This week we look at an oldie in every sense of the word. Forty years ago this week, a very young Jean Michel Jarre released his second album Les Granges Brûlées,
The main theme, La Chanson des Granges Brûlées, is rather beautiful, and actually should be up there with the best of Jarre’s work. Although he had yet to compose the epic Oxygène, he clearly already had a good idea what he was doing by this stage, having perhaps made the worst of his mistakes on some of his previous projects.
Which is not to say the rest of the album is up to the same standard – of the entire first half, a good chunk are either dreadful or merely pointless, and you can only hope that they sounded better in the original film of which this is the soundtrack.
The low point is track 5, Zig-Zag, which unbelievably was an early single for Jarre the following year. Perhaps, in the mid-1970s, the age of Popcorn and whatever else, this really did sound good. Perhaps he just needed a lively, extremely cheesy track to liven up a particular scene in the film. Or perhaps he really hadn’t learnt the mistakes of his last five years or so of music.
The most pleasant moments are when the main theme returns, such as in Le Car / Le Chasse-Neige and the title track Les Granges Brûlées towards the album’s close, as well as various times in between.
There are other pleasant moments – Descente au Village is a rather sweet little thirty second reprise of the main theme to a different rhythm. And the closing track Générique is also a stand-out version of the same melody, perhaps somewhat ironically given the title. Little more than half an hour has passed, and you feel as though you’ve been given something of an education in the history of synthesiser-based music.
For a recording so early in the history of both Jarre’s career and also the whole world of electronic music, it is perhaps unsurprising that it’s a little unsophisticated at times, but it is quite a fun listen, and also a fascinating one when you realise that his magnum opus Oxygène would appear on the scene a mere three years later, catapulting to the top of the French charts and dangerously close to the top in a score of other countries.
I think it is also fair to say that for all its failings, I really don’t think this album sounds forty years old. But then Oxygène definitely doesn’t sound thirty-seven years old. Living in the future is not all it was cracked up to be.
The full remastered album, perhaps best only for Jarre completists, can be found in iTunes here.