Genre conventions have thankfully never stopped Mike Oldfield’s creative visions. From Tubular Bells (1973) to this year’s album, Man on the Rocks, Mike’s music is notoriously hard to label. Man on the Rocks is, according to the cover, a rock album. But to me it has a softer, more gentle feel – not unlike previous albums. Genre confusions aside, Man on the Rocks is a fine album with several memorable tracks for both old and new fans.
Man on the Rocks can be considered a bonus album because Mike himself was not certain that he would ever release any more music after Music of the Spheres (2008). It was his 2012 performance at the Olympics that inspired him to go back in the studio for anything else than rerecording of older material.
I was very surprised when I first saw the cover. I was expecting something a little darker and rough around the edges, this being a rock album after all. But what I found was actually one of the most New Age-ish covers I have ever seen. The view of the tropical ocean paradise, the cave and the stone age-ish hand-prints are definitely not rock & roll…
Man on the Rocks is Mike’s second album without instrumental pieces (the first was Earth Moving from 1989). The album opener, Sailing, is like a Crisis (1983) era pop song. It’s all fun, carefree and has a catchy melody. Luke Spiller’s voice fits nicely with Mike’s material, and I think he does a great job throughout the album. Here we also get to hear bassist Leland Sklar, drummer John Robinson, keyboardist Matt Rollings, guitarist Michael Thompson. The album is produced by Stephen Lipson.
There are some very nice tracks here, like Moonshine, Minutes and Dreaming in the Wind. Moonshine is my personal favourite, with its wonderful retrospective atmosphere – which I suspect is symptomatic with Mike’s current state of mind. Chariots and Nuclear have less character and leave little impression. The guitar and and theme on Following the Angels Down is wonderful.
There’s a Deluxe Edition available with instrumental versions of the songs. Check out the instrumental version of Moonshine; the last few minutes are amazing.
All in all I think that Man on the Rocks is a nice enough album. It is far from Mike’s best, but at this stage it really doesn’t matter. All I can feel is gratitude; Mike Oldfield has given more to New Age, prog and orchestral rock than any other artist out there.
To quote the last track, which might be Mike’s goodbye to music (although I hope not):My life is not my own To you I belong I give myself, I give myself, to you
We, the fans, can only say; thank you, Mike. Well done.
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