Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine

I don’t know, you wait eight years for a new Jean-Michel Jarre album, and then three turn up at once. Sorry, I know that’s an obvious thing to say, but it is amusingly apposite. The fun but definitely questionable Téo & Téa (2007) left a slightly iffy taste in a lot of people’s mouths, and apart from the re-recorded and questionably legal version of Oxygène that followed the same year, there was then an extended silence until 2015.

What he was doing, it turns out, was working with every other electronic musician under the sun to create a two volume album, Electronica. The first opens with the sweet title track The Time Machine, with Boys Noize, and then comes one of the opening singles, Glory, with M83. So far, so pleasant.

Both of these albums have been criticised for being a bit disjointed, which, while not entirely unfair, seems a bit of an odd thing to say – of course they are, they’re effectively compilations of collaborations. But the sequence is generally logical, and there isn’t really anything particularly bad on here, so it’s hard to be too critical.

Fellow French musicians Air turn up next, for Close Your Eyes. Some tracks seem to have a lot more of Jarre, and others have a lot more of his collaborators on them, and in general, this one ends up sounding like Air might if they employed Jarre as a producer. That is to say, pretty good.

The first time you can really call something here “brilliant” is on the two parts of Automatic, both collaborations with Vince Clarke. For Clarke, this sounds a lot like his recent solo and collaborative electronic projects, but Jarre’s influence is clearly audible here too, particularly in Part 2, and both halves of the track really are excellent.

The increasingly great Little Boots turns up next, pretty much the only musician other than Jarre to make the laser harp part of their live show, and their collaboration is If..! (yes, two dots). While it’s certainly true that Jarre did something on this one, it’s difficult to know exactly what, but it’s a great song nonetheless.

They keep coming – Immortals, with Fuck Buttons, is an excellent meeting of minds, and while Suns Have Gone with Moby may not be the high point of either artist’s career, you have to be glad that it happened.

It is undeniably an odd list of collaborators though – which is not to say that Gesaffelstein shouldn’t be here – after all, why not? Few might put him in their top thirty living artists of all time list, but the resulting track Conquistador is pretty good. This isn’t so true of Travelator (Part 2) (there doesn’t appear to be a part 1), with Pete Townshend, which I’m not convinced does the legacy of either great musician any particular favours.

That isn’t true of what is apparently Edgar Froese‘s last recorded work, Zero Gravity, which after so many decades finally brings us the joint credit of Jean-Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream, and it’s ever bit as excellent as it should be. It’s also nice to see Jarre revisiting his earlier musical partner Laurie Anderson for the decidedly odd Rely on Me.

Where these two albums both go a little astray for me is with the number of tracks – they’re varied, but after thirteen pieces of music and with no end in sight, you’re always going to be a little weary. Towards the end of the first volume, we get a fun trance excursion with  Armin van BuurenStardust, followed by the weirdly dubby Watching You, with 3D from Massive Attack.

Right at the end, John Carpenter turns up for the appropriately creepy A Question of Blood, and finally pianist Lang Lang accompanies an atmospheric piece on album closer The Train & The River. It’s a long, varied, and complex album, but in general it stands well on its own, and if you consider yourself a fan of any sort of electronic music, you should probably be a fan of this.

You can find part 1 of the Electronica project at all major retailers.

Little Boots – Working Girl

Three albums in, Little Boots is clearly brilliant. Actually, she was brilliant from the start, but with her third album Working Girl there really isn’t a lot you can criticise.

After a brief telephone Intro, the first song is the title track. It’s catchy, with a bouncy beat behind it, and a maturity that really ought to be very appealing. Unfortunately, each of Little Boots‘s releases has performed slightly worse than its predecessor, so while it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that this single failed to chart, the album’s low-end peak is definitely a disappointment.

The bouncy underground beats continue with No Pressure, which, like some of her earlier works, suffers a little in the verse, but builds into a great chorus. It still went down very well when she performed live, as did the next track Get Things Done.

The theme on this album is one of retro 1980s business, so Get Things Done sounds – I think intentionally – like the slogan of some kind of delivery company, a device which also frames a great song.

