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Jean Michel Jarre

Oxygene – Jean-Michel Jarre (Album Review)

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Oxygene – Jean-Michel Jarre (Album Review)

I wrote in my review of Rendez-vouz that Jean-Michel Jarre is my favourite artist of all time. That review chronicled my entrée into Jarre's music (and the world of Compact Discs), but it was not where Jarre's commercial success began. That milestone belongs to the often cited 'eponymous' debut album, Oxygène. It should be noted that the original album name, in Jarre's native French, is Oxygène, however, the worldwide release gained a slight simplification to Oxygene, which, as an English speaker, I will use throughout this review.

When the album was first released, I was no more aware of it than a tea leaf is aware of the history of the East India Company^, which is to say I was 7 years old, 8 by the time of the international release, and had no real interest in music. If I remember correctly, there were playground quips about smelly socks that came out as "soxygene," which I suppose now was probably derived from the album name entering the lexicon at the time, but I was completely unaware of the music.

Looking back at 1976 we see the height of the ABBA hits sharing the limelight with Chicago, Elton John, and Queen's legendary Bohemian Rhapsody. Barry Manilow, The Four Seasons, and The Bay City Rollers also made a mark on 1976. If we're looking for something a little different, how about Disco Duck, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, or, my favourite, Play That Funky Music? None of this is in the same league as Jarre's December release of Oxygene.

Although initially released only in his native France, it went to number one in the French charts and was then released internationally in 1977 to similar success, reaching the top 10 in eight countries. This despite critics claiming the album was "bland" and preferring the works of Mike Oldfield and Tangerine Dream. History would show that publisher Francis Dreyfus's reluctant gamble to press 50,000 copies for Jarre was money placed on the right horse. Oxygene has gone on to sell over 15 million copies and spawned three more albums from Jarre (see below).

Recorded in a makeshift studio in Jarre's home, the album was performed on a variety of electronic instruments, including one digital synthesiser, and recorded on 8-track tape. It was Jarre's third album, the first two being unsuccessful soundtracks. Oxygene was to mark the beginning of a successful and celebrated career for Jarre, as well as being widely recognised as an influence and a starting point for a new wave of electronic music.

I guess, listening with a critical ear, I can see the point those critics had. Oxygene isn't "gripping" or "epic" or even particularly complex. What it is, is very well crafted. By that I mean the elements that exist are all intertwined in a way that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. You could take any of the specific instrument sounds alone and they would be interesting, but unremarkable. Jarre's genius is blending these into a kind of symphony that carries you through the entire work, listening out for changes in tone or shifts in mood. You can hear each instrument at the same time as you appreciate the whole.

While I always like to be accurate with the album and track names, it is of vital importance that we address the proper name of the tracks on the original Oxygene release as, in later years, Jarre released several derivative follow-on works. In one case, an inaccurately named track here may, in fact, refer to a whole different album.

Oxygene (Part I) begins by quietly introducing some of the key sounds that run through the album. It's hard to describe the sounds, except to state the obvious that they are electronic in nature. I guess you might equate some of them to piano and strings. The whole track feels like a pent-up promise of what is to come. Like many Jarre tracks, it goes through distinct phases marked by different key sounds, while still being backed by the familiar. The centre phase gets quite majestic with bass-like and trumpet-like sounds before returning to that promise of what is to come, introducing the basic sounds that will throw the next track into the stratosphere.

Oxygene (Part II) comes seamlessly from the end of Part I. (As is typical of many Jarre albums, gapless playback is a must to get the best experience.) It immediately sets an underlying beat and introduces the shooting stars (I can find no better analogy) into another soundscape full of promise. Then, at precisely 1:41 into the track, they're let loose and the chill^^ starts. This phrase is what makes Oxygene (Part II) my favourite Jarre track of all. At around 3:25 it sets off on another path for two and a half minutes before arriving... at the beach. The sounds, while still electronic, are reminiscent of waves and seabirds.

Oxygene (Part III) starts with a sound like manually plucking the lower octave springs of a piano before getting a serious tone that portends something to come. What I can only think of as a kind of bass-penny-whistle gives a sinister overtone to the serious melody before fading to the singing of birds. Uncharacteristically, the track ends in silence.

Oxygene (Part IV) begins with swirling winds, a few tentative notes, and then begins probably the most widely recognised Jarre phrase of all. Combining many elements of the previous three tracks, it sets a fantastic, timeless melody against some great percussive and atmospheric sounds before soaring to some brilliant keyboard accents. The most melodic track of the album, it could be played on a variety of instruments and still be recognisable and captivating.

