediately liked the catchy title track. The long piece is entirely instrumental and not one of Mike's best long pieces. But it is fully listenable even if not very memorable. I will, however, give it more chances in the future though.

If you expect something similar to Tubular Bells or Amarok or Songs Of Distant Earth you will be disappointed. But if you like Crossover Prog acts like Peter Gabriel (some sounds here remind slightly of Gabriel's Sledgehammer) or Alan Parsons Project then this might be for you. This is in my opinion the most consistent of Oldfield's more conventional leaning rock albums.

Report this review (#210756)
Posted Wednesday, April 8, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars What's wrong with the abrupt changes of rythms and interleaving tunes in "Music frome the Balcony" ? How a property that is regarded as richness for many other prog tunes is herein regarded as rubish ? Let's call it Eclectic prog, let's give peace to Mike Oldfield and let's enjoy the experiment to it's real extend. Of course this big track need replay and absolute attention. No way to listen while surfing the web ... But, sorry to say, there is more consistency in it than in the whole Amarok thing. This track alone deserve five stars.

For the five first tracks I can only agrre with the rest of you other reviewers ; the only acceptable one being "Heaven's Open" with a great use of piano and great dynamics.

The other four tracks drag the rating down, obviously, and need no comments. I give a four.

Report this review (#324467)
Posted Wednesday, November 17, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars Mike Oldfield's Heaven's Open record is an album that was heavily criticized when it was published back in 1991 due to diverse reasons. First of all, the artist had a couple of arguments with his then record label Virgin Records and recorded this last album for them in quite a hurry just to join a new label and release his long awaited "Tubular Bells II" record. One can hear several passages on Heaven's Open where the musicians criticizes his record label, for example when a female voice sings the following passage in the perfectly entitled opener "Make make" : "Mona Lisa, you can stop seacrhing, don't you know we're not Virgin". At another moment, one can hear Mike Oldfield mumbling the word "asshole" in the ending of the closing "Music from the balcony". There are though some other reasons why this album is maybe one of the most complicated ones in the large discography of the British multi-instrumentalist. Five out of six songs are rather short and less progressive as usual because they focus on quite catchy hooks. For the first time ever, the vocals are mostly performed by Mike Oldfield himself and he took singing lessons over several months prior to the recording of thie album. Many fans disliked this change of style and didn't appreciate the vocals. Concerning the only instrumental piece on the album, many people described it as being too chaotic, others felt it was too repetitive after a while. To make clear that the artist would break with his usual habits, he even released for the first and only time a record under his full name "Michael Oldfield" instead of the usual "Mike Oldfield".

I grew up with this record and have listened to this album many times of the last two decades and I have to disagree with the critics. It's by being completely different than usual, by radically breaking with his own musical past and by experimenting with more commercial sounds that Mike Oldfield happens to be more progressive as on many of his critically acclaimed releases. This album here comes as a big surprise from him. Each one of the six songs is quite unique and different and they all have their catchy moments you won't soon get out of your mind without forgetting about the artist's signature trademarks such as the charismatic guitar tones.

"Make Make" is the opener and first single of this release and the mixture of clean male vocals and dramatic female vocals in the pre-chorus works very well. The song is definitely catchy enough to grip your attention and still has some sound effects to sound different from a usual pop song.

The first true highlight though comes with "No Dream" that has a very calm and laid back atmosphere and shows a very versatile and probably the best ever vocal performance by Mike Oldfield. The emotionally driven guitar solos towards the end put tears in the eyes of any fan.

"Mister Shame" convinces with an amazing chorus featuring convincing clean male vocals and several female canon vocals in the background. Some sound samples, a couple of signature guitar chords and a pumping bass line make this song maybe the most energizing one on the entire record. The opening sequence is though clearly influenced by another mastermind of progressive rock music being Peter Gabriel which isn't a negative thing at all. The beginning in fact makes me think a little bit of Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" single or other tracks from his solo album "So".

