|Studio album by|
|Released||5 December 1976|
|Recorded||August–November 1976, Paris|
|Jean-Michel Jarre chronology|
|Singles from Oxygène|
Oxygène (French pronunciation: [ɔksiʒɛn], English: Oxygen) is the third studio album by French electronic musician and composer Jean-Michel Jarre and his first album not intended for use as a soundtrack. Oxygène consists of six tracks, numbered simply "Oxygène Part I" to "Part VI". It was first released in France in December 1976, on the Disques Dreyfus record label licensed to Polydor, with an international release following in the middle of 1977. The album reached number one on the French charts, number two on the UK charts and number 78 in the US charts.
Jarre recorded the album in a makeshift home recording studio using a variety of analogue synthesizers, one digital synthesizer, as well as other electronic instruments and effects. It became a bestseller and was Jarre's first album to achieve mainstream success. It was highly influential in the development of electronic music from that point onward and has been described as the album that "led the synthesizer revolution of the Seventies" and "an infectious combination of bouncy, bubbling analog sequences and memorable hook lines".
Prior to 1976, Jarre had dabbled in a number of projects, including an unsuccessful synthesizer music album, advertising jingles and compositions for a ballet. His inspiration for Oxygène came from a painting by the artist Michel Granger (given to Jarre by his future wife Charlotte Rampling), which showed the Earth peeling to reveal a skull. Jarre obtained the artist's permission to use the image for this album.
Jarre composed Oxygène over a period of eight months using a number of analogue synthesizers and an eight-track recorder set up in the kitchen of his apartment. However, he found it difficult to get the record released, not least because it had "No singers, no proper [track] titles, just 'I', 'II', 'III', 'IV', 'V' and 'VI'".
The motif of the track "Oxygène Part IV" is a variation on a phrase from "Popcorn" by Gershon Kingsley, which Jarre himself had previously covered under the pseudonyms of "Pop Corn Orchestra" and "Jamie Jefferson". The drum sounds were produced using two presets simultaneously on a Korg Mini Pops drum machine.
Jarre eventually found a publisher, Francis Dreyfus, head of Disques Motors (now Disques Dreyfus). Dreyfus was the husband of one of Jarre's fellow-pupils at the Groupe de Recherches Musicales of Pierre Schaeffer, where Jarre had learned to use synthesizers, including the EMS VCS 3, which was to play a major part in the music of Oxygène. Although Dreyfus was initially skeptical about electronic music, he gambled by pressing a run of 50,000 copies. The album went on to sell 15 million copies.
In 1997, Jarre produced a sequel album called Oxygène 7–13. This refers to the original album as being the first six movements from a larger complete piece of work, despite the time difference between the release of the two albums. It was written in the same style and using some of the same instruments, although the work is much more up-tempo. Jarre was clear about not trying to copy the mood or atmosphere from the original album, but using the same work approach to "create a mood later".
In 2007, Jarre produced a new version of the album, recorded live on a stage, but with no audience, for a DVD release that included 3D video. The title of the new DVD CD set is Oxygène: Live in Your Living Room, with the enhanced CD being called Oxygène: New Master Recording. He used the same instruments, but performed the work with three other collaborators (Dominique Perrier, Francis Rimbert and Claude Samard), rather than overdubbing all parts himself.
Reaction to the album upon its release in the UK in July 1977 was largely negative: the British music press, more interested in the developing UK punk scene, was oriented towards guitar-based music and hostile to most electronic music. Angus MacKinnon of the NME derided Oxygène as "just another interminable cosmic cruise. The German spacers ([Tangerine] Dream, Schulze et al) mapped this part of the electronic galaxy aeons ago ... The album's [...] infuriatingly derivative. Explore its prime influences instead." Likening the album to a French version of Mike Oldfield's work, Music Week said: "Unfortunately Jarre has produced a work that is ponderous in its self-conscious musicality – he definitely wears his art on his sleeve. Unlike Oldfield he never stands back and laughs at his own creation. It is heavy throughout, and his influences continually jog the elbow – particularly the lugubrious touches of Mahler and the almost continuous Bach underpinning ... some interest will be generated but the album is not really suited to our insular and musically anti-intellectual Anglo-Saxon island."
Karl Dallas of Melody Maker was kinder towards the album, saying: "The first time I heard this album I hated it. It seemed so bland, so undemanding, so uneventful ... I've got to admit it repays further listening, and that it is not quite the electronic Muzak I had written it off as initially." The review noted that the album was composed in the same manner as classical music, rather than rock music, and concluded: "On the other hand, Oxygène is not classical music. Though the track the discos are playing [referring to "Oxygène Part IV"] is, as you might expect, actually its least effective section musically, it has the same relationship to popular music as Tangerine Dream, say, or Oldfield. Personally, it still does not impress me as much as either, except at a technical level. It seems to lack heart, the sense of passionate involvement in the act of music-making which makes Edgar Froese's work almost a musical equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting. It is almost too accomplished, too formally precise." The most positive review came from Robin Smith of Record Mirror, who called the album "maybe the definitive synthesizer and mellotron masterpiece of '77. It's pretty tough to communicate warmth through such music and the end result is usually stilted but Jean Michael Jarre [sic] has laid down a variety of forms joined together by cohesive lines."
A retrospective review by AllMusic's Jim Brenholts gave the album a top rating, writing that it was "one of the original e-music albums" and had "withstood the test of time and the evolution of digital electronica".
All tracks composed by Jean-Michel Jarre.
|France||5 December 1976||Disques Motors/Polydor||LP||2933 207|
|United Kingdom||July 1977||LP||2310 555|
|France||1985||Les Disques Motors||LP||MLP 1000|
|United States||1994||Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab||remastered LP||MFSL 1-212|
|remastered CD||UDCD 613|
|Europe||1997||Disques Dreyfus/Epic||remastered CD||487375 2|
|United Kingdom||15 March 1999||Simply Vinyl||180 gram vinyl LP||SVLP 072|
|Europe||25 April 2014||Disques Dreyfus/BMG/Sony Music||remastered CD||88843024682|