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Mike Oldfield: Man on the Rocks

 A l b u m   D e t a i l s

Label: Virgin EMI Records
Released: 2014.03.01
Category: Pop/Rock
Producer(s): Mike Oldfield, Stephen Lipson
Media type: CD
Web address: www.mikeoldfieldofficial.com
Appears with:
Purchase date: 2014
Price in €: 1,00

 S o n g s ,   T r a c k s

[1] Sailing (M.Oldfield) - 4:46
[2] Moonshine (M.Oldfield) - 5:49
[3] Man on the Rocks (M.Oldfield) - 6:10
[4] Castaway (M.Oldfield) - 6:34
[5] Minutes (M.Oldfield) - 4:51
[6] Dreaming in the Wind (M.Oldfield) - 5:28
[7] Nuclear (M.Oldfield) - 5:03
[8] Chariots (M.Oldfield) - 4:38
[9] Following the Angels (M.Oldfield) - 7:04
[10] Irene (M.Oldfield) - 3:59
[11] I Give Myself Away (W.McDowell) - 5:10

 A r t i s t s ,   P e r s o n n e l

Mike Oldfield - Electric Guitars, Acoustic Guitars, Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals, Keyboards, Engineer, Producer

Luke Spiller - Lead Vocals
John Robinson - Drums
Leland Sklar - Bass Guitar
Matt Rollings - Piano & Hammond B-3
Michael Thompson - Electric Guitars & Acoustic Guitars
Stephen Lipson - Electric Guitars & Acoustic Guitars
Davy Spillane - Whistles on [2]
Paul Dooley - Violin on [2]

Bill Champlain - Backing Vocals
Alfie Silas Durio - Backing Vocals
Carmel Echols - Backing Vocals
Rochelle Gilliard - Backing Vocals
Judith Hill - Backing Vocals
Kirsten Joy - Backing Vocals
Jason Morales - Backing Vocals
Louis Price - Backing Vocals
Tiffany Smith - Backing Vocals

Stephen Lipson - Engineer, Producer
Howard Willing - Engineer
Chris Owens - Engineer
Steve MacMillan - Engineer for Drums on [6,10]

 C o m m e n t s ,   N o t e s

Recorded in 2013 Nassau, Bahamas; The Village, Los Angeles; Battery Studios, London

Six years after the classical Music of the Spheres, Mike Oldfield returns to his version of rock. Man on the Rocks is a slick production that recalls the AOR sounds of the late '70s and early '80s. He plays many instruments here but concentrates mainly on guitar. Among his collaborators are bassist Leland Sklar, keyboardist Matt Rollings, drummer John Robinson, guitarist Michael Thompson, and the Struts' vocalist Luke Spiller. Though these songs are housed in tightly written, hooky pop/rock melodies with conscious source checks from Queen and Toto to the Rolling Stones and the Steve Miller Band, they are among -- if not the -- most deeply personal entries in his catalog. Opener "Sailing" contains pained, troubled lyrics, yet its Celtic-flavored singalong chorus and ringing slide guitar solo add contrast and elevation. "Moonshine" is a poignant Irish immigrant's song. The opening guitar vamp deliberately evokes U2 (though one can convincingly argue that the Edge got it from Oldfield). A sweet backing chorus carries the refrain as martial snares, fiddles, accordion, pipes, and whistles increase the drama until an epic guitar break carries it out. The title track is one of the set's finest moments. Enormous drums, a chorale, sweeping strings, washes of organ, synth, and blazing guitars frame Spiller's anthemic vocal. On "Castaway," the pulsing keyboards and guitars recall Queen and Oldfield's guitar blisters, spitting angular riffs, and spiraling prog changes. "Dreaming in the Wind" begins as an acoustic rocker illustrated by strings, guitars, organs, and a fine lead vocal. Oldfield's guitar transforms it, melding arena rock, folk, and prog to its core. "Nuclear" again suggests Queen, but its thudding tom-toms, guitar layers, and orchestra are classic Oldfield. "Chariots" uses big zig-zagging synths and fat phased guitars working a Bo Diddley beat; it's where Toto meets Jim Steinman, but the deliberate excess works. This set does run out of steam near the end. The long ballad "Following the Angels" is repetitive and dreary. "Irene," where Oldfield takes on the Stones, is clever but feels out of place here. The closer, a read of William McDowell's hymn "I Give Myself Away" strays far too close to CCM. It's easy to dismiss Man on the Rocks as simply "dad rock," but it's more complex than that. These songs, all framed inside classic pop/rock, are beautifully written and played. Their fine lyrics contain complex emotions of crisis, struggle, resolve, and redemption. Oldfield is one of the few remaining musicians with the songwriting, production, and playing chops who could helm a big league session like this, let alone pull it off. Imperfections aside, this is a strange, oddly compelling addition to his catalog.

