24 August 2013

Jean Michel Jarre - Oxygene


It's fair to say that we all judge albums on merit, on the pure grounds of their music, their lyrical content, the structure, the talents of the artists and composers and as a package of how it all sounds in the end. Sadly, we often overlook the technical aspects of the music, eg the instruments involved and what it takes to pull the whole record into a hour of audio pleasure. Some albums are simply incomparable, chiefly because of the impact they made at the time, and what it signifies to the world.

Lyon born and raised Jean Michel Jarre views himself as an audio artist as opposed to an instrumentalist and was influenced by a one Robert Moog, who, in 1968 introduced his revolutionary synthesizer to the world. From then, it spawned a new generation of musicians like Riyuchi Sakamoto, Kraftwerk and Walter Carlos influencing many more. New Order, Underworld and Orbital are just a few examples of infinite artists inspired by his work. However, Jarre didn't have a Moog Synthesizer at the time and the equipment he brought together to record Oxygene sounds like a rag tag of instruments more associated with a skiffle group. A Mellotron, an 8 track tape machine, an organ, some homemade sequencers to create the loops and rhythmic beats as well as analogue synthesizers all within the confines of his home/studio.

JMJ already had a couple of records prior to Oxygene, Deserted Palace was a compilation of pieces intended for sampling in commercials, the second, Les Granges Brulees, a brief OST for a French film. Oxygene is his first fully fledged album and it's not an exaggeration to say it transformed the whole sound of the 1970s. As an example of its impact it's easy to see where Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer's I Feel Love obtained its rhythm. I will admit that until recently, I only knew two pieces from it, Parts II and IV and the former stuck with me when I bought his Best Of.... CD in 1998 at a car boot sale.

This is the first time I have heard Oxygene in full and for me it feels just as fresh and spiritual as on its release four decades ago. Could this be a truly ageless record? It all starts with a heavy emphasis on a cocktail of layers of otherworldly keyboard work setting up the rhythmic patterns before the firm beats set in for the following track and from there, the limited instrumentation at Jarre's disposal is quickly forgotten.

The official video, Oxygene IV, I believe had penguins in, but this version has the French ivory tinkler at work here.

Concerning electronic albums, this is the benchmark even if Kraftwerk and Progressive Rock acts like Emerson, Lake and Palmer had great emphasis of organ and keyboard work put into their records several years earlier. 40 minutes of your valuable listening time is well spent here and while I could use all the superlatives in the world, it's best for me to allow you to listen to Oxygene and to be the true judge of Monsieur Jarre's career launching effort. What more can I say but c'est magnifique. M. Richardson. 24/08/2013.

10 out of ten. This is proof there is a god.

Jean Michel Jarre Official Website here
You can buy the album here
Listen to Oxygene here on Spotify

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