Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Live in Your Living Room)

The last year or so has seen a lot of anniversaries for Jean-Michel Jarre, from his debut single La Cage / Erosmachine, which celebrated its forty-fifth anniversary last year, to Oxygène celebrating its fortieth, and its sequel celebrating its twentieth. Many of those have been celebrated here too.

A decade ago, for the thirtieth anniversary of the original release of Oxygène, Jarre went back and re-recorded the whole thing using exactly the same sounds and instrumentation, giving his lawyers a somewhat inevitable headache when his original record company decided to object. But more interesting than that is the DVD which accompanies the New Master Recording of Oxygène. Entitled Live in Your Living Room, it’s a fantastic live experience.

It opens with Prelude, a beautiful jam built around the sounds from Part I and Part II of Oxygène, which wanders along very pleasantly for just a touch over six minutes before passing the baton back to the first side of the original album. While the DVD’s sound quality is far from perfect, it’s a great and refreshing new way to relive an exceptional piece of music.

What I wouldn’t necessarily recommend is the 3D experience – there were four versions of the album when it came out: one free with a famously racist British newspaper; one as a single disc; then a double disc with the live DVD; and a separate double disc with the 3D version of the live DVD. At the time, the latter sounded pretty exotic, but as we now know after a decade or so of being forced to watch the latest Hollywood blockbusters in 3D, there’s really very little special about them.

Broadly, these versions are similar enough to the originals, although Part II now has a stomping bass part. But it’s the Variations that really steal the show here – after Part III ends, rather than you having to get up and flip the record over to Side B, you’re treated instead to another gentle piece, rippling along with shades and echoes from the first three tracks. Variation I is really a rather wonderful surprise.

This broader take on the album is expanded out to a full hour, but side B opens, as it should, with Part IV, sounding quite fantastic, again with a large stomping bass part, before the surprising appearance of Variation II, initially sounding a bit like a precursor to Part VI. Much as I love the second and third Oxygène albums, it is perhaps a bit of a shame that the Variations have never yet made it onto a full album release.

After the longest track on the album Part V, we get the last of the new tracks, Variation III, which frankly is brilliant – definitely the best of the new interludes, and possibly even one of the best tracks on here. Honestly, it’s just a continuation of Part V, but whereas the original is long and pensive, this is energetic and beautiful.

All you need after all that is the serene Part VI, and you have an exceptional anniversary celebration – something that’s possibly actually better than the original. Maybe in a decade or so, he could celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of Oxygène 7-13 with something similar?

This album is sadly no longer available – hopefully you can find a second-hand copy for a sensible price.

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Chart for stowaways – 7 October 2017

Here are the week’s top singles:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Reunion
  2. Erasure – Love You To The Sky
  3. Kraftwerk – Trans Europa Express
  4. Kraftwerk – Computerliebe
  5. Depeche Mode – Going Backwards
  6. Saint Etienne – Magpie Eyes
  7. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)
  8. Pet Shop Boys – I’m with Stupid
  9. David Bowie – Heroes
  10. Massive Attack – Ritual Spirit EP

Retro chart for stowaways – 13 November 2004

Just for a bit of variety, let’s take a look at the albums chart from thirteen years ago this week!

  1. Depeche Mode – Remixes 81-04
  2. Client – City
  3. Dirty Vegas – One
  4. Delerium – The Best of Delerium
  5. Bent – Ariels
  6. Jean-Michel Jarre – Aero
  7. Groove Armada – The Best of
  8. Air – Talkie Walkie
  9. Client – Client
  10. Duran Duran – Astronaut

Jean-Michel Jarre – Sessions 2000

In 2000, Jean-Michel Jarre should have been on a high – already long-regarded as a legend, and a quarter of a century into his career, he had just celebrated the twentieth anniversary of his defining album Oxygène with its follow-up Oxygène 7-13, helped bring in the new millennium with an enormous concert at the pyramids in Giza, and was about to release his most commercial album to date, Metamorphoses.