Thom Jurek - All Music Guide

"Let me out, I can't breathe/ Gotta get out of this concrete hole," are the first words on Mike Oldfield's first album in six years – a cri de coeur accompanied by a video shot on a beach in the Bahamas, where he has lived since 2009. His concrete holes, clearly, are not as others'. But that doesn't impair the listening experience – if you accept that Man on the Rocks is the pop equivalent of a historical re-enactment society, it's oddly engrossing. The sound recreated here is the 1970s rock of Toto and the Steve Miller Band: all amiable, mid-tempo guitar amblings underscored by wistful thoughts about escape and freedom. Oldfield plays guitar – often quite crunchily, as on the Tom Pettyish opener, Sailing – and young English vocalist Luke Spiller sings, broodingly. Dreamy throwbacks such as Castaway and Dreaming in the Wind shut out 2014 entirely, as does Meat Loafish doomsday rocker Nuclear. Overall, a curious but likable diversion from his multilayered new-age work.

Caroline Sullivan, 27 February 2014
© 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

Following the euphoria of a successful appearance at the spectacular London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, veteran instrumentalist extraordinaire Mike Oldfield found himself suitably revitalised to the extent whereby the veritable genius – once cruelly labelled an “old fart” by corners of the press – now releases his 25th studio album at the ripe old age of 60.

Of those previous 24 efforts, he will of course always be remembered for 1973’s Tubular Bells and with good reason – who else can lay claim to an album that’s topped 17 million worldwide sales? And a totally instrumental one to boot.

With the Olympic ceremony casting the spotlight back on the maestro after a lengthy absence – 2008’s Music Of The Spheres was his last studio effort – the world was reminded of his stature as one of the UK’s greatest ever musicians as he performed excerpts from that famous album along with a couple of other pieces.

Before listening to Man On The Rocks it wouldn’t be too harsh to expect nothing more than a collection of tired, uninspiring dad rock numbers and upon first airing it’s unlikely to convince otherwise. However, this apparently deeply personal album – undoubtedly inspired by Oldfield’s 2013 separation from his wife in places – should not be written off so easily.

Opening track Sailing is not the best way to showcase the strengths on offer here, a radio friendly, non intrusive number along the lines of 1983’s Moonlight Shadow but without the vital vocal contribution from Maggie Reilly; it was recently voted BBC Radio 2’s record of the week, a fact that speaks volumes with its Traveling Wilburys vibe.

Ears prick up for Moonshine’s intro though, as Oldfield does his best impression of U2’s The Edge, but as the song then trudges down another mundane path it comes as a refreshing surprise to hear an excellent guitar solo following an Irish pipe section.

The Struts’ Luke Spiller is (rather unexpectedly) on singing duties throughout and the passion in his delivery is often key. This is no more apparent than on the album’s centrepiece, the epic title track: slow acoustics provide foundations before the building commences through strings, guitar and Spiller’s vocals, culminating in another superb guitar solo.

Castaway begins even more subtly, with drums kicking in just before the two minute mark as the layering process is again undertaken until the track begins to resemble something akin to Queen, but it is, remarkably, another – and even better – guitar solo that steals the show. Nuclear is another Queen-like effort with an anthemic chorus and the lyrics are rather telling. “What a mess we made when it all went wrong,” go the words, as relationship failings are likened to nuclear catastrophe.

Dreaming In The Wind recalls Mark Knopfler’s guitar sounds until it develops into something else entirely, with more genius soloing abound; Irene, though, is a little too reminiscent of The Rolling Stones’ Honky Tonk Women for comfort, chugging along very similarly until a brass sounding section leads to its conclusion.

Minutes offers little other than a slow unexciting trudge through mediocrity, whilst Chariots boasts short sharp bursts of guitar riffage but nothing else of note to add to the ticking percussion. A cover of William McDowell’s gospel song I Give Myself Away closes the album but sounds like something an ex-member of Westlife might put out and Following The Angels repeats the title a little too many times throughout its melancholic piano based existence to warrant repeat plays.

