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Jean-Michel Jarre - Oxygene CD (album) cover

OXYGENE

Jean-Michel Jarre

 

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3.86 | 229 ratings

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Frankingsteins
2 stars One of the most famous composers of electronic 'new age' music, Jean-Michel Jarre became a surprising overnight success with the release of 'Oxygene' in 1976. Synthesiser technology was infiltrating musical genres steadily, the invention of the Moog sampler adding endless possibilities for artists relying heavily on instruments with circuitry.

Oxygene's historical release predated Kraftwerk's radio-friendly ditties by a few years, but albums composed entirely of synthesisers had already been achieved by the likes of Klaus Schulze and Vangelis. With this forty-minute suite, Jarre trims the epic scale from the likes of Tangerine Dream's 'Stratosfear' and instead offers listeners a melodic, catchy and upbeat musical experience that was, for its time, and only for its time, accomplished and unique.

1. Oxygene, Pt. 1 (7.42) 2. Oxygene, Pt. 2 (8.08) 3. Oxygene, Pt. 3 (2.54) 4. Oxygene, Pt. 4 (4.14) 5. Oxygene, Pt. 5 (10.23) 6. Oxygene, Pt. 6 (6.20)

The success of Oxygene's sales is surprising until the success of the dance-esque 'Oxygene, Pt. 4' single and the composer's lavish, Guinness-record-breaking stage shows are taken into account. The most concise and memorable offering, Part 4 bears odd similarities to Gershon Kingsley's earlier dance hit 'Popcorn' (a track Jarre had previously covered as 'Popcorn Orchestra'), but more restrained and, fitting the tone of the album, relaxed and spacey.

Oxygene holds together well as a whole, despite the longer tracks occasionally pushing patience, but the distinctions between phases are made clear, especially on repeated listens. Split into two halves due to the nature of the original vinyl, there is no dip in sound or fade-out until the close of track three. Parts 1 and 2 are held together by rolling waves and wind beneath the layers of synth to make a sixteen minute piece of music that avoids epic status for its reliance on repeating rhythms over and over. In contrast, part 3's limited presence really feels like an extra couple of minutes needed to be added to balance out the side lengths, but this isn't distracting enough to reduce Oxygene's relaxing mood.

The second half is more up-and-down, the afore-mentioned Part 4 opening as a funky, catchy space anthem before Parts 5 and 6 cause the album to drag on and outstay its relatively short welcome. By this point the atmospheric sound effects have pretty much overtaken anything original being performed on the keyboards, serving only to lengthen the chilled-out mood rather than to add anything of musical worth.

Oxygene represented a step forward as synthesised music entered the public domain, but its only real worth now is as a relic of the seventies. Jean-Michel Jarre's moods and melodies may have set the tone for 21st century ambient music, but on its own merits 'Oxygene' doesn't stand the test of time. The follow-up 'Equinoxe' continues in the same vein but impresses more with a greater shifting of rhythm and speed, but music fans seeking and emotional connection to synthesisers need to look elsewhere to the likes of Vangelis (his epic 'Heaven and Hell' or the soundtrack to 'Blade Runner') and progressive rock works such as Pink Floyd's 'Wish You Were Here.'

Crystal clear production and a sense of nostalgia and innovation don't render Oxygene of any interest to the average consumer, but it holds a special place in the history and evolution of popular music.

Frankingsteins | 2/5 |

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