Review: Oxygene Trilogy

Jean-Michel Jarre

Well, hasn’t Jean-Michel been a busy boy this year? On the 40th Anniversary of the release of the original Oxygene back in 1976, comes the final chapter in the trilogy. This completes a period of around 18 months of feverish activity and output (and he’s still going to be touring next year, so there’s no let up). The two volumes of Electronica have received very positive reviews, but is this bookend to Oxygene any good?

Well, it’s not immediate, but it threatens to be a grower.

Little has been done to volumes 1 and 2, except to make EQ levels relatively constant across all the work. The new stuff begins after the final fading of part 13.

In composing Volume 3, Jarre has said that he went back to some of the ideas underpinning his original composition. Oxygene was composed using 8 track recording technology, so JMJ limited himself to eight elements per section, to impose some limits and discipline, including the length of the recording period. As a result, the feel is rather minimalist, and perhaps the better for it.

Part 14 is certainly informed by Electronica work, specifically The Time Machine. Part 15 is, at first sight, the most “Oxygene-y” of all before evolving into something more definably trancy. But then the mood changes…

Part 16 has a little of the mood of The Architect, his collaboration with Jeff Mills, with an insistent, slightly techno-y feeling. Part 17 is the crowd-pleaser, and first aired in the early part of the Electronica tour. With its accompanying concert visuals it was a stunning live experience. On its own it’s still a banger. In many ways it feels a lot like part 8, with its simple and insistent hook threaded through. It’s certainly the most obviously crowd-pleasing (not meant perjoratively) thing on offer in the third volume.

Part 18 slows things down and, to me at least, is rather pleasantly reminiscent of Mike Oldfield’s more introspective late 70s work (or actually, even from round about the period of Songs of Distant Earth). It’s a period of breathing space before what comes next.

Part 19: wow! No, really: WOW! It reminds me of Pt 5, 11 and 12 mashed into a pan and stirred around liberally. It sounds truly fabulous, and has echoes of pieces like Equinox 6 and Chronologie 6 sprinkled through it too.

Jarre recalls a conversation with his late friend Arthur C Clarke about endings and dying, and that returns to earth would mean re-entry. The final part is informed by this. It’s elegiac, ruminative and surprisingly sombre, though the keyboard washes have a slightly gothic, Phantom of the Opera undertone. It even includes, in a way vaguely recalling rendezvous 5, snatches of part 2, briefly floating in and out on the air. It all ends in the lick of fire, the burning of re-entry.

Jarre sounds like a man artistically reignited by the process of constructing Electronica. While he’s a man known for the quality of his melodies, they’re not quite so obvious here, and will likely need some time to insinuate themselves into your head. But for a man nearing his seventies, Jean-Michel Jarre does not sound like someone whose well is running dry. Far from it.