Latest commute listening has been my Jean-Michel Jarre collection. I put it all on a usb stick filed in chronological order and have worked my way tfrom the classic Oxygene onwards. Oxygene, of course is a classic and likely Jarre’s finest hour (all downhill from there, old boy) but its been fascinating to listen to his albums in the order he released them. I still have a soft spot for Magnetic Fields which really gives Oxygene a run for its money and this time around I rather enjoyed Zoolook more than I’d expected to.
Alas, I’ve today just come to his 1988 album Revolutions. Time has not been kind. I well remember buying the cd back then, from WH Smiths of all places (remember when you could buy cds etc from there?). Indeed, I particularly recall sitting on the bus on the way from town and passing the time reading a magazine that WH Smiths were giving away free, you know, plugging latest film and album releases on VHS etc, when I turned a page and -boom- I was dumbstruck by a half-page ad for a new Vangelis album, Direct, out in a few weeks. This was, of course, way before the internet so news of any new Vangelis release was a big deal to me – this was back when Vangelis releases had seemed to grind to a halt (funny, we hadn’t seen the worst of that phenomenon yet). So the funny thing is, I got home and half-listened to the new Jarre album but I was all buzzing with the news of a new Vangelis album.
And yeah, when it came out, that new Vangelis album was massively superior to Revolutions. I haven’t listened to Revolutions in years and returning to it on this commute its clear why- its really not very good. Its uninspired, following a pattern set on his last few albums. Big operatic, epic opener, throw .in a catchy single, a few shorter tracks on the b-side (back then albums still followed the traditional vinyl-dictated way of a/b sides of about twenty minutes each). Overall its a pretty insipid collections of tracks- now I just listen and think wtf was Jarre thinking? It does seem clear in retrospect that Jarre was pushing towards an almost analogue, ‘live’ band sound as if to make it easier to put the album into concert format (back then Jarre was possibly more of a live performer to huge firework/laser show events than he was a recording artist). Mind, the idea of Jarre as ‘live’ performer was odd enough considering how pre-programmed all his electronics had to be by virtue of what his music was, and it would appear that Revolutions was a response to that. Lots of drums and guitar and some voices, it doesn’t really feel like a Jarre album. Horrible really and a pale shadow of previous albums.
Unfortunately, Revolutions is followed by the absolute career nadir of Waiting for Cousteau, and I had to grind my teeth through this one in the grim conviction to not skip any track, whatever, as I listen through Jarre’s discography. Waitng for Cousteau is pretty bad, especially the awful Calypso 1 – 3 which are just painful to any ears. To some degree the album is almost saved by the lengthy ambient title track, but unfortunately it just drones on for nearly fifty minutes just going nowhere. More a soundscape really than a proper ambient track (Jarre rather missing the point I think), pleasant enough but charmless – albeit a relief after the repellent cacophony of the Calypso horror trio. Still, I will say the album probably features the best cover art of any Jarre album.
Thankfully tomorrow there’s the pleasure of Jarre’s return to form with the great Chronologie, which is one of his very best albums in my mind.