Listening to- Revolutions & Waiting For Cousteau

revLatest 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.

cousteauUnfortunately, 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.

Vangelis- Rosetta

rose1A new Vangelis album. Wow. Over the last few decades this has become a very rare occurrence compared to the good old days of the 1970s/early 1980s, Vangelis almost semi-retired now, it seems.  So new releases are a big event to be savoured.

Rosetta is something of a curio in that it’s his first original album -as opposed to albums based on soundtrack work- to be released since Mythodea in 2001, and it is also a return to ‘proper’ old-style electronica soundscapes not heard since, oh, probably Oceanic in 1996 (Vangelis has veered towards classical-oriented or orchestral-sounding synth compositions for some time now).

Not that you can really ignore the feeling of soundtrack music here, as it is sort of the soundtrack to a film that exists in Vangelis’ head, being an album that tells the story of the ESA Rosetta mission to the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (three pieces were used a few years ago by the ESA to publicise the mission and accompany videos on Youtube). So while they are indeed original pieces, it all sounds rather like a soundtrack as opposed to the music Vangelis would have assembled for an album back in his Nemo years.

Its a lovely album with some genuine highlights- having heard it a few times now, I can say the first half of the album is excellent, some of it sounding genuinely fresh and exciting after so many years of Vangelis’ music sounding all of the same ‘soundscape’. Its nice to be surprised by a Vangelis release, and the fourth track ‘Exo Genesis’ is instantly recognisable as genuinely great Vangelis music. So while I miss the wild abandon and experimentation of his Nemo years, and the sophistication that was so incredible in every track of his Direct album, Rosetta seems a pretty solid release.

However, there is always that weight of expectation from there being so few releases these days, something Rosetta cannot really live up to. If Vangelis was releasing albums on an annual basis like in his early days, Rosetta would be a pretty good entry, but as it is it just feels a little ‘light’. I raised that comparison to Direct for a reason- Direct is a phenomenal piece of work, spanning all sorts of musical tastes and genres, richly dynamic and varied; Rosetta is something else entirely. It all sounds very ‘spacey’ and fairly ambient, and all the tracks link together well because they all seem cut from the same cloth, so to speak. So there isn’t as much variation as I would like, and the album seems over before it really seems to ‘ignite’.

So, isolated highlights aside, Rosetta is a ‘good’ Vangelis  album while not a ‘great’ one. And I really wish Vangelis would either release some of the piles of stuff in his infamous vault or perhaps bring out more new stuff on a regular basis, because there is something a little sad about isolated releases like Rosetta after the heady days of earlier years. I’m not expecting every release to be his veritable ‘masterpiece’, and in truth after all those great albums like China and Soil Festivities and Direct and El Greco, the Greek maestro owes us nothing. Rosetta feels like a fragile jewel, and is endearing if only for that, but I know Vangelis can do more. Either he doesn’t feel he has anything to prove or doesn’t feel he even has to release his music anymore, but I find it frustrating, have done for years. Which is distracting from the music in Rosetta.

Still, Rosetta is a good album, and I realise it’s not really fair commentary on that album that I’m pining for the good old Nemo days when Vangelis was banging on his drums and bells and all manner of percussion instruments like some madman. Nemo is done and gone. But I miss it. I miss that old Vangelis. But I guess Rosetta will do.