Sunday, July 04, 2010

"Hergest Ridge" Revisited

I've talked at length about my love for Mike Oldfield's classic albums. The fact that those albums are now being re-released in new 2010 deluxe editions is cause for celebration.

I already had the deluxe edition of "Tubular Bells." The demo material was fascinating and Oldfield's remixed versions were an interesting insight into previously-hidden aspects of the master tapes, but the remastering job of the original mix offered nothing new. I didn't expect it to: it's the mix I've been hearing all my life, of course.

Now his other two classics have been released. I'm most excited about "Ommadawn" -- which I haven't yet received -- and I didn't particularly care about "Hergest Ridge" until a fellow Oldfield fan said it was an album that could ONLY sound better if it were tweaked. Like, it was so poor that ANY treatment could improve it.

Many people consider "Hergest Ridge" to be unfocused, weak, and twee. I've always agreed but I bought the deluxe edition anyway...and HOLY FREAKING COW!

"Hergest Ridge" was released during a petrochemical shortage, so the 1974 vinyl was of notoriously bad quality. Also, Oldfield was unhappy with the final result and he mixed a new quadraphonic version in 1976...this is the version (flattened to stereo) that was eventually released on CD.

So all my life I've been listening to two versions of "Hergest Ridge": one that suffered so much from its crappy vinyl that all subtlety was removed, and another that was never properly for CD and was supposed to be quadraphonic to begin with.

I didn't think that mattered; I thought the album was "blah" from conception to execution, so poor reproduction couldn't make it any worse. I was totally wrong.

Right now I'm listening to the ORIGINAL 1974 stereo mix, finally liberated from poor-quality vinyl AND mastered for CD, and it's like hearing an entirely new album. The annoying reverb-heavy trumpet has become clear and clean and perfectly suited to the rest of the instruments. The acoustic guitar positively GLITTERS. The backup vocals are suddenly audible for the first time in places where I didn't even know they existed; that dreary "overdubbed guitar" section at the end of Part Two has been brought to ecstatic life by the grace of Sally Oldfield and Clodagh Simonds, howling away in the background.

There are so many differences to this mix that I have to keep checking to make sure it isn't one of the new "2010" mixes.

I'm thrilled that I can stand on this blog hilltop -- this ramshackle virtual ridge -- and proclaim that "Hergest Ridge" is genius. I've you've dismissed it, now's the time to give it another listen. If you've spent your life listening to the inferior versions then you will be totally amazed by what you hear.

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