There are a few less memorable moments on here, and Taste It is one of those, although it shares a writing credit with one of Simian Mobile Disco, so it really should have been great. Real Girl is better, but probably not something you’ll be singing to yourself after the album finishes. Heroine will stick with you a little longer, and it has a bit of a melancholic disco sound, which makes it stand out somewhat too.

Things go a whole lot more disco with The Game, and then comes the plodding but surprisingly beautiful Help Too. By this stage in the album, in spite of a few ups and downs, it should be firmly lodged in your mind as a good one. In fact, while it doesn’t include Remedy or New in Town, it could be even better than either of its predecessors.

In a way, the oddest thing here is how consistent the production is – every track has a different producer, and on Business Pleasure it is the turn of the brilliantly named Com Truise to turn up, co-write, and turn the knobs. The result is one of the better tracks on here, and that’s also true for Paradise, which has a brilliantly epic feel to it as well as a certain simplicity which works extremely well.

There’s nothing epic about Better in the Morning – the simplicity is key to this track, but it’s also charming and quite brilliant. It doesn’t quite have a melody, and that would normally be a turn-off for me, but somehow this is different. And placing it right at the end is clearly genius – you’ll be chanting this one for weeks.

So Little Boots‘s third outing might have a few low points, but for the most part it’s another great pop album – possibly greater than anything she’s released before. If you can grab a copy that includes the bonus track Desire, that’s well worth having too.

You can find Working Girl at all major retailers.

Albums chart of the year 2016

Here are the top albums of last year, for stowaways:

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  2. New Order – Music Complete [number 1 in 2015]
  3. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine [number 6 in 2015]
  4. David Bowie – Best Of Bowie
  5. Pet Shop Boys – Super
  6. David Bowie – Blackstar
  7. Conjure One – Holoscenic [released in 2015]
  8. Clarke Hartnoll – 2Square
  9. David Bowie – Nothing Has Changed [number 25 in 2015]
  10. Shit Robot – What Follows
  11. Róisín Murphy – Hairless Toys [number 26 in 2015]
  12. C Duncan – The Midnight Sun
  13. Air – Twentyears
  14. I Monster – Bright Sparks
  15. Delerium – Mythologie
  16. David Bowie – The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
  17. Yello – Toy
  18. Little Boots – Working Girl [number 4 in 2015]
  19. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
  20. David Bowie – Hunky Dory

More in a year or so…

Chart for stowaways – 16 July 2016

Here are this week’s top albums:

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  2. Clarke Hartnoll – 2Square
  3. I Monster – Bright Sparks
  4. Pet Shop Boys – Super
  5. New Order – Music Complete
  6. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine
  7. David Bowie – Best of Bowie
  8. The Future Sound of London – Environment Five
  9. Conjure One – Holoscenic
  10. Little Boots – Working Girl

Chart for stowaways – 4 June 2016

These are the albums for this week:

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  2. Pet Shop Boys – Super
  3. New Order – Music Complete
  4. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine
  5. Conjure One – Holoscenic
  6. Róisín Murphy – Hairless Toys
  7. David Bowie – Changesonebowie
  8. David Bowie – Best Of Bowie
  9. Little Boots – Working Girl
  10. Leftfield – Alternative Light Source

Chart for stowaways – 21 May 2016

Here are this week’s top albums:

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  2. Pet Shop Boys – Super
  3. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine
  4. New Order – Music Complete
  5. Conjure One – Holoscenic
  6. Róisín Murphy – Hairless Toys
  7. David Bowie – Best of Bowie
  8. Little Boots – Working Girl
  9. Brian Eno – The Ship
  10. Leftfield – Alternative Light Source

Chart for stowaways – 7 May 2016

Let’s take a look at this week’s top albums:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Super
  2. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine
  3. New Order – Music Complete
  4. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  5. Conjure One – Holoscenic
  6. Róisín Murphy – Hairless Toys
  7. David Bowie – Best of Bowie
  8. Little Boots – Working Girl
  9. David Bowie – Nothing Has Changed
  10. Leftfield – Alternative Light Source