Nine years after releasing his debut album, Mike Oldfield decided his music had to change. His albums were no longer selling as many copies. Success in America seemed to elude Mike. If it hadn’t been for excerpts from Tubular Bells being played in The Shining, his debut album might never have reached the heights it did. After that, America proved a hard nut to crack. Even at home, in the UK, 1978s Incantations, 1979s Platinum and 1980s QE2 had failed to reach the top ten. Each album slipped that further bit down the charts. There was a reason for this, music was changing.
Music was in a constant state of flux. Fashions changed quickly. Realizing that, Mike Oldfield decided his music had to evolve and change with the times. This realization resulted in 1982s Five Miles Out, which was Mike’s most successful album since 1975s Ommadawn. Reaching number seven in the UK, this resulted in the second gold disc of his nine-year recording career. Following the commercial success of Five Miles Out, Mike embarked on an exhausting world tour, which finished in Germany in December 1982. By then, Mike had already began work on his eighth album Crises, which was recently rereleased by Mercury Records. Would Crises match the success of Five Miles Out? That’s what I’ll tell you.
Crises followed in the footsteps of Five Miles Out. The opening track Crises, which filled side one, was a twenty minute opus that his old fans would enjoy. It was written by Mike. So were three of the five short songs that showcased the “new” Mike Oldfield. This included Moonlight Shadow, Taurus 3 and Shadow On The Wall. The other two tracks were collaborations. Foreign Affair was written by Mike and Maggie Reilly, a frequent collaborator with Mike and regular guest vocalist. Jon Anderson of Yes, cowrote in High Places with Mike. These six tracks became Crises.
For recording of Crises, which Mike and Simon Phillip co-produced, Mike decided that it was best to stick with what was a winning formula. This meant hiring the best session musicians. It was a slimmed-down band that played on Crises. There was a reason for that. Mike was relying more on drum machines and synths. He also played guitar, bass, banjo, harp, mandolin, piano, Farfisa organ and percussion. Among them were guitarist Rick Fenn and Anthony Glynne, bassist Phil Spalding and Simon Phillips who played Tama drums and percussion on several tracks. Pierre Moerlen added vibes, while Maggie Reilly, Jon Anderson and Roger Chapman of Family added vocals. This was the personnel that featured on Crises, which was recorded at his own studio between November 1982 and April 1982. A month later, Crises was released.
On 27th May 1982, Crises was released. It picked up where Five Miles Out left off, reaching number six in the UK. This resulted in Mike’s third gold disc. Around Europe, Crises was a huge success, reaching the top ten in eight countries. In Sweden and Germany, Crises reached number one, and was certified gold in France, Germany and the Netherlands. Moonlight Shadow which was chosen as the lead single from Crises, reached number four in the UK. Again, it was a huge commercial success, reaching number one in eleven countries in Europe. For Mike, Moonlight Shadow was the biggest single of his ten year career. The second single was Shadow On The Wall, which featured Roger Chapman from Family on lead vocal, stalled at just number ninety-five in the UK. Despite that disappointment, Crises had been a huge commercial success, further vindicating Mike’s decision to change direction musically. You’ll realize why Crises was critically acclaimed and commercially successful, when I tell you about Crises.
Opening Crises is the title-track, a twenty-minute epic, that’s like a musical adventure. It’s like a song cycle. Here, Mike Oldfield old and new unite. A myriad of traditional instruments and technology play their part in the track. Bells chime, synths beep and squeak with synths cascade and keyboards meander. Then all of a sudden, drums drive the arrangement along. There’s a nod to Mike’s prog rock past and Pink Floyd, but he makes good use of the synths and drum machines He leaves space within the arrangement, allowing it to breath and grow. A scorching, searing guitar solo is joined by crashing drums, dark synths and sound effects. Soon the arrangement explodes. Mike becomes a one-man band, playing fourteen instruments and adding an emotive, heartfelt vocal. Reverb is added, as it disappears into the distance. Later, the arrangement becomes understated and thoughtful. Other times futuristic, dreamy, dramatic and ethereal describes this ambitious, groundbreaking opus.
