I’ve never been a particular fan of JMJ, generally preferring my electronic instrumental music as either the full-blown ridiculously OTT progtastic fare of Wakeman or Wayne, or chugging motorik krautrock or the early electronic pioneers of Carlos, Derbyshire and Oram, or the neo-classical composers of Johann Johannson et al. That said, Jarre has written one of the most distinctive and recognisable synth-led tunes of modern times with Oxygène Part IV, so I bought this record for €1 at a record fair a couple of years ago and decided to give him a proper listen.
This album was Jarre’s second from 1976 and is still his most well-known and arguably his best. It effectively demonstrates his musical compositional abilities and way around an electronic keyboard. There’s more brightness here than you’d find with Kraftwerk for example, but far less emotion or warmth than you get from Vangelis. To my ears, it’s a technically distinctive piece of music, but it doesn’t move me in anyway.
Jarre is perhaps just as famous for his elaborate and expensive light shows than the actual music (and the fact that he still holds the world record for the largest-ever audience at his outdoor concerts), and I’m not sure that his music has developed a great deal since the mid-70s. The fact that he has subsequently produced an Oxygène 7-13 in 1997 and Oxygène 3 in 2016 to follow up, or ‘capitalise’ on the original’s success suggests not. I’m sure I’m doing him a disservice, for regardless of his output since, this remains one of the definitive albums of electronic music, helping to popularise it further, and sporting the ever-popular single Oxygène Part IV. It’s not surprising its so popular and familiar of course, since parts of it are based on the instrumental track Popcorn by Gershon Kingsley on the fantastically-titled 1969 album Music to Moog By.
France has a long history of pioneering electronic music composers: Pierre Henry, Pierre Schaeffer, Eliane Radigue and the Groupe de Recherches Musicales school in Paris. I wouldn’t put Jarre on a par with his musique concrete idols, but he’s still an important figure in the development and popularisation of purely electronic music.
Best Bits: Oxygene Part V, which starts with some churchy organ, and then segues into something entirely different halfway through, where it feels as though he’s invented a whole new form of dance music. It’s then complimented by a musical motif which at times sounds a little like Ravel’s Bolero and at others like the reed pipes of Saharan Berbers from French Morocco.
Genre: Electronic Synth-Pop
Like This, Try This: Popcorn – sweet or salty