Tubular Bells II, released in 1992, is the fifteenth studio album by English Progressive Rock multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield. His first album on WEA Records in the UK and Reprise Records in the US, onto whom he signed after fulfilling his contract with Virgin Records in 1991, the album acts as perhaps an even bigger "fuck you" to Virgin than his last two albums on that label ever hoped to achieve. Specifically, the album gives WEA something that Virgin had constantly demanded but never received: a sequel to Tubular Bells, Oldfield's 1973 debut megahit.
A fairly self-aware project, the album riffs on the tendency for sequel albums to be retreads of their predecessors by... being a retread of its predecessor, but with added electronic experimentation in line with the change in direction Oldfield was undertaking in the 1990's. The end result is an album that sounds both attached to and detached from the first Tubular Bells, repeating enough of the same beats while still having enough unique elements to stand out on its own apart from having "Tubular Bells" in the title.
For this album, Oldfield enlisted not only Tom Newman, co-producer of the original Tubular Bells, as producer, but also Trevor Horn, the latter of whom had achieved major success producing a variety of artists throughout the 1980's (including, but not limited to, Yes, Grace Jones, ABC, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and his own group Art of Noise). Consequently, the album has a strong tone of "old meets new," combining the orchestral-inspired prog composition and instrumentation of Tubular Bells with advancements in production technology and emerging trends in musical techniques among artsier, more experimental acts, including many of the New Age artists that Oldfield had been lumped in with throughout his career.
The resulting album was a considerable commercial success for Oldfield, topping the charts in the UK and Spain and being certified quintuple-platinum in Spain, double-platinum in the UK, and gold in Germany. Oldfield would later release a Tubular Bells III six years after this album, thus turning Tubular Bells into a prominent sub-series in Oldfield's wide back-catalog.
Tubular Bells II was supported by three singles: "Sentinel", "Tattoo", and "The Bell".
- "Sentinel" (8:07)
- "Dark Star" (2:16)
- "Clear Light" (5:48)
- "Blue Saloon" (2:59)
- "Sunjammer" (2:32)
- "Red Dawn" (1:50)
- "The Bell" (featuring Alan Rickman) (6:59)
- "Weightless" (5:43)
- "The Great Plain" (4:47)
- "Sunset Door" (2:23)
- "Tattoo" (4:15)
- "Altered State" (5:12)
- "Maya Gold" (4:01)
- "Moonshine" (1:42)
Who's gonna trope your virgil?
- Boléro Effect: "The Bell", like the original Boléro, adds a different instrument each loop until everything is playing beneath the majestic entry of the titular instrument.
- The Cameo:
- Alan Rickman pulls MC duties on "The Bell", in his trademark deadpan droll. Because the MC hadn't been decided on at the time the artwork was put together, he's credited only as "a strolling player" in the liner notes.
- Of all people, members of the LAPD are the ones playing bagpipes on "Tattoo". Because the Los Angeles riots had only just occurred at the time the album was put together, they're credited as the "P.D. Scots Pipe Band".
- Color Motifs: Blue features heavily throughout the album art, liner notes, and disc label.
- Country Music: Dabbled with on "Moonshine", acting as a counterpart to the Cover Version of "The Sailor's Hornpipe" that closed out the first Tubular Bells.
- Epic Rocking: "Sentinel" and "The Bell" both far surpass the six-minute mark. Incidentally, these songs respectively open and close side one on LP copies.
- Everything's Louder with Bagpipes: "Tattoo" makes heavy use of bagpipes to provide a distinctly Celtic form of loud noise.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Tubular Bells II, a second Tubular Bells.
- Fading into the Next Song: Done with almost every track on the album. The only exception is between "The Bell" and "Weightless", reflective of the between-sides transition on LP and cassette copies.
- Gratuitous Panning: For "The Bell", the instruments as announced by Alan Rickman make their entrances on the far left, but then gradually move across— sometimes all the way to the far right, sometimes only part of the way across, so that by the time the tubular bells make their entrance, the instruments that preceded it are all in different places on the soundstage.
- Instrumentals: Most of the album, barring "Altered State".
- Lighter and Softer: Oldfeld wrote the original Tubular Bells from a very dark, depressed, alcohol-fueled place. Tubular Bells II comes from a bright, optimistic place and it shows. Even "Altered State" is fairly goofy compared to its aggressive and imposing equivalent on the first Tubular Bells, the "Piltdown Man" section.
- Longest Song Goes First: The eight-minute "Sentinel" opens the album.
- Long List: The liner notes' list of instruments Oldfield played on the album: acoustic guitars, twelve-string guitar, banjo, classical guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, flamenco guitar, glockenspiel, Lowrey organ, Hammond organ, Farfisa organ, mandolin, percussion, piano, synthesisers, timpani, tubular bells, vocals.
- Idiosyncratic Cover Art: The cover art nods back to that of the original Tubular Bells, featuring a yellow CGI version of the bent-bell logo atop an oceanic blue background. The back cover and liner notes further accentuate this by featuring a watery, rippling effect.
- Miniscule Rocking: "Red Dawn" and "Moonshine" both fall just under the two-minute mark.
- Mythology Gag: The whole album is one to the original Tubular Bells, repeating the original's structure while still sounding like a distinct entity.
- New Sound Album: A middle ground between the orchestral-inspired Progressive Rock of Oldfield's 1970's output and the experimental, New Age electronica of his following output.
- Progressive Instrumentation: Like the "Finale" section on Part One of the original Tubular Bells, "The Bell" on II is built around this, consisting of a single melody being repeated by multiple instruments that gradually make their way into the song, layering on top of one another to complete the song.
- Siamese Twin Songs: Almost the entire album qualifies as this, barring a pause between "The Bell" and "Weightless".
- Title Drop: Like with the first Tubular Bells, Alan Rickman closes out his part as the MC by introducing the titular instrument.
- Uncommon Time: Like its predecessor, Tubular Bells II tends to come across as this due to its heavy use of polyrhythms, which each instrument playing in a considerably different time signature than the rest. Combined with the specific choice of instrumentation, this makes the whole album sound both jarring and mesmerizing at the same time.
- World Music: Elements of this are present throughout the album, most prominently in the choral sections on "Altered State".