Moonlight Shadow is probably the best known Mike Oldfield single. It’s very different from the opening track. Featuring Maggie Reilly, who originally wanted to sing the vocal in a rocky style, there’s a real folk influence. Maggie’s vocal is wistful and melancholy, painting pictures in your mind’s eye, as acoustic guitars, harmonies and the rhythm section accompany her. Mike’s lyrics veer between descriptive to surreal. As the song hits the bridge, the band unleash rocky licks aplenty. Mike dons the role of guitar hero. Relishing this opportunity, his guitar playing is peerless. It’s the perfect replacement for Maggie’s vocal. Together, they play their part in what was Mike’s most successful single ever.
Jon Anderson’s vocal is perfect for In High Places. His unmistakable vocal soars above the sparse, spacious arrangement. It forces you to listen intently to the cerebral lyrics. As he asks a series of questions, you’re spellbound by his poignant, potent delivery. Reverb is added to his vocal, as the rhythm section, synths and vibes provide a backdrop to his pensive, ethereal vocal. As he delivers his vocal in short, sharp, thoughtful bursts the arrangement fills out. The band prove to be ying to Jon’s yang on what’s one of the highlights of Crises.
Foreign Affair sees a return of Maggie Reilly, whose delivery of the vocal brings them to life. She’s like an old-fashioned storyteller, who during this track, reminds me of Al Stewart. As she paints pictures, her vocal veers between evocative and emotive, to whispery and sultry. Behind her synths, drums and shakers accompany her, mixing technology and traditional instruments. They provide the perfect backdrop to Maggie’s vocal masterclass. Indeed, so good is her vocal, that it surpasses even Moonlight Shadow.
Taurus 3 is the only instrumental on Crises. Mike plays Spanish guitar, his finger flying up and down the fretboard. Behind him a mandolin, acoustic bass, percussion and bells accompany him. They provide a summery, Balearic sound. Adding drama are the Tama drums. Thankfully they’re used sparingly. This allows you to revel in this beautiful and drama of this uplifting track, which is a slice of aural sunshine.
Shadow On The Wall closes Crises. It features Roger Chapman of Family. For those unfamiliar with Family, BandStand and It’s Only A Movie are essential listening. Guitars chime, drums pound and strings sweep. With a roll of the drums, Roger unleashes a throaty, rocky vocal. Accompanied by stabs of synths, thunderous drums, buzzing bass and screaming guitars, Roger brings to life the lyrics. They’re about the plight of political prisoners. So impassioned is Roger’s vocal, it’s as if he’s affronted about their plight. With Mike’s band rocking hard, and Roger delivering lyrics full of social comment, it’s the perfect way to close Crises.
That however, isn’t quite the end of Crises. No. Mercury Records two-disc Deluxe Edition is what a Deluxe Edition should look like. On disc one, there’s the original version of Crises and seven bonus tracks. Disc two features a recording of a concert that took place at Wembley Arena, London, on 22nd July 1983. For those of you who haven’t seen Mike Oldfield live, this is an opportunity to see what you’re missing. What you’re missing, is the reinvention of Mike Oldfield.
Realizing that music had to change in 1982, Mike Oldfield set about reinventing himself. This began with1982s Five Miles Out, which was Mike’s most successful album since 1975s Ommadawn. A year later, in 1983, Mike surpassed Five Miles Out with Crises, an album for both his old and new fans. Unlike other artists, Mike didn’t forget his old fans. The title-track, Crises, was a twenty-minute opus. Then on side two, the other five tracks were an eclectic selection of bite-sized tracks. Folk, rock, pop, prog rock, Balearic and electronica were thrown into the mix. Each track had something new, different and innovative. Mike keeps your attention. Your hand doesn’t stray near the remote control, in case you miss something new new and innovative. After all, that’s what Mike Oldfield is an innovator.
Indeed, for forty years, Mike Oldfield has been pushing musical boundaries. From Tubalar Bells onwards, Mike flew the flag for cerebral, innovative music. He was determined to stay relevant. It would’ve been easy for him to keep churning out album after album of similar material. Most likely, his loyal fans would’ve bought the albums. That wasn’t enough for Mike. He wanted and needed to challenge himself. So Mike embraced and mastered the new technology. That’s something other artists never did. Unlike Mike, they ceased to be relevant. Thirty years after Mike Oldfield released Crises, he’s still relevant and striving to innovate and to create music that’ll push musical boundaries to their limits. Standout Tracks: Moonlight Shadow, In High Places, Foreign Affair and Taurus 3.