A 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.