The Strange Journey of Vangelis’ Juno to Jupiter

Juno to JupiterIndeed, how strange. Vangelis has a new album coming out on September 25th, titled  Juno to Jupiter, which, in a similar way to both his 2001 Mythodea album and 2016 Rosetta album, is thematically tied to a space mission exploring the solar system. Vangelis has a deep interest in the cosmos and its wonders and as Carl Sagan discovered many years ago, his music is ideally suited to dealing with such futuristic/grand subjects. Anyway, that isn’t whats odd about it. The odd thing is that I’m listening to the album now, have been enjoying it for several days in fact. Have I used a Time Machine to travel to the future and pick up a copy of the maestro’s latest work in order to bring it back to this grim summer of isolation, social distancing and working at home?

In a nod to a sign o’ the times (sorry, Prince), it was announced several weeks ago that Vangelis had this new album coming out soon, but that it would first be released as a digital download, only coming out later on CD. This has happened increasingly over the past few years- Watertower Music, for instance, has released soundtracks to HBO shows like Game of Thrones and Westworld on digital as soon as  their respective seasons have aired, only bringing out CD editions a few months later (I seem to recall Max Richter’s Ad Astra soundtrack album also had a delayed physical release). No doubt many musicians have done the same, but Vangelis finally going the digital route first seems, well, just a further indication of the shift away from physical releases and is a bit annoying in truth. I also think there are so few factories actually producing CDs, Blu-rays, Game discs etc now (I actually read awhile back that it was as few as four worldwide, I have no idea if that’s true), that there is a long waiting list perhaps only exasperated by Covid 19, and that many new film releases on DVD/Blu-ray have had limited initial runs creating some shortages at retail.

The original news of the album coming out was unofficial, just the usual Internet Grapevine, lacking any release date info, although someone involved in the album, Soprano Angela Gheorghiu, originally mentioned a July date that clearly never happened. It would seem however that an August date was possibly originally intended, because a music news website suddenly announced an August 7th release date for the digital version, and immediately an online store suddenly started selling it. It should be noted that his was a reputable online store of classical music (based in the UK) which I was familiar with myself, that has been in business for nearly twenty years online and with a high street store longer than that. The album didn’t appear on Amazon or other vendors though, who still  didn’t even have the album up for pre-order. It would seem someone had jumped the gun, and since this online store clearly had the music files there would seem some credence to the possibility that August was an original release date that was at some point deferred, possibly to ensure it could get a proper marketing/publicity push in the meantime. Maybe both the site that issued the news about August 7th and the store that sold it didn’t get the memo that Covid had possibly spoiled/delayed yet another party.

Ha, ha, there’s a thought- Vangelis suddenly has something in common with James Bond and Christopher Nolan’s Tenet.

I don’t know how digital releases work, or how close to a release date content files etc are distributed out to retail outlets. I know with physical releases stocks of CDs/vinyl albums tend to arrive from warehouses a week or so prior to release date, but digital files? Like cinemas having digital copies of movies on secure hard-drives, digital is all smoke and mirrors to me, and pretty much irrelevant as I’m old-school physical.

So anyway, many Vangelis fans eagerly went to the online store and bought a copy that weekend. I didn’t hear of this till a day or two later, when it was announced as a leak -which I suppose it was, even though it wasn’t a case of someone simply illegally uploading an album onto YouTube or a file-sharing site for the sea-faring mob wearing eye-patches. Fans were buying the album like any other retail purchase, and I assume at least some of the money went to the label/Vangelis, but the label and Vangelis’ team weren’t too impressed and immediately ordered the site to remove the album from sale, questioning its authenticity and stating its proper release date of September 25th (elsewhere it seemed to become established that the CD was getting released on November 6th). The online store dutifully removed it from sale.

