Amarok review by Mike Oldfield

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  • Released: Jun 14, 1990
  • Sound: 8
  • Lyrics: 9
  • Overall Impression: 10
  • Reviewer's score: 9 Superb
  • Users' score: 9.9 (8 votes)
Mike Oldfield: Amarok

Sound — 8
So this is the (not) so famous Amarok. This album was created after Virgin Records tried to convince him to make a "Tubular Bells II". At the time Mike had had various disagreements with the label and in response created Amarok (there is even a moorse code message in the song that spells out an insult to virgins manager). This is an album that he created to be completely un-marketable. A 60 minute song that has so many changes that not one part could be re released for radio play or promotional use. This album defiantly has a very unique sound. The song starts out with a very intense folk guitar riff and then uses a flamenco section to transition into a choir section in which the word happy is repeated randomly in a robotic voice. As you can tell this song is kind of really all over the place in terms of sound. It has varies from polka sections, to a sea shanty and back to country/bluegrass section. To spite the songs randomness it does have reoccurring themes. There is a choir section that comes back in variations from time to time. The folk section that the song starts with comes back a few times as well. Overall however most of the sections; especially the choirs, reflect an African styled sound. Mike, in addition to choirs, keys, guitars, basses and the other traditional instruments in the song also uses several unorthodox instruments. He uses a Tuba, Tubular Bells(haha) and even in some spots a toothbrushes, shoes, spoons and Hoover vacuum cleaner. The song also includes sound effects of footsteps and breathing. As for the overall sound there is really some great musicianship on this album. Mike really showcases his powerful and emotional guitar leads and solos as well as his powerful heavy hitting riffs. This is most evident at the finale of the song that ends with a passionate guitar lead followed up by one of the most powerful choir arrangements around. This album/song is really an innovation in music. As with many philosophers this is an album that is well noted not for what it achieved (although it is a rather large achievement) but for what it attempted. This is an album that was clearly free from the influence of record labels and marketing agents. It has broken down many boundaries that many other musicians have been unable to break themselves.

Lyrics — 9
This is a mostly instrumental song that's only words consist of "Happy" and "Torn". There is however some lyrics to the choir sections sung in the Xhosa language:. For example "Sondela, uSomandla, sukuma, wena, obengezela"; which means: "Come closer to us, o Almighty: arise, you who shines.". The choir arrangements were done by a group called Jabula. The singing on this album is both very powerful and captivating. Though there are little to no lyrics the liner notes tell also short story of "two men that discover a huge golden statue somewhere in ancient Africa. One man can hear music emanating from this figure, while the other hears something totally different, which in fact is the theme of Amarok. What is heard by some, may be heard differently by others, but nonetheless the result is music in one form or another". This is an interesting concept that can be heard in the song. Since many parts are so complex and the song is so hard to follow, the listening experience will vary greatly between listeners. Overall the singers on this album are really quite magnificent and bring a lot to the sound. Though there are not much lyrics in the actual song the linear notes instil in the listener a interesting philosophy.

Overall Impression — 10
This album is hard to compare to other albums. It has the characteristics of a concept album, only there is no real direct story in the song without referring to the liner notes. One may compare it to a classical symphony however it varies styles to much to be compared to such. This is an album that is truly one of a kind, unique. Amarok may be a long listen but it sure isn't a boring one. It has a charming ability to hold you captive. Give you a few giggles, maybe even stir a few tears here and there. To a musician or someone who is experienced with progressive music it is defiantly a great listen. I would not however recommend it to some one with little knowledge of music or this style in general, for it can be a very difficult song to listen to otherwise. Amarok is a great work of art, as it was meant to be. An expression of the human creativity and free to be whatever it can be.

3 comments sorted by best / new / date

    This review is pretty spot on. Of all the music I listen to there is one album that stands above all and it is Amarok. 26 years after its release it does not date and showcases a true musical genius at his best. The use of toothbrushes, glass of water been drunk, wind up toy dog etc and them being blended in as an integral part of the musical fabric of the work challenges what we define as music in an increasingly over-produced, homogenised, pop-driven industry. My favourite album of all time... period. Certainly not for the faint-hearted or the cloth-eared nincompoop
    Listened to Amarok for about 20 plus years, and today it comes into my ears as if I was born with The sounds inside... The best MO ever!
    Very good review, and a great album. I got Amarok recently, having heard that it was one of MO's best albums, but struggled to really get into it at first. It gets so avant-garde and wierd in places (even by MO's standards) that I couldn't help feeling a little dissapinted. And then, after listening to it for the third or fourth time, all of a sudden it clicked. I was finally able to get a handle on the album, and it's now among my favourite works by Mr Oldfield. Now, I think I may pop off and write a review for Ommadawn...