Oldfield under a New Light
Following last year’s acclaimed ‘Faith in Worthless Things’ album, our buddies at Unsung Productions, Lee Fletcher and Markus Reuter (respectively mastering engineer and collaborator / producer of our Echosystem release, need I reiterate?) together with Lisa Fletcher, have just released a very sweet cover of the Mike Oldfield song ‘Islands’.
Knowing Markus, it’s really not a surprise that they have chosen one of Oldfield’s songs. He comments: “Having been a lifelong fan of Mike’s music – which has greatly influenced my own – it’s a real pleasure for me to work on this special song in the year of his 60th birthday.”
But beyond the heartfelt homage, what can be the impetus for those guys to do a cover song? Remember that these people can more than hold their own when it comes for new compositions.
Lee offers an explanation: “Mike’s original sounded quite contemporary at the time, however the arrangement and production places it firmly in 1987. We’ve taken a different musical approach, mixing traditional / celtic instrumentation with ethereal soundscapes and rich vocal harmonies. The heart of the song – which we all love – remains true to the original, but sonically we hope this version offers something new rather than being a straightforward facsimile.”
A great song and true, it may have needed updating to make it sweeter to contemporary ears.
This made me reflect on our relationship to “cover songs” in general. After the Beatles turned pop culture inside out it seemed that the music that held the most value was the one entirely created by the artist. Being phenomenal composers themselves, they set the tone as to what should be done and they pushed their peers into a “write or be sneered at” position. While not as dramatic as the career crushing advent of talking cinema for chipmunk voiced action heroes, it certainly set a new standard. There was an added sheen to be gained by wearing the “Complete Artist” mantle and the newly acquired income from publishing was nothing to turn up your nose at.
From the audience point of view, it seemed that a cover song equated lack of inspiration, an album filler. Or as when people did a covers only album (like Bowie’s Pin Ups and Bryan Ferry’s These Foolish Things), it felt like they where either buying time between “real” albums or it was one of those end-of-contract-obligation deals.
So, wearing our pedantic music critic hat for a moment, it begs the question (thunderclap SFX, please): were cover songs ever relevant?
If you answered “no”, well… then wouldn’t you have to dismiss 90% of all jazz and 99% of “classical” music in one swoop? Talk about cognitive dissonance!
In other words, there’s no reason why reinterpreting songs of others shouldn’t be a valid artistic endeavour. Good music is good music and it needs to be played.
But back to the cool Islands cover, it’s worth noting that Simon Heyworth, the co-producer Oldfield’s biggest hit, Tubular Bells, has mastered this new version and on the list of stellar collaborators we can count Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, David Bowie), Tim Motzer (David Sylvian), Alan Burton (Baka Beyond), Tobias Reber (CENTROZOON), and The Quohren Quartet. Need we say more?
Well worth a closer listen in my opinion.