Oxygene (Part V) is the longest track on the album at over ten minutes and begins seamlessly from the prior track. Classic synth "pings" fade under organ-like notes that gently lead the listener into a slowly changing, church-like opening. But over its considerable length, this track takes several turns. First, at about 3:30, hard notes add to the melody making it a little heavier before that heaviness begins to take over around half way. Then 5:30 sees a complete change of mood and pace including some stereo panning. The final change comes just before the 7:00 mark with trumpet-like notes taking the lead over the fast-paced sequencer beat. The final minute features waves on the shore overlaid less and less with the sequencer. And finally, seabirds.

Oxygene (Part VI) fades in over the waves and birds, and we return to a sound that is both clearly electronic, but also melodic in a melancholy sort of way. In fact, there are two melodies working together until they gradually blend and then halfway through, the energy picks up as they meld. The birds and waves never leave and accompany us to the end of the track, a whole minute beyond the melody before all slowly fade out.

At just shy of 40 minutes in length, Oxygene explores a number of different electronic sounds and techniques that would come to be the hallmark of Jarre's early works. While the immediately following albums would get punchier, rowdier, crazier, and ever more complex, they would all build on what Oxygene delivered. It is not Jarre's most... anything... album. Not the shortest, nor longest, nor quietest, nor loudest, nor any superlative I can think of. But it is the proto-Jarre album, for which it should hold an esteemed place in any collection.

At this point, it is worth documenting the follow-on works that derived from the original Oxygene.

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In 1997, Jarre produced a sequel album called Oxygene 7-13. Despite the intervening 20 years, the album and track names suggest these are a continuation of a single body of work. In fact, the album took some of the same instruments and sounds and re-imagined them for the new musical era.

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A year later, Jarre released Oddysey Through O2, which contains remixes of the Oxygene 7-13 tracks by various artists – mostly DJs. This is a haphazard album as not all of the originals are remixed, and some are remixed multiple times, and there is even a non-Oxygene track, Rendez-vous 98, included. Many are infused with house beats that barely let Jarre's sound through. Jarre had final say on the tracks, but it is an album only for die-hard or completionist fans.

Ten years on from Oxygene 7-13, Jarre marked the 30th anniversary of the original release with a new recording of the original tracks using the original instruments. One key difference was the requirement for a live performance to include three additional musicians as the original had included a lot of over-dubbing. The performance was filmed on a stage, in a single take, for an accompanying DVD. If you're an Oxygene fan, I highly recommend watching the DVD — it's mesmerising to watch the performers work their instruments as you hear the results.

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Finally, as of writing at least, the 40th anniversary of the original release (2016) saw a completely new album, Oxygene 3. In contrast to the 20th-anniversary outing with Oxygene 7-13, Oxygene 3 takes the original minimalist approach but updates it with modern technology — 31 instruments were used compared to 8 on the original. The album comprises Oxygene 14 through 20.

Oxygene is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, Oxygene is also available on TIDAL Hi-FiSpotify, and Apple Music.

Oxygene (30th Anniversary) is available on CD/DVD.

For more details on Oxygene 7-13 and Oxygene 3, keep an eye out for future reviews on Subjective Sounds.


^ Apologies to Douglas Adams for this appropriation from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

^^ This is one of a handful of tracks in my music collection that actually makes a chill run through me when I'm listening in a suitable environment.

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The Never Ending Story – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Composers: Klaus Doldinger And Giorgio Moroder)

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The Never Ending Story – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Composers: Klaus Doldinger And Giorgio Moroder)

The Never Ending Story is one feature film from my childhood that has stood the test of time. I have thoroughly enjoyed introducing it to my children as it has such a positive message about reading and the subsequent fantasy worlds that can be created by that very act.

Not only do I have the film, and of course the associated soundtrack, but I have the book and have read it a number of times. It simply captivates me and I strongly suggest sourcing a copy if you’re an avid reader.

Despite my appreciation of the franchise, I never thought to purchase the soundtrack. This is a strange omission as I thoroughly enjoy the music from the film and generally gravitate to soundtracks of films I like. It was actually my son who asked, upon seeing the film for the first time, if we could get the soundtrack.

While I definitely wanted to pick up the soundtrack on CD, I also wanted my children to be able to experience the soundtrack immediately, in order to secure their excitement in the franchise. Subsequently, I turned to iTunes/Apple Music and noted that they had the soundtrack available. However, when I began streaming the album, it lacked significantly in dynamic range and was certainly inferior to the average dynamic range of 11 that is found on the CD. It was just flat and lifeless. However, streamers will find that the TIDAL Hi-Fi version sonically matches the CD. That said, it is the same mastering across all variants, so there should be no difference. Perhaps this difference in tonality is due to the use of an inferior codec from when the album was first encoded and released for sale on iTunes. I should note that this iTunes/Apple Music edition is not a Mastered for iTunes release.

