This autumn Jean-Michel Jarre turned 70. In the past three years he has released two double albums, one single album and this September, a huge compilation box called Planet Jarre. The latter to celebrate his 50th anniversary as an artist. He’s also been touring most of these years with a ground breaking light and laser show, and he also played Coachella this year.
And on November 16th he releases his fourth album in three years. The Frenchman has once again returned to one of his classic albums.
But where Oxygene 7-13 and Oxygene 3 were some kind of continuation of the original story, Equinoxe: Infinity is not a direct sequel to the original Equinoxe from 1978. The inspiration this time is the mysterious figures, the Watchers, from the original 1978 record cover. Who are the Watchers? What are they observing? Us?
Jarre also want to bring attention to AI (artificial intelligence), and how it can affect our society. Will it be our extinction or a blessing? Nevertheless, the album is published with two different covers, one showing heaven and the other showing hell. And it’s random who gets which cover when you buy physical copy, so you don’t know beforehand.
The opening track, The Watchers, does quote a bit of the first track on the original Equinoxe. However, the rest of the song is in a musical landscape we haven’t heard from Jarre before. Truth be told, The Watchers sounds more like a Vangelis ala Bladerunner track than Jarre.
But don’t worry! The entire album reeks of the Jarre trademarks. Like cascading arpeggios, bubbling sound effects, sustain and cross fades. However, there’s also material here that is very far from what he’s done before. Both good and bad.
The second track, Flying Totems, literally steals the theme of Industrial Revolutions Part 2 from the album Revolutions, released in 1988. However, it really works here, with its horn like synth lines, spiced up with Commodore 64 like sounds.
On the third track we move into a landscape consisting partly of Oxygene Part 2 and Oxygene Part 4 (yeah, the hit with the penguin video), lots of wonderful string sounds via the Eminent synth, and a playfulnes that is both nostalgic and catchy.
It’s on the fourth track, All that You Leave Behind, that we really venture into uncharted territory for Jarre. The track is pure Ennio Morrocone, thanks to the wailing harmonica sound running through the tune (sounding like the one The Orb borrowed on Little Fluffy Clouds). But just as the track moves over into rhythms and synthpop, he also starts mixing in melody lines that sound very similar to things he did on his first two albums, Deserted Palace (1972) and the soundtrack Les Granges Brulees (1973).
On If the Wind Could Speak and Infinity, we get parts of Deep Forest, mixed with parts kitchy Eurodance of the worst kind. All spiced with some Kygo and Avicii. If you mix this with 80s sounding “ahh ahh” synthesized voices, playing the main theme, we get a track that will make some listeners projectile vomit. I simply can’t decide whether I like Infinity or not. The parts where he paraphrases Equinoxe Part 5 from the original album are kind of fun. But I don’t know… At the same time, it is catchy.
Machines are Learning has a wonderful sequencer loop of the best Jarre kind. And he experiments and plays around with sounds and sampled voices, which makes it all into a wonderful transition leading into The Opening. The latter was also included on Planet Jarre. It’s a smoking hot pop song. Part Jarre, part Depeche Mode and part Nine Inch Nails. It should have been a bonafide hit single!
Don’t Look Back is like a waltz, and is definitely something Jarre has never done before, and it leads into the title track. This melody starts very Bladerunner-like (and repeats the theme from the first track), but then it goes into an ambient landscape like The Orb used to do. As the song goes on, Jarre is running amok and plays around with a wall of sounds. This is what he does best, and what made me a fan in the first place. The song, and record, then ebbs out in a satisfying way.
Jean-Michel Jarre, the godfather of electronic music, is clearly showing that he doesn’t care about fan expectations, nor does he give a shit about critics and he realises that the days of selling millions are over.
So then he simply concentrates on making wonderful electronic music. And I’m thankful for it!