It is undoubtedly the guitaring that represents this album’s main strength, often elevating average tracks into something better, but when telling guitar contributions are absent there’s little else to get excited about. The quality of that guitaring though is impressive enough to keep listeners coming back; the old master may not be as abundantly creative as he once was but there’s life in the old fart yet.

Graeme Marsh, 25 Feb 2014
© 1999-2014 OMH.

Man on the Rocks is the twenty-fifth studio album by British musician Mike Oldfield, released on 3 March 2014 on the Virgin EMI label. The album is Oldfield's second full album of exclusively songs with no long or instrumental pieces; the first was 1989's Earth Moving.

Man on the Rocks was produced by Stephen Lipson together with Oldfield. The album features bassist Leland Sklar, drummer John Robinson, keyboardist Matt Rollings, guitarist Michael Thompson and singer Luke Spiller together with Oldfield himself on guitar. The backing tracks were recorded during June 2013 in Studio D of Village Studios, Los Angeles with producer Steve Lipson; Oldfield participated in these sessions via Skype. Oldfield has also recorded part of the album in his home studio in the Bahamas. Oldfield's electric guitar sound on the album is primarily a Fender Telecaster combined with the Avid Eleven software plug-in. The album marks a return of Oldfield to a Virgin branded label since leaving Virgin Records in the 1990s, through the merger of Mercury Records UK and Virgin Records after Universal Music's purchase of EMI. Luke Spiller is the singer of another of Virgin EMI's British artists, The Struts.

The album deals with topics ranging from Oldfield's experiences with mental health to a track inspired by the 2012 Summer Olympics. The piece "Irene" is inspired by Hurricane Irene which hit the Bahamas in 2011. The final track is a cover of William McDowell's gospel piece "I Give Myself Away". The working title for the album had been Rock. Oldfield has used the title "Moonshine" once before for the final piece on 1992's Tubular Bells II. The song itself is a reworking of his 1994 instrumental "The Song Of The Boat Men", which was featured as a B-side of the "Hibernaculum" single. The song "Nuclear" deals with his grandfather's experiences during World War 1. When interviewed by the Daily Telegraph, he tells the background to writing the song. “I never knew him,” he says, “So I hired a company to find out about him. It turned out he was a great character before the war but came home a very different man. My mum was one of ten or eleven kids and all the children born after the war had problems like hers. I wanted to see if I could spread my senses in the place he was. I travelled around Ypres and the battlefield museums and I saw the graves of his regiment: the Royal Munster Fusiliers. And I could feel it. Still there. It’s a blessing and a curse for those of us who have this extra sensitivity.”

Man on the Rocks was released on 3 March 2014, after initially being announced that it would have been released on 27 January. The album is available on single CD, double CD, double vinyl, coloured double vinyl, digital download and a box set. The two CD Deluxe Edition contains the album and a second instrumental disc. In the UK the boxed set is available exclusively through mikeoldfieldofficial.com - this includes the content from the Deluxe Edition as well as Oldfield's demos of the songs and 4 alternate mixes of songs. The boxed set also includes a 16-page CD size booklet, four art cards and a certificate of authenticity.

The first public airing of the album was an excerpt of "Sailing" that was played on Stuart Maconie's radio show on BBC Radio 6 Music in November 2013. The first full play of "Sailing" was on BBC Radio 2 on 14 January 2014. "Sailing" was a record of the week on BBC Radio 2 during the first week of February. The music video for "Sailing" was released on YouTube on 8 February. The video features Oldfield and Spiller in The Bahamas on a beach, a boat and in Oldfield's studio there. The song became available to buy on online retailers such as iTunes from 19 February. Behind the scenes footage and acoustic versions of tracks from the album, including "Man on the Rocks" and "Chariots", were released online ahead of the album. The second single was "Moonshine"; a video was released for purchase on iTunes on 14 April. "Nuclear" was featured in the E3 2014 trailer for the stealth action game Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

Critical reception of the album has been mixed to positive. Music critics and journalists have noted its contrast from Oldfield's progressive rock works such as Tubular Bells, and the album's orientation to more standard rock music. The Guardian newspaper called the album "a curious but likable diversion from his multilayered new-age work." "Sailing" reached BBC Radio 2's "A List" rotation. Jeremy Williams of So So Gay noted "Man on the Rocks excels as it feels truly personal."


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