By June 1984, thirty-one year old Mike Oldfield prepared to release the ninth album of his career, Discovery. This was the followup to 1983s Crises, which was Mike Oldfield’s most successful album of recent years. Crises was certified platinum in Germany and Sweden; and gold in Britain, France and Holland. This surpassed the success of his six previous albums. However, the roots of the success can be traced back to Five Miles Out, which Mike released in 1982.
Five Miles Out had been recorded during 1981 and 1982. Before the sessions began, Mike Oldfield had been thinking about the future. His albums were no longer as popular as they had once been. He discovered this in 1980.
As the new decade dawned, a new Mike Oldfield seemed to have been born. His first album of the eighties, was very different from previous albums. It was a far certainly a far cry from the symphonic majesty of Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn. These were the albums that launched Mike’s career. Since then, his music continued to evolve.
QE2 was no different. However, a more than a few eyebrows were raised when QE2 featured cover versions of Abba’s Arrival and The Shadows’ Wonderful Land featured on QE2. It seemed Mike Oldfield was determined to reinvent his music.
He did this with the help of vocalist Maggie Reilly, who would become a familiar face on future Mike Oldfield albums. She made her debut on QE2, which was co-produced by Mike and David Hentschel, and scheduled for release in October 1980.
Before the release of QE2, the reviews were mixed. It was a long way from Mike Oldfield’s first three albums. Some critics went as far as to say that QE2 was the weakest album of Mike Oldfield’s six album career. Record buyers agreed.
When QE2 was released in 1980, it reached just number twenty-seven in Britain. Despite this, QE2 solid 100,000 copies and was certified gold. Elsewhere in Europe, QE2 didn’t sell in the same quantities as previous albums. The exceptions were Germany and Spain, where QE2 was certified gold. That was as good as it got. In America, QE2 stalled at number 174 in the US Billboard 200. While QE2 was Mike’s first album since 1975s Ommadawn to chart in the US, it was nothing to go overboard about. Far from it.
Mike Oldfield’s music at a crossroads. If he didn’t do something to address the problem, he risked becoming irrelevant. Gone were the days when prog rock was King and two lengthy musical movements appealed to music buyers. That was long gone. Times and music had changed, and not necessary for the better. Mike realised this and his music began to change direction on QE2. However, QE2 saw Mike heading in the wrong direction.
The problem Mike Oldfield faced, was that since the late seventies, music seemed to be in a constant state of flux. Fashion changed quickly. Musical genres seemed to fall quickly out of fashion. As a result, so did artists. Careers were becoming shorter. Mike who was just twenty-seven had already released six albums. However, he had to rethink his musical future. If Mike’s music didn’t change, he risked alienating a generation of record buyers.
While Mike Oldfield was popular within a certain age group, he wanted to appeal to younger record buyers too. This made sense. Those that had bought Mike’s albums in the early seventies were growing older. Many were married, with families and didn’t have the same money to spend on music. This was impacting on record sales. So Mike needed the new generation of record buyers to embrace his music. The “baby boomers” were the ones with the disposable income, who were buying albums. However, there was a problem with their perception of Mike’s music.
Many of the new generation of record buyers saw Mike Oldfield as the music their parents listened to. When they thought of Mike Oldfield, they thought of grandiose, symphonic music and of course, prog rock. That was the problem.
People’s perception of Mike was problematic. It also meant that a whole generation of record buyers were potentially overlooking Mike’s music. This was ironic because throughout his career, Mike Oldfield’s music evolved. It never stood still. Instead, Mike was a musical shapeshifter, who continued to reinvent his music. Sometimes, the changes were subtle; other times, they were more radical. Mike however never shied away from change.
He had changed direction on QE2. That hadn’t gone to plan. So it was time for a rethink, and a further reinvention of Mike Oldfield, It wouldn’t happen overnight. Instead, it would take three albums, and began on Five Miles Out.
Five Miles Out.
Before the recording sessions for Five Miles Out began, Mike Oldfield realised that his music had to evolve, or risk becoming irrelevant. It was like playing a game of high stakes musical poker. At stake was Mike Oldfield’s career. If his reinvention didn’t work, his career could be all but over. So Mike had to record an album that would appeal to a wider audience.
