Jean-Michel Jarre – Équinoxe

There is a part of me, I must confess, that has always been a little disappointed that Jean-Michel Jarre has never recorded a formal sequel* to Équinoxe in the way that he has for Oxygène. This follow-up may have not quite had the success of its predecessor (although it didn’t do badly), but it seems to have been largely forgotten in the forty years since its original release.

Part 1 opens the album, and is a triumphant synth piece that harks back a little to Oxygène (Part III), but it’s also not entirely familiar, so not a bad way to kick things off. It mixes into Part 2, which is a gentler piece. There’s a lot of high-level synthetic sparkle, and it feels very much as though we’re building towards something, although it’s far from clear at this stage what that might end up being.

Turns out that it’s Part 3, a much more rhythmic piece than anything that had come before, with a deliciously bubbly sauntering melody. Part 3 is a particularly lovely piece, but ends by mixing into the heavily sequenced second single Part 4. This one should be pretty familiar, as Jarre has performed it live many times. What always strikes me is just how weak the lead part is on here – and on every version except for the one on Les Concerts en Chine, where he went to the trouble of beefing it up a bit. Otherwise, it’s a great electronic piece with an extremely and unfortunately anticlimactic lead line.

In many ways, though, it feels as though this album is a more fitting sequel to Oxygène than the second and third releases which followed that release. Now, forty years on, it’s fine that they sound so similar, but I would have also forgiven the audience of 1978 for having been a little disappointed with this as Jarre’s second full commercial release.

Starting Side B of the album, Part 5 is another track that gets rolled out for concerts pretty regularly, and also appeared as the lead single in late December 1978. If Jarre could ever be bothered to release a chronological singles collection, you would hear a natural progression between the Oxygène singles, these, and then Les Chants Magnétiques 2. I don’t think it’s exactly groundbreaking, but it’s pretty good nonetheless.

In a first for Jarre, Part 6 is a very clear continuation of Part 5, taking the synth arpeggio and advancing it. In a way it’s strange that he never released a 12″ single that used this as an extended mix of Part 5, but maybe that would have been a step too far.

Or maybe the parts of Équinoxe are a lot more of a continuation than those on the previous album – Part 7 builds from the same arpeggio, but grows into something rather glorious. It’s a little too triumphant at times, admittedly, but this is probably my favourite piece on this album – somehow the arpeggios and melody come together perfectly this time.

Well, then of course there’s Part 8, which you’ll know from some of his concerts. It’s definitely clever – he wrote and programmed his own punched-card piece, Band in the Rain, and this part opens with that, accompanied by a lot of rain noises. But you do have to wonder what he was thinking – exactly how does that fit with anything else on this album? Jean-Michel Jarre seems, at this point, to have gone a little bit crazy.

Part 8 continues, though, with a slower synth piece, almost as a coda to the rest of the album. Honestly, the damage is done by this point, though – what on earth was he thinking by including Band in the Rain as part of the album? Did he just not have enough freedom to release singles at this stage?

But Équinoxe is, for the most part, an exceptional album – the first seven parts, at least, while strongly echoing Oxygène, do advance his sound somewhat, and this album can now go down in history as one of Jarre’s finer moments. If only we could just tweak history a little, and accidentally omit the final track.

I gather purists aren’t keen, but I’d advise going with one of the most recent reissues, as some of the early versions had weird problems like flipped stereo and glitches. Read up first, or try one of these.

* At the time I wrote this post, it was true that there wasn’t a follow-up album, but by the time you read this, Équinoxe Infinity will have appeared in the shops. Hopefully it’s as good as the original album!

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