Also of note, as a general observation, is the superior audio quality of the film’s Blu-Ray DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track when compared to the CD. Yes, I acknowledge the variation between the formats, but it is significant enough to mention. While the CD is superb, I’d love to get my hands on the soundtrack used in the film.

One of the disappointments I have with the soundtrack is the track listing. The songs are presented out-of-order, in comparison to when they appeared in the film. I’ve no idea why this tracking was chosen, but it certainly requires me to program the CD player, or TIDAL Hi-Fi playlist, to ensure the tracks are presented in the order that best mimics the film. If you have never seen the film, then this is of little concern.

Another concern I have is the naming convention of the soundtrack. The CD soundtrack is presented as The Never Ending Story, but the film is presented, depending on region, as either The Neverending Story with the alternative being The NeverEnding Story. Yet, the book that started it all is simply The Neverending Story. Yes, it confuses me as well. Personally, I don’t have an issue or preference with any of these titling methods, but I would love to see consistency across the franchise. I specifically mention this deviation as it took me a while to find the soundtrack on TIDAL Hi-Fi because they have it listed as The Never Ending Story. TIDAL’s search engine likely needs an overhaul, as iTunes easily found the variant, but it wouldn’t have been an issue if all related elements had the same naming convention.

Despite these small frustrations, the soundtrack offers an enchanting series of instrumental songs that are inspirational and moving. The one vocal track on the album is the Never Ending Story that is sung by Limahl, best known as lead singer of the band Kajagoogoo. The song at its core is pop-synth, truly resonating with the 80s sound of the time. Yes, it is clichéd, but it is still thoroughly enjoyable to listen to. Interestingly, the song really doesn’t sound as dated as many other pop-synth recordings. Although, perhaps it is just nostalgia that keeps this song fresh in my mind.

Proceeding through the track listing and Swamps Of Sadness certainly lives up to its title as the song is demure but bold and uplifting at the same time. Without a doubt it is one of my most favourite tracks, from the soundtrack, as it is moving and the corresponding scenes in the film amplify my connection with the song.

The Ivory Tower is an epic song, but there is a major problem with the edition that is available on the soundtrack. It is not the same edition as the one found in the film. The film showcases the song in a beautiful symphonic presentation that could be appreciated by any classical music fan. Yet, the soundtrack has swapped out this performance for a lacklustre pop-synth edition of the song. Disappointing to say the least! Below are the two different renditions. The first is the original that was presented in the film, while the second video is representative of the edition found on the soundtrack. 

Ruined Landscape is a delightfully sombre piece of music that not only applies to the film, but could be viewed in reflection of many beautiful landscapes that have been destroyed by man’s incessant need for natural resources.

Sleepy Dragon is much more uplifting and the guitar work in this song is exceptionally refined and not overpowering. That said, it is one of the weaker songs on the album and I think it is mainly due to its repetitious style.

Bastian’s Happy Flight is an instrumental song that is simply fun. It truly draws me back into the film, but without that connection I’m not sure the song is strong enough to stand on its own as a classical piece of music.

Fantasia is short but rather atmospheric. While it links in with the film, I would love to have seen an expanded rendition on the album.

Atreju’s Quest is elegant and and strong throughout and is beautifully performed. It is a slow climb and then builds to the ultimate climax, making it one of those songs that could easily be added to any classical movie theme collection.

Theme Of Sadness isn’t so much sad as it is thought provoking. The flute (I believe) is just stunning in its subtleness throughout this song.

Atreju Meets Falkor is a lovely song that gives you the impression of flying, although, that is likely symbolic of the film scene that accompanies it. I could also see this song being perfect for a country drive as the landscape is passing by and you are looking forward to what life holds ahead of you.

Mirrorgate – Southern Oracle is eerie, but captivating. It certainly links well with the associated film scenes, but it doesn’t feel out of place as an instrumental track on its own. Actually, it somewhat reminds me of the style of music that Jean Michel Jarre performs.

Gmork truly could have been left off the album. With a runtime of less than 30 seconds, it is merely present because it applies to a single dramatic scene in the film. If you haven’t seen the movie, you won’t enjoy it.

Moonchild is probably another one that I would say doesn’t add much to the soundtrack, although it is pivotal in the film.  

The Auryn is simply magical. While it isn’t lyrically based, the backing harmonic choir performs the tonal range of the song exceptionally well.

