Listening to – Equinoxe Infinity

jarre.pngExpectations were quite high for this album, Jean-Michel Jarre returning to his second (and possibly best) album and spinning a sequel for its fortieth anniversary, with three tracks slowly being leaked out prior to the albums release which promised something special.

Turns out, those three tracks were the best on the album.

Indeed, grand openings were possibly always Jarre’s forte, from Oxygene to Equinoxe, through to Zoolook and Chronologie, and it is proved again here with a great moody scene-setter, The Watchers (Mvt.1) that is epic and sexy and cool. The second track, Flying Totems (Mvt.2), is a glorious throwback to when 1970s Jarre seemed to be the sound of The Future, reveling in classic analogue synth soundscapes. But then the album starts to fall apart, until it’s apparent that it is aimlessly meandering to its quick conclusion (the album scarcely over 30 minutes long). Its really quite disappointing, even for latter-day Jarre. Each track feels too short, and too shy of any fresh ideas. Perhaps Jarre is spending too much time on tour and not enough time in the studio- some of the tracks have promise but just when you’re expecting them to develop, they are suddenly over. Worse, the one track that is long enough to show some development, the final track that carries the title of the album and is over seven minutes long, just collapses into electronic beeps and whistles and ambient effects as if Jarre is trying to turn what amounts to a ten-track e.p. into a double-side album proper by just, well, literally stretching things out in a last gasp of effort.

Which is alarming, really. It seemed that Jarre was revitalised following his two Electronica albums of collaborations but he seems to have resumed the decline, and this brief album of synth doodles (which lets face is it is all that the majority of this album amounts to) is a pale shadow of his early classics. Pity.

But in the words of Obi-wan Kenobi, “there is another”, and that’s Vangelis, with his own new album out early next year. Let’s hope the Greek Maestro has another great album in him, while Jarre goes back to the drawing board (or his next concert).

Vangelis’ Nocturne?

There is a weird sense, here, of history repeating- many years ago during the ’80s I remember buying Jean Michel Jarre’s Revolutions album and it being overshadowed by news of Vangelis’ album Direct being released shortly after. So here we go again, with Jarre releasing last week his Equinoxe Infinity album (I’ll likely post a review sometime soon), and news that on December 7th a new Vangelis album, Nocturne, will be available to pre-order for a release presumably early in the New Year.

For whatever its worth, I like the title. You have to be wary of getting carried away with the possibilities because with Vangelis anything, frankly, is possible, but the title Nocturne carries with it all sorts of possibilities regards mood and ambience etc. We’ll have to wait and see, but I always get excited at news of a new Vangelis album. Its rare enough these days (Jarre seems to be getting busier and busier of late, obviously taking a page out of Ridley Scott’s book of dealing with old age, while Vangelis is definitely semi-retired now) but after all these years (well, okay, decades, let’s be brutal about it, we’re all getting on) the release of a new Vangelis album always brings back memories of past releases and past discoveries, of excitedly listening to new Vangelis music- the soundtrack of over half my life now, thinking about it. The grim truth is, how many new Vangelis albums even lie ahead? Anyone of them could be the last one. I’m reminded of one of my favourite rock bands, Rush, finally calling it a day awhile ago, following the release of their Clockwork Angels album- we fans may have suspected/feared it, but we didn’t know it was their last album for certain until after the following American tour. It’ll happen with Jarre, and Vangelis, eventually- they’ll either call it a day or life’s natural expiration date (hey! another Blade Runner reference snuck in!) will decide it for them.

Apologies for the maudln mood. I’m excited really.

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.