No longer could Mike record the symphonic albums of his past. That wasn’t what the record public wanted in the early eighties. With this in mind, Mike Oldfield decided his music should move towards a much more accessible pop style. Already Mike had introduced vocalists, cover versions and shorter songs. More changes were afoot for his seventh album Five Miles Out.
When Mike started recording Five Miles Out, synths, sequencers and drum machines were starting to replace real musicians. Mike had been using synths since 1979s Platinum, where he’d used a Roland SH-2000 and Sequential Prophet. For his seventh album Five Miles Out, Mike used a Fairlight CMI.
The Fairlight CMI was a digital sampling synth, which Mike Oldfield would put to good use on Five Miles Out. This lead to a change in style. Gone was the symphonic style of earlier albums. Replacing it, were short, poppy songs. Full of slick, poppy hooks, Mike Oldfield had tried to make his music more accessible, and succeed.
For some of his older fans, the stylistic change didn’t please them. They preferred the symphonic style of earlier albums. This was a step too far. Some went as far as to say Mike had sold out. was being a realist. If he didn’t change, he’d become irrelevant. His decision to change direction musically was vindicated.
Five Miles Out was well received by critics. Many of them embraced the stylistic change. Although a few critics yearned for the symphonic rock opus’ of the past, they realised music had changed. Mike had moved on, and in doing so, maybe won some of the younger record buyers who had previously, criticised his music.
The lead single from Five Miles Out was the title-track, which reached number forty-three in the UK. This gave Mike his first single in six years. Released in March 1982 Five Miles Out was Mike most successful album since 1975s Ommadawn. It reached number seven in the UK, where it was certified gold. Five Miles Out was certified gold in Germany and even reached number 164 in the US Billboard 200. Then when Mike released Family Man, which featured the vocals of Maggie Reilly, it reached number forty-five in the UK. Two hit singles and a gold disc in Britain, Five Miles Out marked the beginning of the reinvention of Mike Oldfield. It continued on Crises.
For the followup to Five Milles Out, Mike Oldfield decided to appeal to fans old and new. The title-track filled side one, and was a twenty minute opus that his old fans would enjoy. It was written by Mike. The five short songs on side two 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.
Crises was co-produced by Mike and Simon Phillip. Mike decided that it was best to stick with what was a winning formula. This meant hiring the best session musicians, for what the slimmed-down band that played on Crises. There was a reason for that. Mike was relying more on drum machines and synths. Many of the other instruments, Mike played himself. That was the benefit of being a skilled multi-instrumentalist. However, for backing vocals, Maggie Reilly, Jon Anderson and Roger Chapman of Family were drafted in. This was the personnel that featured on Crises, which was recorded at his own studio between November 1982 and April 1983. A month later, Crises was released.
On 27th May 1983, Crises was released to widespread critical acclaim. Crises 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. In Germany, Spain and Sweden, Crises was certified platinum. Mike was back, with one of the most successful albums of his career. However, this wasn’t an end to the commercial success Mike would enjoy.
Moonlight Shadow which was chosen as the lead single from Crises, and reached number four in the UK. Elsewhere, 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.
After the success of Crises, Mike Oldfield was hailed the comeback King. He had rescued his career, and by June 1984, was preparing to release his ninth album, Discovery, which was recently reissued by UMC.
By the time Mike Oldfield was ready to write what became Discovery, he was living as a tax exile. Home for Mike was Villars-sur-Ollon in the canton of Vaud, in Switzerland. That was where Mike Oldfield wrote and recorded what became Discovery.
For Discovery, Mike Oldfield wrote eight tracks. Mainly, they were short songs, apart from The Lake, which was twelve minutes long. However, compared to Mike’s early albums, The Lake was almost an excercise in brevity. Just like the rest of Discovery, The Lake was recorded in Villars-sur-Ollon.
