Mike Oldfield – Man on the Rocks

05 May, 2014

By Chris Burrage



Far less sinister than the man's 1973 début epic, featuring the eerily ominous Tubular Bells, a composition popularised by its use in the film The Exorcist, the 60-year-old new-age rocker brings us 'Man On The Rocks', an innocuous selection of songs that breathe a graceful, fluid energy into the market.


The album opens with Sailing, a fairly conventional song written in a contemporary style. It is easy to absorb Oldfield's sound. It is so inoffensive that I almost feel insulted. My first impression is of an ageing prog-rock artist striving to survive by navigating the treacherous waves of modern pop with a tentative, safe approach. Sailing makes use of compliant and reliable acoustic guitar accompaniment, driven by the confident pulse of the band's rhythm section. Basic but effective electric guitar lines pepper the piece, and introduce one of the most captivating elements of the album- folk, or in this instance, sea-shanty revival.


Most of the pieces on this album are anthemic. Moonshine carries the folk-rock banner further, including violins, whistles and snare rolls that sing with empiric glory. The lyrics are inclusive, inviting and uplifting. Oldfield has tapped into a niche with 'Man On The Rocks'. Providing ginger hope, an antidote to the tailing-recession blues, Oldfield has given the downtrodden masses some driftwood to cling to.


The album's title track returns to a formulaic pop structure, and builds speedily towards an inevitable and anticipated crescendo. The whole song, in fact, is a 6 minute crescendo, an elongated outro reinforced with soulful backing vocals and invigorating guitar lines. Oldfield, it seems, is aiming to uplift, to the point where I feel guilty for not humouring him. But I need not reprove myself for too long, for by the end of the track, I'm seduced.


Castaway features a Lorde-esque electronic pop vibe. It is well paced, minimalistic and carries its message well. The texture thickens halfway through, bringing simple support from the drums and bass guitar, the latter emerging only to disappear soon after. Everything is used in measure, savoured, and as a result the final product is unsaturated. The harmony is joined by two twin-lead guitars that underpin a wailing solo that brings the piece to its end, tinted with blues-infused torment.


Minutes and Dreaming in the Wind, continue this placid, nautical theme (not surprising, considering the album was partly recorded in the Caribbean) but are nonetheless meandering and unadventurous. Their follower, Nuclear, is a haunting, bitter song that exhibits the album's lead vocalist Luke Spiller's raking ability to deliver scornful ballast with his voice. The chorus evokes memories of King Crimson, beguiling and progressive bass lines wrapping the guitar harmony with melodic prowess. It is foreboding and cruel. A Hammond organ pitches in towards the end, and we are thrust back to the days of modular synthesisers and cape-wearing virtuosity.


Chariots rings with a natural and confident electronic rock sound. The groove sets in early, and the dynamic of the album shifts at this point. Gone are the inoffensive acoustic guitars and middle-of-the-road pop structures. This is a throwback to a genre of music that Oldfield wields like a well-worn and familiar tool. And like a tradesman, he shapes and crafts the piece, bending it to his will with ease and passion.


By the time we reach Irene, a blues-rock piece reminiscent of the ilk of ZZ Top and the Rolling Stones, we are treated to beautiful and simplistic slide guitar riffing, complimented not too overbearingly by a front-line section of well placed brass instruments. The vocals cry out, stark and pragmatic.


Electro-pop returns to bring the album to a close, with the song I Give Myself Away. It is a slow, ponderous piece. A far cry from the strident Chariots, it is dreary and repetitive. Not the most satisfying of finales, but it is hard to be unkind to Oldfield, for his honed understanding of structure, harmony, pace and the valuable mentality of 'less-is-more' strengthen his musicianship and profile. It is the confidence of his work that is most striking, believable and ultimately honest. 'Man on the Rocks' is a well crafted album, admirable and wilfully easy to appreciate. In this work, Oldfield's talents are exploited wonderfully, so much so in fact, that the album virtually demands a place on your shelf.






Primary Genre: Rock


Secondary Genre: Progressive Rock


Release Date: 3rd March 2014


Label: Virgin EMI


Like This And You'll Probably Also Like: Rick Wakeman, Peter Gabriel, Tangerine Dream, Sting


Album Highlights: 'Castaway', 'Nuclear', 'Chariots', 'Irene'






Mike Oldfield - The Story of Man on the Rocks




Mike Oldfield - Sailing



Tubular Bells Live at BBC (1973)




Mike Oldfield Tubular Bells on Acoustic Guitar