Fans able to have purchased the album and listened to it described it as very good and a welcome addition to the maestro’s discography, with flavours of Rosetta and Mythodea, while some professed amused bemusement that it might not actually be Vangelis’ album, but some sort of sophisticated Replicant instead (see what I did there?). The album was quickly becoming as fabled and notorious as his original limited edition release of El Greco.  Confusion reigned triumphant. As a longtime fan of Vangelis (since the late 1970s and the glory of his Nemo days) I was naturally annoyed to have missed out on the opportunity to buy the album – I’d be buying the CD edition, naturally, but getting the chance to hear it a few months early for a few quid would prove impossible to resist. Its a few more coppers in the bank for Vangelis and his label and maybe would improve its sales record- I’m pretty sure, after all, that these early digital releases are at least partly about getting fans to double-dip, and take advantage of their fandom/eagerness. Its done with movies these days and I’m always  amused at the daftness of folks buying digital downloads to see a film a few weeks before their Blu-ray copy arrives, people want everything NOW these days, unable to wait. But films are one thing, Vangelis quite another- I’m sure I would not be alone in buying a CD copy after the download, and I’m also pretty sure others would go one step further and buy the vinyl album edition if/when it comes. Oh well, it immediately seemed purely hypothetical.

And then a few days later the online store put the album up for sale again. Maybe it was getting released after all. Confusion reigned triumphant once more. Fans online in newsgroups etc were perplexed, what was going on? Still didn’t appear on Amazon or other sites yet (indeed as I type this, it still hasn’t, oddly enough). But I couldn’t resist. I’ll be honest, as daft as it might seem to many, had it been a file posted on the ‘net to download for free, I wouldn’t have touched it with a barge pole, but what seemed to be a legitimate retail transaction? Less than a tenner to listen to a new Vangelis album while sitting at my desk here in my spare bedroom/man-cave being miserable ‘at work’? The next morning I noticed that the album had been removed from sale again. Locked away for a few more weeks, I expect.

You know, I quite wish for the old days, the simpler times, and that Vangelis and the label had simply released it on CD at the same time as digital, whether it be September or November. I have no idea how often this kind of thing happens but it does seem a bit farcical, more akin to how our current Government here chooses to run our country. Juno to Jupiter is a wonderful album and vintage Vangelis (I suspect it isn’t a sophisticated Replicant, but if it is, its hoodwinked me, and I’ve been listening to the maestro’s music for decades. It really doesn’t deserve to have been subject to this strange journey. I would be absolutely fascinated to learn what went wrong, how and why, regards its preemptive/aborted release, maybe that info will come out. Seems all rather bonkers. Something to do with living in an increasingly digital world, with so many of us still pining for the analogue world of our past. I think back to the pre-internet, and being so pleasantly surprised and elated at an advert for Vangelis’ album Direct, out just a week later as if out of nowhere…

Out of respect to Vangelis, I won’t be posting a review of the album until its release date, and I shall of course be pre-ordering the CD as soon it is becomes available to do so, so it can join all my other Vangelis albums in my collection. I will just point out that in these days of lockdown and working from home and all this other Covid 19 madness, this music has been a very helpful tonic. Its a great, great album with some genuine surprises, and is a big improvement on Rosetta (an album I liked but never really loved).  As usual for Vangelis, the magic is in how lushly romantic the music is, and how his electronic textures evoke the ancient past as well as the distant future. I don’t know how he does it, but it never gets old. Deeply emotive and following a narrative that mirrors the odyssey of discovery that Juno represents, the music is at turns symphonic, funky in a jazzy sort of way (no doubt that/s Vangelis improvising all the time), uplifting, scary… its Vangelis at his very best, albeit lacking that particular Nemo sound that I am so attached to (Vangelis must be so weary of old fans like me). As well as Mythodea and Rosetta, I’d also note a surprising similarity to some of Oceanic. Definitely an album anyone interested in Vangelis’ music should be looking out for when it is finally, properly released in September (or November, depending on format).

What a strange, crazy Covid world we live in these days. But I have to say, Juno to Jupiter has just been making it easier. Bravo, Vangelis, as always.

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.