Gone were the days when Mike would be joined by a full band. These days were in the past. Instead, just drummer Simon Phillips; and vocalists Maggie Reilly and Barry Palmer made their way to Villars-sur-Ollon. Mike a multi-instrumentalist, utilised both traditional instrumehts and technology. Seamlessly, Mike switched from acoutic and electric guitars to a bass and mandolin. He also used guitar and bass synths, and the Fairlight CMI. Mike who was an early adopter of the Fairlight CMI, used it for sampling and sequencing. Sonically, it was a far cry from Tubular Bells, Mike’s classc debut album. However, Mike new in his heart of hearts that his music had to contnue to evolve on Discovery. It was released on 25th June 1984.
Before the release of Discovery, critics had their say on Mike’s ninth album in eleven years. Mostly, the reviews were positive. Some critics preferred Mike’s “old” sound, and found some of the poppier songs too lightweight. However, Mike had been ecouraged to include the more poppy songs by Virgin Records.
They wanted another Moonlight Shadow. So Mike sat at his Fairlight CMI trying to compose another hit single. It wasn’t easy. Moonlight Shadow had taken eight years hard work. So the chances of lighting striking twice were slim. However, Mike had to be seen to appeasing his paymasters at Virgin Records. He knew that record buyers would have the final say. They may not be the arbiters of taste, but they certainly were the arbiters of popularity.
When Discovery was relased in Britain, it failed to replicate the sucess of Crises, reaching just fifteen. However, this was enough for another gold disc. Elsewhere in Europe, Discovery proved popular. It reached number one in Germany and Switzerland; number two in Holland; and number three in Austria, Norway and Sweden. This resulted in Discovery being certified platinum in Spain; and gold in France, Germany and Sweden. While Discovery didn’t quite replcate the success of Crises, the reinvention of Mike Oldfield ensured that his comeback continued.
That’s despite the singles not replicating the success of Moonlight Shadow. Mary, Queen Of Scots reached the top ten in eight European countries. In France it reached number one. However, in Britain, Mary, Queen Of Scote stalled at forty-eight. Tricks Of The Light failed to matche the success of Mary, Queen Of Scots. It reached just ninety-one in Britain and forty-six in Germany. By then, Discovery, the third album from the new Mike Oldfield, was well on its way to selling over a million copies in Europe.
Opening Discovery, is To France, a song about Mary, Queen Of Scots. Straight away, there’s a Celtic influence before eighties drums accompany Maggie Reilly’s heartfelt, emotoive vocal. Soon, guitars, bass and keyboards are provding the backdrop to Maggie’s vocal. She brings the lyrics to life, so much so, that it’s possible to imagine Mary fleeing, seeking sanctuary and safety. By then Maggie’s vocal is etheral, and at the heart of the arrangement. When it drops out, a keyboards, guitar, flugelhorn and drums replace the vocal. Insruments are introdced and just as importantly, withdrawn at the right moment. This includes a searing guitar that cuts across through the arrangement. It’s just the latest addition to this hook-laden fusion of pop and Celtic music, which features a vocal masterclass from Maggie Reilly.
A bass synths opens Poison Arrows, addimg an element of drama. Soon, drums pound deliberately and a guitar cheeps, and accompanies Barry Palmer’s dramatic vocal. Fear is in his voice as he warns: “someone’s out to get you, hiding in the shadows.” Rolls of drums, bass and later, blistering rocky guitars are added. They replace Barry’s vocal. Then Mike Oldfield is transformed into guitar hero. It’s the latest dramatic element. So are a pulsating bass synth and howls, which add to the cinematic nature of the track.
A crystalline guitar joins hypnotic drums on Crystal Gazing. It features the return of Maggie Reilly. Her elegiac, etheral vocal is swept along on the arrangement whichg now includes keyboards and synths. Then when the vocal drops out, a guitar gives way to a horn, before reaching a sudden ending. All that’s left is a pleasnt memory of Maggie Crystal Gazing.
Tricks Of The Light has a real eighties sound to it. The telltale signs are the drums, synths and even the bass. They provide the backdrop for Maggie and Barry, who share vocal duties. That’s despite not meeting until after Discovery was recorded. Their vocals are envloloped by synths and searing guitars. Harmonies augment the vocal, before Mike Oldfield makes another welcome appearance. He adds to the urgency, on what’s another catchy fusion of pop and eighties electronica.
