A quarter of a century ago this week, Jean-Michel Jarre released his eleventh studio album Chronologie. While he had never truly been overlooked, some of its predecessors such as 1988’s Revolutions were somewhat uninspired, whereas Chronologie heavily harked back to some of his earlier material and was, to an extent, a return to form.
It also marked a return to the large single-work albums that had characterised his early career. The eleven-minute Part 1, which opens the album, morphs pleasantly from a huge, symphonic piece, to sliding scales, and finally warped atmospheric sounds. When that finally breaks down, we fall into the dramatic French-only third single Part 2, an organ-based piece that bounces along very merrily for six minutes or so in its album form.
Closing Side A is the soft choral pad and orchestral-styled piece Part 3, which really is traditional Jarre in every way. The sounds he’s using here may not be particularly challenging to the listener, but he does seem to have finally found his place in the world of music.
Side B launches with the glorious lead single Part 4, which careered to number 55 in the UK, and then four months later saw a reissue which peaked one place lower in the charts. Frankly, it deserved much better – it’s easily the best track on here, an uptempo, catchy, beautiful dance-electronic piece that’s every bit as good as anything Jarre had released in the preceding decade.
Part 5 is a slightly odd, schizophrenic piece – the first half is gentle and laid back, then the second half is tribal and full of drama and hip hop scratches. It makes for a welcome break between the singles, but it’s difficult to know exactly what he was up to here.
Part 6 was the second single, released (and hitting the charts) as an album-length single in the UK. This was the album where Jarre really discovered remixes, and found that they could aid his commercial success. This single was a prime candidate, full as it is of punchy electronic sounds – it’s another brilliantly catchy piece which really should have been a huge hit.
The sound of a fly carries us through to the broader, creepier Part 7, which viewed on its own is a slightly pointless filler that serves relatively little function here. Then, finally, Part 8 arrives to close the album out. At the beginning, this is a triumphant piece which actually sounds a bit out of place here initially. Eventually, it breaks out into a different track, with more hip hop samples and an uncomfortable swing beat. Most of the album had been going so well, and then Jean-Michel Jarre chooses to close with this? The cuckoo-clock breakdown at the halfway point is every bit as daft as you might think from the description.
But whatever the shortcomings of the latter tracks, Chronologie is a very worthy return to form for Jarre, who by this time was already more than two decades into his career. Next step, more Oxygène!
The 2015 misspelt reissue of Chronology is still widely available.