By 1997, nearly three decades into his career, Jean-Michel Jarre had finally achieved legendary status. All he needed to do was find a way to follow up on his debut chart hit Oxygène, and the world would be his oyster. So that’s what he did.
The album opens with Part 7, a bold, eleven minute piece which kicks off with single, bright synth notes, before building gradually into an enormous synth dance piece. Jarre was clearly in his element here – finally, mainstream music had caught up with him, and he was able to play along and show everybody else how it was done. He may no longer have been the cultish outsider, but he was really at his creative peak.
Jarre had already flirted with his past on 1994’s Chronologie, which had yielded a couple of hit singles, and so recording Oxygène (Part 8) must have been pretty straightforward. But this is so good! Somehow this is classic Jean-Michel Jarre, and yet he had never quite released anything like it before.
Part 9 is perhaps the gentlest piece on here, and the only one that strongly reminds the listener of the original album (although the same synthesisers were used, so the general “mood” remains the same across both releases).
Side B opens with Part 10, which was also the second single, albeit in a vastly reworked form. There’s something rather glorious about the melody, although somehow the backing is just a touch too cheesy to have ever performed well on the charts by itself. Then Part 11 is perhaps the least penetrable piece on here, and energetic, heavily arpeggiated piece, which fits perfectly in the album context, but might not have got too far if it had been released by itself.
Part 12 is brilliant though, and probably could have been a hit as well. Powered largely by a very bouncy synth arpeggio, the melody is cleverly hidden amongst the electronic chirps, and it’s an extremely beautiful piece of music. Then, finally, we reach Part 13, an even sweeter closing track than Part 6, which ended the original album. A simple and sweet pad melody with soft harmonies is accompanied by some slightly overwrought percussion, and that might seem like an unfair description, but I don’t think it’s too far off the mark. It’s still a fantastic piece of music.
When the original Oxygène album came out in 1976, he already had a handful of little-known releases under his belt, so it’s far from naïve, but this sequel is still infinitely more confident, and some might suggest therefore that it lacks some of the innocence of its predecessor. I don’t think that’s true – it may not be quite as close to perfection, but it’s still pretty darn close.