Drums pound, while the blisterng guitar cuts through Discovery’s arrangement. Then when Barry’s vocal enters, it’s a throaty, impassioned roar. He delivers the lyrics with feeling, while banks of keyboards and synths joins machine guitars and ocasional harmonies. Barry’s vocal is a mixture of anger and frustration; especially when he asks: “how can you sleep, how can you turn away, thinking’s so cheap, some day you’ll pay.” By then, Mike Oldfield is firmly in fistpumping, stomping eighties anthem territitory. It’s a long way from Tubular Bells, and QE2, the album the nearly sunk the good ship Oldfield. Three albums later, and Discvery finds the new Mike Oldfield in calmer waters, having rediscovered his Midas Touch.
Talk About Your Life is an elegiac ballad featuring Maggie Reilly. She’s accompanied by a slow arrangement where synths and keyboards dominate. It provides the backdrop to a vocal that can only be described as ethereal. Gradually, the tempo quickens slightly, as different instruments are introdced. This includes a what could be a church organ and even guitar. They’re joined by harmonies, as the drama builds, and Maggie delivers an emotional and hearfelt vocal.
Saved By A Bell has a much more understated, dreamy arrangement. Mike deploys his synths, and they frame the vocal. Soon, the arrangenent begins to unfold. Drums are dropped in. So are the bass, guitars and bold keyboards. By now, the track has been transformed. It’s two sides of the same coin, which are part and parcel of the same song, which later, heads in the direction of an impassioned power ballad.
The Lake, a twlve minute track closes Discovery. It’s a nod to Mike’s older fans, who embraced his symhponic epics. Often, these albums only featured two lengthy tracks. For them, he offers up The Lake. Hpynotic see-saw synths are eventually joined by a dark, pulsating bass. Then Mike throws a curveball, and the arranegennt races away. Drums power the arrangement away, as it references Mike’s seventies heyday. At one point, there’s even a nod to Status Quo. Sci-fi are added, as Mike Oldfield takes the listener on a musical adventure. The arrangement veers between eerie and haunting, futuristic and cinematic. See-saw synths are joined by guitars as the track veers between grandiose and understated. By then, The Lake sounds like the soundtrack to a film that’s yet to be made. Later, Mike’s rocks along before the elgiac soundscape returns. It seems Mike Oldfield has kept the best to last, and at the same time, keeps his old fans onside.
That was important. Mike Oldfield couldn’t risk alienating his old fans. They had been buying his albums since Tubular Bells was released in 1973. Eleven years later, and Discovery was Mike’s ninth album. Many of his old fans had turned their back on Mike’s music. They didn’t like the lightweight, poppy sound. Instead, they preferred the symphonic, preogressive sound of Mike’s early albums.
Ever since QE2, many of Mike’s older fans felt neglected. Things had changed slightly on Five Miles Out, with its twenty-fove minute epic Taurus II. Then on Crises, the title-track was a twenty minute opus. Both albums featured the new and old Mike Oldfield. Mostly, though Mike’s older fans had t watch their onetime hero trying to win over a new generation of music lovers. Some of Mike’s old fans felt neglected and unloved. So on Discovery, he pampered his old fans with the twelve minute epic, The Lake. It was the nearest thing Mike Oldfield’s old sound. Ironically, The Lake was the best track on Discovery. However, there’s more to Discovery than one track.
From the opening bars of To France, right through to The Lake, Mike Oldfield and his friends captivate, and take the listener on a musical journey. Aided and abetted by Maggie Reilly, Barry Palmer and Simon Phillips, Mike Oldfield combines pop, rock and eighties electronica with progressive rock. The result is hook-laden album that should’ve appealed to Mike Oldfield’s fans old and new. As a result, Mike Oldfield’s comeback continued with Discovery, whcoh was recently reissued by UMC.
It seems a longtime ago since Mike Oldfield stood at the musical crossroads. However, he didn’t make the mistake many musicians had made before, and changed direction. This ensured that Mike Oldfield’s career continued, and thirty years later, in 2014 Mike Oldfieled released Man On The Rocks, his twenty-fifth studio album. However, that might not have happened. Especially if Mike Oldfield hadn’t began to reinvent his on Five Miles Out. The reinvention of Mike Oldfield continued on Crises and was complete on his ninth studio album, Discovery.