Review by Paul Quinton
Release date: 21 July 2014
It’s rare, but sometimes you listen to album by an artist you like and respect, and as the album plays the thought occurs to you, ‘What on earth were they thinking?’ Magenta founder Rob Reed has written and recorded an album inspired by his admiration for Mike Oldfield and resolved to do it in exactly the same way as Oldfield recorded his legendary album Tubular Bells, that is, by writing and playing everything himself. The only parts on the album that aren’t Rob Reed are the haunting vocals, a little bodhran from Tom Newman, of whom more in a moment, whereas the instruments he couldn’t already play he learned almost on the spot and in the studio, including the array of percussion instruments, and then he even brought in Oldfield’s original engineers and producers, Simon Heyworth and Tom Newman himself. The album even has the same structure as Tubular Bells, being comprised of two twenty minute long pieces, the same as on the original vinyl LP. In terms of a performance, there’s no doubt it’s an absolute tour de force.
However, if you’re at all familiar with Tubular Bells itself, the first few times you listen to Sanctuary, things become a lot more ambiguous. Everyone, I’m sure, can list artists and albums that remind you of other artists and albums, sure, The Gaslight Anthem can often sound a little too much like they’ve listened to a lot of Springsteen, in their early days Marillion were accused of being Genesis copyists, and now I could name several bands who are clearly influenced by early Marillion, and those of a certain age may well remember the furore over the debut Kingdom Come album, but this is something beyond even that.
At first as you listen to Sanctuary, far, far too often you think, ‘that’s really like that part on Tubular Bells. At times it becomes more than a tribute, more than a homage, and you wish that either Reed or his producers would have stopped things and said something to the effect of ‘hold on, chaps, we’re a little bit too close to the line here’. In the most recent Prog Magazine, there was an excerpt from Sanctuary included on the free CD, and I defy anybody to listen to that excerpt, and not think ‘hang on a sec!’ It’s so reminiscent of the end of the first part of Tubular Bells’, so that the only thing that seems missing is Vivian Stanshall introducing the individual instruments (“and finally, Tubular… Bells!”) I kept thinking of that legendary Morecambe and Wise sketch with Andre Previn, where Previn accuses Eric of not playing the right notes and Eric grabs him by the lapels and says ‘Of course I’m playing the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order’.
It’s a real shame that that’s going to be by far the most common first impression, because this is in so many other ways an admirable project and, in its own way, quite a rewarding listen. The more you listen to it, the easier it is to see beyond the more simple comparisons. Reed conjures up some very atmospheric passages and as you listen to it, and immerse yourself in the music, you hear how the piece is constructed and hear how the various themes go together. There is a double CD version of the album, in which the second disc includes a 5.1 surround sound mix of the album, which is an even more involving experience and enables the listener to appreciate even more how well put together and executed this piece of music is. All in all, it’s a fascinating, and in many ways, admirable piece of work, and the talent and craftsmanship that have gone into it are things that can only be admired, but in the end I wonder how many will be able to get past the first impressions and give this album the time it needs to fully appreciate what it has to offer. It’s an intriguing project, and one that asks you to get past preconceptions and initial impressions, but the question is, how easy will the listener find that to be?
7.5 out of 10
- Sanctuary Part I
- Sanctuary Part II