Happy Flight is really a shorter version of Bastian’s Happy Flight. There is certainly nothing wrong with this repetition and I feel it closes the album out nicely.

There is really no reason to omit this album from your collection, but it will likely appeal to those of you who enjoy the film, or are primarily interested in classical and instrumental scores. That said, if you can’t stand continuous shifts in instrumental music styles, then this album may not be for you. However, there are certainly a number of standout tracks that simply must be heard. 

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Jean Michel Jarre – Rendez-Vous

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Jean Michel Jarre – Rendez-Vous

1987 was a long time ago so there is not a lot about it that I remember, but I do remember it was the year I joined the work force. Granted, due to timezones, it was the day after I started work that the stock market famously crashed, but that has meant I have not forgotten the date. October 19th, 1987.

The crash didn't affect me directly – it's hard to lose something you don't have – and before long I began to accumulate what I later came to know as disposable income*. I was eyeing up all manner of consumer goods on which to dispose of it, not least of which was one of those newfangled CD players. But before I plonked down my money on that, something else happened.

I was watching late night TV, probably as an excuse to consume copious amounts of ice-cream, when I stumbled across a programme that would profoundly influence my musical tastes – and my music collection. I knew very little about what I was watching other than it was utterly, mind-blowingly spectacular. Enormous drop-sheets adorned the sides of skyscrapers in the city of Houston, Texas, and on these were laser projected, moving images of epic proportions. Then there was the music.

  Patrick Burke from Atlanta, GA, United States

Patrick Burke from Atlanta, GA, United States

I have trouble finding the words to describe how the music sounded, but will make do with powerful, majestic, stirring, and different. It was very different to anything I had paid attention to before but really hit me right between the eyes, along with the stunning visuals.

I had no idea at the time that Jarre's Houston concert had been staged in April 1986 to celebrate the 150th birthday of the state of Texas and the city of Houston as well as the 25th birthday of NASA, who have a strong presence in the city in the forms of the Johnson Space Center. At the time it held the record for the largest outdoor concert, attracting between 1 and 1.5 million fans.

The very next day I found time during my lunch hour to walk into a local music retailer** and ask the staff if they had seen the TV show on the night before. All I could do was describe the spectacle. Luckily for me, a senior staff member was able to point me to Jean Michel Jarre's Rendez-vous. I briefly debated in my head before purchasing the album on CD, rather than cassette, as I had the feeling this album was special. I was excited to now own my first CD – surely my next purchase would have to be a CD player so I could enjoy it!

I think it was about a week later I managed to scrape together enough money to purchase a component CD player and a pair of half decent headphones. Speakers and an amplifier were to come much later. I remember the CD player sitting on my bedside table, taking up most of the area the table offered, with a bedside lamp perched atop it. I think my radio alarm clock ended up on the floor for a time. I remember this so well I can even tell you that at that time my bed was aligned east-west in my bedroom, in the southwest corner. It is a vivid memory.

Lying in bed I could see the crisp LED display just above eye level and I remember staring at the slowly changing digits for long periods of time. After the chore of constantly winding and rewinding cassettes, and suffering tape stretch and the occasional jam, the precision of digital music that CDs brought were a constant fascination for me. I would lie in bed in the evening listening to my only CD*** and revelling in the magic of Rendez-vous. This album helped me discover that music could alter my state of mind. Rendez-vous was my drug, and it was the start of a love affair with Jarre's music.

Rendez-vous is an album I don't take lightly. It's heavy tone, I believe, demands the listener be in the right frame of mind to enjoy it because it is not light, happy music but a serious endeavour. The album opens with First Rendez-vous, which mixes a deep electronic rumble with a harmonised melody of classic 'synth' and a background of light tinkling as of tiny pieces of falling glass. Before long a bass line adds to the melody and the different elements all start working together to create a sound stage that is far greater than the sum of its parts. This technique of layering is ever present through most of the album and indeed much of Jarre's work. To this day, First Rendez-vous completely sets the tone for me for listening to the rest of the album.

The album requires physical media or gapless playback if listening to MP3s or the like, as many tracks seamlessly blend into the next. I'm sure super-fans will be able to tell you the moment of every track change, but I have to see it on a display for some. Second Rendez-vous, Parts I–IV build on the heavy theme, with Part I and Part II offering a lively mix of sounds before Part III changes the tone to what I now consider classic Jarre sounds. A series of triplets of string-like notes are backed by the inevitable layers of other sounds. Part IV turns back to the opening 'grunge' sounds but amongst the layers we now hear the choir of Radio France before the track ends. Jarre is no stranger to using human voice as an instrument. His preceding album, Zoolook, was largely based on singing and speech in 25 different languages.

