Jean Michel-Jarre : Planet Jarre

Fifty years’ worth, in a nice box

Planet Jarre CD boxset

It’s been a big old week if you’re a Jean-Michel Jarre fan. The other big news this week was the Wednesday announcement that, coming up to the 40th anniversary of its release, Equinoxe is getting a follow-up, called Equinoxe Infinity. It’s not a sequel per se, but a successor. And if the first teaser track dropped is anything to go by, this is going to be a beauty. Roll on Novemeber!

But the big business of the week was the release of Planet Jarre, a retrospective covering the fifty years of his career so far, from his first GRM recordings (Happiness is a Sad Song), to pieces written this year (Coachella Opening).

In a slightly hipsterish twist, the box-set CD version comes with two cassettes, together with a card to download the digital version of the album, including an extra smattering of 5.1 mixed versions.

Unlike most retrospectives, the fare is divided in a slightly unusual way. It’s not chronological, which is faintly amusing for a man who released an album called Chronologie. Instead, it’s divided into four curated sections: soundscapes, themes, sequences, and explorations. Jare himself says that these are not necessarily his “favoourite” pieces, but ones that fit into those apsects or moods, and are designed to be representative of his work over his career. Not all of the versions presented are one one might expect; some have been re-recorded or given a fresh lick of paint for this run-out

Soundscapes has a generally impressionistic feel. The main thing you notice is the absence of percussion. The only time it really pokes a toe through the door is on the final track in that list, The Heart of Noise (The Origin). This is not a complaint, incidentally. The mood is a contemplative and relaxed one.

Themes picks the pace up, however, and contains several re-recorded versions of some old favourites: Zoolookologie, Magnetic Fields 2, Fourth Rendezvous and Chronolgie 4. They generally feel more like the live versions he has played on tour in recent years. Zoolookologie in particular, with its rewritten second section, sounds great, and adds a nice new twist to an old favourite. Magnetic Fields 2 has nice echoes of the version that appears in the original single version (which I love), which also turned up in Julien Temple’s video for the song back in 1981.

Julien Temple’s 1981 video for Magnetic Fields 2

Chronologie 4 is the biggest puzzle. It feels a little bit stilted and flat, in spite of the really nice guitar that comes in towards the end. It’s sort of disappointing, because although I really wanted a studio version containing Patrick Rondat’s fabulous work on the 1993 tour, this one doesn’t quite do it for me. Maybe it needs a few more listens to sink in, but I’m not convinced.

Sequences is the most modern section in feel, though the oldest track in the list, Equinoxe 7, goes back to 1978. But this is the list that uses the power of sequencing and repetition most. It is certainly the “danciest” list and has the newest music, The version of Oxygène 8 is a rerecorded one, again with a familiar feel if you’ve seen him live recently. It is different, but in a good way. The version of Revolutions, however, sounds like a live one, and is quite heavy on the reverb, sounding a bit like it’s being played in a cave. This section also contains two new tracks, Herbalizer and Coachella Opening, that haven’t been on an album yet, though the former will be familiar to anyone who’s seen a tour show in the last couple of years.

Explorations contains perhaps the most interesting thing of all on this album for me. For the first time since its release on a single LP in 1983, part of Music for Supermarkets appears on an official JMJ album, not just on (oft-listened to) scratchy AM-radio bootlegs. These are probably the most experimental and “out there” works in his catalogue, and take in many of his early experiments with tape and sound (such as Happiness is a Sad Song & Erosmachine), taking in film music and ballet scores (Aor), as well as album releases. What is noticeable is that the latest of these pieces is from Rendezvous, released over 30 years ago.

There are some surpises on here, that for sure. Most of them are good ones, though a couple don’t quite work for me. What is interesting for a retrospective of this type is what is doesn’t contain, because those things may have fitted the playlists perfectly. I’m specifically thinking of the the little-regarded Geometry of Love, whose title tracks are really wonderful, and would have fitted into at least two of those sections. The only other original studio album that seems to appear here not at all is the much maligned Teo & Tea, almost like it’s being expunged from history, but given the way many fans feel about most of that album, it’s perhaps not that much of a shock

.But, you can’t have everything, and there was only so much room. After a something of a fallow period that began a decade or so ago, we seem to be in a period of creative resurgence for JMJ. Since 2015, there are four albums of original material (the two Electronica albums, plus Oxygene 3 and the soon-to-arrive Equinioxe Infinity), the reworking of his catalogue for albums like this, the extensive touring, including his first North American shows since Rendezvous Houston, and a whole bunch of other work. And all this for a man who’s just hit 70. He shows no sign of slowing yet, so let’s see what comes next.