"Gimme Back" is more of a laid back track with some truly danceable reggae influences. Instead of a chorus, one gets an epic and almost folk influenced melody that connects the different verses. Simple guitar licks, a lot of organ and keyboard sounds as well as a slow rhythm section make the whole track quite catchy. This track is maybe the most unusual song Mike Oldfield has ever written in his career and if his name wasn't written down on the disc one would not believe this song would come from him.

"Heaven's Open" is one of the most amazing tracks if not the best song that Mike Oldfield has ever written in my humble opinion. The track opens with an emotional piano melody and amazing guitar licks carry this song over four minutes and a half of pure magic. The vocals are perfectly imperfect and convince with pure emotions instead of technique. The lyrics are very spiritual or religious without sounding pretentious at all. The positive words perfectly fit to some enthousiastic string samples and clarinet passages that are integrated in this track. This song definitely has a very romantic vein, too. Let's also mention one of the most crazy and emotional guitar solos Mike Oldfield has ever performed that appears towards the stunning ending of this energizing masterpiece.

The final "Music From The Balcony" is almost twenty minutes long and features several passages that all come back after a while. I don't know if the title is influenced by Shakespeare but teh track makes me in some weird way think of the famous balcony part in "Romeo and Juliet" . The calmer passages could stand for the two lovers waiting for and seeing each other, the jungle sounds could be an interpretation of the surrounding nature of the garden and the heavier parts may be a hint at the more dangerous and emotional parts of that scene where the lover is close to get discovered by the approaching nurse. In the end, this is only a personal interpretation and maybe the artist wants to tell us something completely different but the fact that this song can lead to this sort of reflection proves how intriguing it is.

The whole track thing starts with some sound samples and very calm piano melodies before a hectical free jazz passage suddenly kicks off to interrupt the beautiful harmonies. These kind of sudden changes after hypnoting minutes of tranquility are frequently used and make this track probably more unpredictable than any other Mike Oldfield song before. After a while, a weird part comes along with jungle noises and some electronic samples that lead to a rhythm orientated passage dominated by some hectical guitar parts. Strange computer voices also appear from time to time. After a while a calmer part comes in that is interrupted by the previous hectical jazz parts that surprisingly lead back to the calm opening melody.

After that a more bass orientated part sets in and some big band passages come across after half of the song has passed. The whole thing leads to a more and more jazzy part with an amazing saxophone performance before the track goes back to the jungle part and the calm opening melody once again. Then comes another calm and introspective passage driven by a piano part, some string passages and a versatile drum performance before a more orchestral parts sets in. After this, we get back to the jungle sounds and the big band section.

Having passed three thirds of the track, a calmer passage sets in that is hectically interrupted by the agressive jazz parts once again and some heavy drum fills. This part plays once again a lot of the opposite tones of heavenly soft and hellish heavy moments. Towards the end, we get again a calmer passage build up around the opening sequence that leads to an epic ending where orchestral parts, emotionall driven guitar sounds and heavy drumming fusion with a big bang. The final fade-out leads us than back to the jungle parts with some hectic saxophone and bass clarinet parts that make me think of a hard bop performance which is a jazz subgenre.

In the end, we get a quite stunning, diversified and mysterious instrumental song over almost twenty minutes and five versatile but short and commercially orienteted songs on one of the most diversified records ever done by Mike Oldfield who took a lot of risks by releasing this album. Many negative critics should though give this album another chance more than twenty years after its release and take into consideration the difficulties around the artist and his record label that hevaily influenced this angry and offensive record that radically broke the habits. I have always been fascinated by the quite direct attitude of this album, by its honest emotionally driven energy and by its artistic courage and I still am today. In my humble opinion, this is the best record Mike Oldfield has ever done and the album is still in the top twenty of my favourite albums ever.