At this point it's hard to think of any other word to describe the overall sound of Rendez-vous than "big." Already we've heard classic synth, pumping bass sounds, light and crisp atmospherics, and human voices – all hallmarks of much of Jarre's music. It's intriguing, I think, that merely listening to the heavier sounds of Rendez-vous make me think of the colour red, which indeed dominates the album cover. I guess that may simply be associative, but it is definitely a "red" sound to me.

Third Rendez-vous and Fourth Rendez-vous each take a bit of a detour from the heavy theme, adding a little melancholy – although nothing to what comes later – and pep, respectively. Fourth Rendez-vous is such a peppy little number it stands well on its own and I am fairly sure I have heard it used for DVD menu backing music on at least one of my Jarre DVDs.

Music video by Jean-Michel Jarre performing Fourth Rendez-Vous. (C) 1986 Music Affair Entertainment Ltd. under exclusive license to Sony Music Entertainment Germany GmbH http://www.vevo.com/watch/DEC691500481

Darth Vader-like breathing accompanies the transition into Fifth Rendez-vous Part I which takes another sonic direction sounding a bit more like fairground music, harking back to the Magnetic Fields album, but still fitting with the overall sound of Rendez-vous. Fifth Rendez-vous Part II and Part III each take a slightly different direction while still having that fairground feel. Part III starts to head back to the heavy notes and other sounds of the early tracks before becoming very ethereal and leading into the final track. These sudden, mid-track shifts of mood are another Jarre habit. It is often these transitions that fool me into thinking a track change has occurred when in fact it hasn't. A test for the true fans!

Last Rendezvous, 'Ron's piece', has a definite melancholy tone to it, which is sadly fitting of the circumstances it found itself in, if not those it was composed for. The track features a haunting saxophone which is all the more haunting when you learn that the part was written to be played by US astronaut Ron McNair, who was also a jazz musician, from the space shuttle Challenger. It was to be the first piece of music recorded in space and a video recording of McNair's performance was to be projected onto the side of a building at the Houston concert. Sadly, the shuttle disintegrated 73 seconds after liftoff with no survivors. The track was subsequently dedicated to the lost crew. I cannot separate in my mind the sadness of the saxophone with the loss of the crew, even though it was composed before the tragedy.

The tone of Last Rendez-vous leaves me with a distinct feeling that the album is over as the saxophone bows out and two lone heartbeats close the track. I usually don't feel like listening to anything else after that. In the same way that my brain will automatically start playing the first bars of the next track of an album, when Last Rendez-vous ends, my brain plays silence, as I always used to experience in those early days with the CD. I would not take the headphones off for some time after it ended, still coming down from the heady ride the album had just given me. It is an annoyance that today iTunes proceeds to play the next album!

The overwhelming feeling I get from Rendez-vous is one of rich and heavy textures, which mark it out from Jarre's earlier and more famous works like Oxygene and Equinoxe and indeed most of his newer releases.

I would guess I have listened to Rendez-vous at least 50 times and almost always from start to finish. Although Third, Fourth, and Last Rendez-vous easily stand on their own, my mind knows where they belong and with the other tracks they progress like a film script or a play, in distinct acts but each belonging to the whole. It is not the type of album to put on in the background, but rather one to really listen to. If it comes up in shuffle play, I skip it.

Rendez-vous is not my favourite Jarre album, but it holds a special place in my collection, and heart, as the entry point both to my enjoyment of digital music and to my love affair with the works of Jarre. Today I have 30 Jarre albums in iTunes, most bought on CD, a handful of concert DVDs and an insatiable desire for more. I do not hesitate to name him as my favourite artist of all.

Thank goodness for my chance viewing of that television spectacle 28 years ago.


☞         There is also an album, En Concert Houston / Lyon, which has live recordings of the Rendez-vous concert as performed in Houston and Jarre's home town, Lyon, France.

☞         Early editions of the album from 1986 had the tracks for Second and Fifth Rendez-Vous split up into separate parts, and slightly different timings for Fourth and Last Rendez-Vous (Ron's Piece). The author's CD has these separate tracks and they are referred to above. 

*   I've just learned that disposable income is free income after tax and discretionary income is after bills are paid, so technically I am referring to the latter.

** To this day I remember exactly where the shop was, even, to some extent, it's layout. But for the life of me I cannot remember the name of it!

*** In truth, once I got the bug for CDs, more followed in quick succession although I do not remember exactly which albums.


Allister Jenks is a freelance music reviewer and podcaster. You can listen to him on The Sitting Duck Podcast and find him on Twitter at @zkarj

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