It’s the “commercial” part that seems to have been where it all went wrong. While not badly received, Metamorphoses largely passed unnoticed, and Jarre’s longstanding record company Disques Dreyfus showed indifference. So Jarre did what we would all do in this situation: made an album of deep, electronic jazz music.

The feud with the record company would continue for several more years, and in the meantime we would see low-key releases of both Sessions 2000 (2002) and Geometry of Love (2003), although sadly Experimental 2001, which was long-rumoured, never appeared. Or maybe it’s not that sad – if it’s really as experimental as all that, maybe we don’t need to hear it.

If you aren’t expecting it, the warping bass, gentle pads, rippling piano, and occasional percussive drums of January 24 will come as something of a surprise – possibly enough of one that you might turn the album off in disgust without giving it a chance. But this is an album that rewards repeated listening, and this opening track is no exception.

Better though, is the beautiful March 23. One of the longer tracks on the album, it uses the bass line as a key part of its melody, and is full of elegance and subtle form. The brass lead helps of course, but somehow it feels as though it’s playing second fiddle to the bass, so to speak.

This is not, however, an album to be enjoyed solely as individual tracks – its forty minute playing time is best digested as a single piece of music, as it floats past you, and the more dub-inspired May 1 drifts along with its deep pads and piano.

Much as I liked the Jarre of the late 1990s, as he made the most of his legendary status and tried to sell some records, in many ways this is what he should have been doing at the turn of the millennium: retreating into his studio and making beautiful electronic music.

June 21 is one of the most jazz-inspired pieces, but you also can’t help but wonder whether perhaps it owes something to 1983’s Zoolook album, with its odd samples. There’s something rather beautiful about it, in spite of it ostensibly being jazz music.

The longest track of all here is September 14, clocking in at nine-and-a-half minutes precisely. It’s probably the least interesting track too, sounding almost plodding, as it steps along with its ride cymbals. Pretty much everything on here has been heard somewhere else on the album, including the bizarre vocal samples and the dub effects. Then again, enjoyed as a constituent part of the album, it does fit pretty well.

Finally, Christmas draws on with the wintry December 17. Far dreamier and softer than any of the tracks that came before it, it’s a perfect closing track to what may have been, assuming the dates are actual recording dates, an unintentionally well structured album. Or maybe they’re just titles, based on the mood of the pieces.

Either way, Sessions 2000 is a surprisingly good, understated album, and it’s definitely tempting to wish that Jarre had released a few more like this in the (largely quiet) fifteen years that have followed.

The CD version of Sessions 2000 has long since fallen out of print, but you may be able to find a second-hand copy floating around somewhere.

Chart for stowaways – 9 September 2017

Here are the week’s top singles:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Reunion
  2. Erasure – Love You To The Sky
  3. Saint Etienne – Magpie Eyes
  4. Saint Etienne – Sweet Arcadia
  5. Kraftwerk – Trans Europa Express
  6. Pet Shop Boys – Winner
  7. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)
  8. Pet Shop Boys – I’m with Stupid
  9. Kraftwerk – Computerliebe
  10. Pet Shop Boys – It’s a Sin

Chart for stowaways – 1 September 2017

Here’s the updated album chart:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Release
  2. Pet Shop Boys – Nightlife
  3. Pet Shop Boys – Fundamental
  4. Saint Etienne – Home Counties
  5. Erasure – World Be Gone
  6. Goldfrapp – Silver Eye
  7. Kraftwerk – 3-D Der Katalog
  8. Depeche Mode – Spirit
  9. Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
  10. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3

Chart for stowaways – 26 August 2017

These are the top ten singles at the time of writing:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Reunion
  2. Erasure – Love You To The Sky
  3. Saint Etienne – Sweet Arcadia
  4. Saint Etienne – Magpie Eyes
  5. Pet Shop Boys – Winner
  6. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)
  7. Pet Shop Boys – I’m with Stupid
  8. Erasure – Be Careful What You Wish For!
  9. Dave Gahan – Saw Something / Deeper and Deeper
  10. Pet Shop Boys – I started a joke