[Review] Jean-Michel Jarre: Oxygene (1976)

Jean-Michel Jarre’s breakthrough album was a breath of fresh air.

Kronomyth 3.0: Out of thin air, a star.

Up until this point, Jean-Michael Jarre was a mostly unknown composer who had released a sample soundtrack (Deserted Palace) and a real soundtrack (to the film Les Granges Brulees) that featured a moderately successful single in the film’s theme song. None of this indicated that Jarre was destined for the Guinness World Records. In fact, his third album almost didn’t see the light of day. Fortunately, Jarre had good connections, and Oxygene was eventually released on Francis Dreyfus’ Disque Motors label at the prompting of Dreyfus’ wife, Helene. The rest, of course, is history.

Oxygene almost topped the UK charts, reaching number two. Although it only reached #78 in the US, for an album of electronic music that’s pretty amazing. I couldn’t tell you why the album was so successful, other than the fact that good fortune seems to follow Jarre. Oxygene is not an ostensibly better album than Tangerine Dream’s Stratosfear or VangelisAlbedo 0.39. Jarre’s mélange of space music, divided into six parts, is more accessible and melodic than his contemporaries, so maybe that made it an easier entrée for the average listener.

Having arrived later to the electronic party, at least in terms of published music, Jarre could be accused of borrowing from Tangerine Dream and Vangelis, sometimes in the same song (e.g., the popular Part V). Whether that’s a fair claim, I couldn’t say. I’m sure he listened to both artists. I’m also pretty sure he listened to Mike Oldfield, and yet there’s no audible connection between the two. Having studied music for years, Jarre didn’t need to look outside himself for inspiration.

Oxygene set the tone for Jarre’s subsequent albums, which were generally more streamlined than TD and Vangelis, less idiomatic than Yellow Magic Orchestra, and eventually became uniquely identifiable. It’s not my favorite Jarre album, as I tend to think he got better with time, although a dearth of successful space music albums from the 70s makes it something of a classic. My favorite part is the last, which makes an interesting connection between the sound of the surf and human breathing that perfectly reflects the album’s cover illustration.

Original elpee version

A1. Oxygene (Part I) (7:40)
A2. Oxygene (Part II) (8:10)
A3. Oxygene (Part III) (2:50)
B1. Oxygene (Part IV) (4:08)
B2. Oxygene (Part V) (10:31)
B3. Oxygene (Part VI) (6:16)

Composed by Jean-Michel Jarre.

The Players

Jean-Michel Jarre (A.R.P. synthesizer, A.K.S. synthesizer, V.C.S. 3 synthesizer, R.M.I. harmonic synthesizer, Farfisa organ, Eminent, mellotron, Rhythmin’ computer). Produced by Jean-Michel Jarre; mix engineered by Jean-Pierre Janiaud.

The Pictures

Cover art by Michel Granger.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and 8-track on December 5, 1976 in France (Disques Motors, MTO 77000), the US (Polydor, PD/CT/8T-1-6112), the UK (Polydor, 2310 055), Germany (Polydor, 2344 068) and Japan (Polydor, MPF-1098). Reached #2 on the UK charts and #78 on the US charts.

  1. Re-packaged with Equinoxe on 2-for-1 2CS in 1981 in the UK (Polydor).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc on September 21, 1993 in France and the US (Dreyfus, FDM 36140).
  3. Re-released on remastered compact disc in the US (Mobile Fidelity, UDCD-613).
  4. Re-released on 24-bit remastered compact disc in 1997 (Dreyfus, EPC 487375).

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