Sound — 7
Along with Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, and Vangelis, Jean-Michel Jarre's work is considered to be pioneering in the electronic music scene, with his albums "Oxygene" and "Oxygene 2" being considered benchmarks for early electronic music. Recorded in the mid-'70s in a makeshift home studio, the first of those two albums was an early example of a sort of ambient kind of electronic music some call "chill-out," and their mostly percussionless sound consisted of mainly washes of synth pads with some melodic lines beeping and blooping away. Jarre's career, of course, took off from there and he's probably now most immediately associated with wacky instruments like the laser harp (which is exactly what it sounds like), and he eventually recorded a sequel to the album in 1997, with many of the same instruments, but with some newer ones added.
This record is more of the same as the first two, partly recorded with the same synthesizers (primarily an ARP 2600 and Eminent 310 electronic organ, as well as a variety of Moog, Korg, and Nord synths and sequencers) as those records, and largely relies on throbbing bass lines, washes of low synth notes, the bleeps and bloops of staccato synth melodies (or "popcorn" synth lines, as some call them). In tracks like "Part 16" (all of the tracks are without titles, just part numbers), there are the occasional modern "wub" sounds associated with more current styles of electronic music, but much of the music on display still sounds like it's cut from the same cloth as those early 1970s electronic innovators. Percussion only makes brief and largely background appearances in the music, not being present in every single track, but rather when called for. The beats used are rather simple and sparse, and some of the material, such as "Part 16," could be considered very danceable.
Opening tracks "Part 14" and "Part 15" are much more ambient, spaced-out tracks that seem to serve more as a great background track than something you'd really want to dig into while listening. "Part 18" is characterized by its swelling chords and almost guitar-like melody line, and while it's the album's shortest piece, it's my favourite from the record, and even kind of evokes a bit of a post-rock atmosphere. "Part 17" and "Part 19" don't really offer up anything too interesting to me, mostly just the same kind of sounds found throughout the rest of the album, and "Part 20" gets off to a really cool start with some rising organ chords that almost kind of sound as if you could rev up an electronic organ like a Harley, but doesn't really go anywhere after that's done and it feels like kind of an anticlimactic way to end the album.
The production is clean, definitely a sign that Jarre's recording equipment has improved since the 1970s, but unfortunately the album does sound a little sterile at times, like a lot of the work is being done by sequencers rather than being played by hand. Such is the problem with many modern albums by highly respected classic electronic music artists, the production often comes off as sounding just a little bit too clean. It's a good sounding album, but it is lacking something organic about it. This is not merely because of it being an all electronic album, as works like Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express" and Vangelis' "Albedo 0.39" are entirely electronic albums that still somehow capture that organic, human-performed essence to them.
Lyrics — 7
This album is, like the first two "Oxygenes," entirely instrumental. And to be honest, the album doesn't need lyrics. Lyrics would likely ruin the ambiance and detract from the synths.
Overall Impression — 7
While the first "Oxygene" album is considered an all-time classic in electronic music and one of the greatest records from that pioneering early era of synthesizers, and the second one was sort of an end of an era for him (the last of his records in his "traditional" style until the release of this one), this album comes out in a sea of electronic music that's as stylistically fragmented as metal, with thousands of artists all going in so many directions that it's easy for an album like this to get lost in the maelstrom. This album is a largely adequate, proficient release. It's sure to please fans of Jarre's '70s and '80s output, and anyone who enjoys that early style of electronic music, undisturbed by modern trappings such as dubstep drops and breakbeats. And perhaps people who have never really enjoyed electronic music because of those current styles might find themselves enjoying this, though if you're going to use an album like this to get into early electronic music, I'd suggest starting from a different point like any of Kraftwerk's post-"Autobahn" albums from the '70s.
Overall, it's not a difficult album to listen to, but it is a bit difficult to really digest. It kind of just plods along, rathering to stay in the background, just being pleasant without really doing too much that's overly interesting. That's not necessarily a very bad thing, there are a lot of very nice moments on the album, and a couple of points where things feel like they're about to get interesting, but my issue with this kind of music has always been that pieces never really seem to have a particular direction. They never really rise and fall or swell or change in any way, just continue with very little evolution. This album doesn't really do anything differently. But don't let that dissuade you from at least checking this out. And if you've never heard Jarre's music before, I'm definitely going to recommend at least checking out the first "Oxygene" record, since it's a bit more of an authentic taste of this style of music with a bit more of that organic, tape-recorded feel.