Well, this is a tough one. It is said that you can't please all of the people all of the time, and, considering the case at hand, this is certainly true. Those who love the original Tubular Bells (1973) may not be very happy with this re-recorded 2003 (30th Anniversary) version. "They" (you know, the ubiquitous "they") say one can never re-do a classic. "They" are wrong, to an extent. A classic can certainly be redone. Will the new version be as good as the original, or even better? Well, that's a subjective call, but I think most would say "not likely". Comparing the two will almost always "prove" the original to be the relative "best". But, separating the new version as a work wholly unto itself, untethered from the original, it can, indeed, be a fine work of art. Such is the case with Mike Oldfield's 'Tubular Bells'. Is the original comparatively "better"? Maybe. Is the new DVD-A version 'Tubular Bells 2003" bad? No. Different? Yes. In general, when comparing the two, the 2003 DVD-A version sounds much cleaner, brighter, happier, even "sparkly"...perhaps more "metallic", in the technological sense. The original had a more analog, darker tone - spookier, not as "charming" as the 2003 version (which might explain why the lead track, "Introduction", worked so very well as the musical theme for the film 'The Exorcist'). Now, if a "cover" band had redone Oldfield's 'Tubular Bells' in 2003 for DVD-A release, the story would be much different. The fact that it is Oldfield redoing his own work must lend the 2003 version creedence, as well as a certain respect and authority.
As explained in the liner notes, Oldfield utilized the original 1973 16 track master tapes as a template for original instrument, sound, performance, tempo, and mix. The liner notes are loaded with technical info, including a list of "instruments" used. 'Tubular Bells 2003' is mixed in: DVD-A, DD 5.1, and DTS 5.1 at 48Khz/24 bit surround and 48Khz/16 bit PCM stereo. Extras include video excerpts of live 'Tubular Bells "2" and "3"', recorded in different venues in DD 5.1 and PCM stereo, numerous original audio demos of 'Tubular Bells' (nice for comparison to the new version), and a Mike Oldfield discography.
Envelopment is the keyword in describing the surround mix used here, and all 5.1 speakers are utilized to the max. The DVD-A, DD, and DTS surround mixes of 'Tubular Bells 2003' are all over the place, all of the time. And, this new surround mix is the only way TB2003 works. It is pretty much useless in stereo. The new mix in stereo by itself is unnecessary, but the surround mix gives it its own life and makes it worthwhile and a viable musical entity unto itself. Separation, transparency, and three-dimensionality (and a feeling that the music is all around you rather than pin-pointed in certain speakers) are done well.
Some 5.1 surround highlights: Track 1, 'Part One' - "Introduction", is, of course, immediately recognizable as 'The Exorcist' theme. Beginning in the front speakers, the various instruments then float around the listening room - side to side, back to front, in circles, above your head...slowly, with no discernable method to the madness. But, it works with this music. It is pleasant and not the least disorienting or false sounding (whoa! Is that a paradox given the technology used?). Total envelopment from above and all around. The mids and highs are perfectly clear and shimmering. Exquisite! At 4:16, suddenly everything seems to join in the center of the room and then rise up to the ceiling as if bursting in anthemic revelation! Awesome!
"Fast Guitars" uses all 5.1 speakers again - total envelopment. The lead guitar is in all four corners, but weighted more heavily toward the rear surrounds. "Basses" has a nice crunch, but the low-end is sadly lacking for a tune with that name. "Latin" comes from all four corners again, with the lead guitar in the left rear. Again, great separation and envelopment, and, as in "Introduction", about half-way through seems to gather center room and rise anthemically up to the ceiling. A tremendous effect! "A Minor Tune" offers a nice change of pace in timbre and hue. In "Ghost Bells" we finally hear some real low-end. (Unfortunately, some songs, such as "Jazz", "Peace" and "Ambient Guitars" are little more than new-age filler. Also, with all of the synthesizers in use, why is there not alot more subterranean low-end?) In 'Part One' - "Finale", instruments seem to ricochet from speaker to speaker - a very cool effect. Again, some real bass lowers its end (as opposed to raises its head?). Monty Python's John Cleese announces the instruments as each one enters...the entrance of the tubular bells lends a regal atmosphere that is most appealing.
'Part Two' - "Harmonics" begins in the front speakers, picks up a madrigal figure in the rears, then drifts front to rear into an Olde English acoustic rondo with flute - very nice. "Caveman" demonstrates some nice, prehistoric vocal pans to opposite corners, and is also the only "rock" song in the cycle.
So, is this the classic 'Tubular Bells'? No. Is it a new, different, beautiful way to enjoy this classic? Hell, yes! More succinctly, it is an even better way to "experience" a new version of an old classic. Without the 5.1 surround, this release would have been worthless. Utilizing 5.1 surround, and its composer Mike Oldfield's judgements as to how he wanted this 30th Anniversary edition to sound, it'll put a smile on the face of most any lover of the original or of aggressive, well-done 5.1 channel music. Taking into account the caveats listed in the above text (for you 1973 version die-hards), I recommend the 'Tubular Bells 2003' experience!
Release Date: February 24, 2004
Tracks: 17 - Time: 48:33
Produced by: Mike Oldfield
Introduction / Fast Guitars / Basses / Latin / A Minor Tune / Blues / Thrash / Jazz / Ghost Bells / Russian / Finale / Harmonics / Peace / Bagpipe Guitars / Caveman / Ambient Guitars / The Sailor's Hornpipe.
Mike Oldfield: Acoustic Guitars / Electric Guitars / Pianos and Organs / Keyboards / Percussion.