Report this review (#381389)
Posted Sunday, January 16, 2011 | Review Permalink
2 stars To me this is among Oldfield's worst albums. It's the only one featuring himself as the main vocalist, but - actually to my surprise - that's not one of the album's most notable faults. Either he's a decent singer or maybe the music is just so heavily and skillfully produced that anyone's voice couldn't make the five songs much worse than they already are. Hmm, no need to be so harsh: he did surprise me positively on the vocal department. But it's really the songwriting that stinks here, at least if you are expecting more familiar Oldfield stuff instead of flirting with disco/ reggae/ AOR styles. Only 'No Dream' is worth repeated listenings (but even that should end sooner) while the four others I saw no point of listening completely in the first place. Drummer Simon Phillips, saxophonist Courtney Pine, keyboardist Mickey Simmonds and bassist Dave Levy give the music kind of a ballsy treatment and thus guide Mike thru these less Oldfield-esque territories professionally: the end result is not a disaster. Actually some songs on the Islands album are even less interesting and banal. But the question is: who on earth would wish to hear this stuff from Mike Oldfield?

The album's format is familiar from e.g. Five Miles Out and Crises: another (imaginary) album side is for the straight-forward vocal pop and the other is one continuing instrumental work. The listener puts his/her hopes on this nearly 20-minute 'Music From The Balcony' after the disappointing chain of songs, but it is far from the level of 'Crises' or 'Taurus'. I guess better comparisons are 'Wind Chimes 1-2' (from Islands) and Amarok, which was rather experimental one-hour sound collage. I don't enjoy Amarok - I find it very tiresome and lacking of sense and coherence - and I feel more or less the same about this one. It feels like a continuum of very brief musical vignettes that don't build on each other: the music is quite directionless and is closer to a flea jumping constantly off the ground than a bird soaring high, or even a running animal for that matter. Some moments are quite OK, some are totally irritating. Even the ending of this major "composition" is disappointing. All of a sudden it just stops without any kind of a finale grandiosity that would reward the listening task.

Skip this album.

Report this review (#452468)
Posted Friday, May 27, 2011 | Review Permalink
Prog-Folk Team
2 stars MIKE OLDFIELD returns one (last?) time to the format that afforded him so much success in the 1980s - a grouping of shorter song oriented pieces and one extended track of a more experimental nature. It would be his last release for Virgin, and many dismiss it as shameless contractual obligation of the vitriolic variety. In fact, "Heaven's Open" was one of his bolder moves on any number of fronts, not the least of which was his promotion to lead vocal! He had taken the reins on the title cut to "Five Miles Out" but his voice was heavily processed on that initial step from a decade earlier.

The vocal tracks are partially successful, and while their spiritual and gospel aspects and some of their tone are unfortunately somewhat reminiscent of the dreadful "Earth Moving", Mike's voice recalls some of the more virile contributions by ROGER CHAPMAN and BARRY PALMER to "Crises" and "Discovery" back in the day. As such, their impact is correspondingly more memorable, particularly on the wondrous title cut, which combines a new wave sensibility with the melodic gifts not heard since one of my favourite Oldfield tracks was released, the 12" single "Pictures in the Dark" from 1985. Spoiler alert: be patient and a guitar solo will personally open heaven's gates for you. "Gimme Back" is well executed UK reggae reminiscent of EDWARD II, and "Mr Shame" exploits the "Sassy Choir" and some nifty synth figures with uncharacteristic pluckiness. "Make Make" seems a rant at record companies, one of many invoked by MO during these later Virgin years, but that's all it's good for really.

And we arrive at "Music from the Balcony". Similar to Amarok, its best defence is that it is only a third the length. Why MO needed to splice together segments from other spliced together segments I'm not sure. It does seem to appease most longtime fans who nonetheless acknowledge that it won't be on many lists of Oldfield's top 5 epics.

An interesting and somewhat unjustly overlooked album in the Oldfield discography, ultimately "Heaven's Open" closed the book on Oldfield's relationship with the label that he gave so much to. Somewhat tongue in cheek I'm sure, he must have felt vaulted from hell to heaven once this was over. Some listeners might agree, although not necessarily for the same reasons.

Report this review (#982990)
Posted Thursday, June 20, 2013 | Review Permalink
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.

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Posted Thursday, August 9, 2018 | Review Permalink

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