Oxygene 3: An Unexpected Masterpiece

oxygene3Ahh, sequels. A successful sequel tends to be the exception rather than the rule, let alone a second sequel. Adding to the pressure is the fact that Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene is a seminal work that still has huge relevance today.

When its follow-up Oxygene 7-13 (now renamed to Oxygene 2)appeared 20 years later in 1997, it continued the thematic journey, managing to avoid most of the contemporary fads around more up-beat electronic music. Add a further 20 years and you have this week’s release of Oxygene 3. Even as a rabid Jarre fan*, I was keeping my expectations low. I knew it was impossible to match let alone better the original, but I was hoping for something that was at least a solid, enjoyable listen.

I’m pleased to report that Oxygene 3 is much more than solid or enjoyable. The best compliment I can give it, is that it completes the Oxygene picture in full. It continues beautifully from its predecessor, but even more notable is that it’s a near-flawless transition from the original. If Oxygene 2 had ended up some awful half-attempt mired in late 1990s fads, then this release would have made a perfect follow-up to the original.

There are plenty of healthy nods to Oxygene without being overbearing, but enough new in there to keep things fresh. All the iconic sounds are there without relying too heavily on history. Before completing this review I listened from Oxygene Part 1 to Part 20 and as subjective as it is, it feels like every part is needed and contributes toward the greater work. In that context, ending a trilogy was always going to be a challenge, but in Pt. 20 I’d argue Jarre has found the right balance between grandeur and the personal journey it’s been for him and all of us who’ve been along for the ride.

The optimist in me hopes for a second trilogy – the crackling flames at the very end of the album shows the fire is still burning. The pessimist in me however, can’t see how that would be anything but a road to ruin. So it’s best probably to see this as the end of an era. If you’re new to Jarre, you’re probably best to start with the original instalment, although this release can stand up on its own merits. For those who have been there for most or all of the last forty years, Oxygene 3 may not fully match your expectations but I’d argue it goes as close as it’s possible to in that regard. This album can stand tall in a small room of admirable, substantive sequels.

*My appreciation of Jarre’s work started in 1983, as a high-school student in a drama class. We were doing some sort of relaxation / visualisation session, all of us lying down on the carpeted floor, with lights off. The ‘Drama’ room had had all its windows blacked out and the walls also painted the same colour, the only other customisation a Yamaha stereo system with pretty decent speakers mounted on the wall. On this day, the Drama teacher asked us all to close our eyes and then he played the first couple of tracks from Oxygene. To say it made an impression was an understatement. Since then I’ve bought pretty much everything Jarre has released and even spent a fruitless couple of years trying to chase him down for an interview.

Cyndi Lauper As You’ve Never Heard Her Before

cyndi_lauper_-_i_drove_all_night_-_youtubeI’ve been a fan of Cyndi Lauper’s for more than thirty years and over that time it’s been amazing to watch how she’s continued to go from strength to strength.

Her voice is as brilliant as it’s ever been and it got me thinking. I saw someone had done a 33rpm upload of Dolly Parton’s Jolene and I immediately wanted to try the same with one of Cyndi Lauper’s songs. And what a gem it’s turned out to be.

Check out I Drove All Night on vinyl at 33rpm.

What do you think? Would love to hear your thoughts

Review: Hole In Your Pocket – The Panics

562871_5f525ddd5b5c43b78b6c255a2e7ab09bmv2_d_2000_2000_s_2I don’t know what it is specifically about WA-bred bands, but they know how to write some big songs.

As someone who rates The Triffids as one of the best bands to ever come out of Australia, I’m more than willing to put The Panics in that company. And they’ve produced enough great songs to give Born Sandy Devotional one hell of a run for its money. Yes that’s a big call but i stand by it.

Hole In Your Pocket is the fifth album from The Panics and it’d be unfair to say they’ve hit their stride as that arguably happened more than five years ago. This album is polished without sounding self-assured and passionate without being florid. Cinematic is a term often applied to this group and it’s for good reason – the scope of these songs vary but they all feel like significant events.

Highlights for me are Carparks of Greschen, Not Apart, Not Together and the first release from the album, Weatherman. That said, at nine songs the album has no flab anyway so it’s an academic exercise finding outright favourites.

If you’re after fist-pumping four to the floor rock then look elsewhere – although this outfit are no slouches in the live arena either from the couple of gigs I’ve seen. They’re about to hit the road in coming months in support of the album.

If you like some real meat on the bones of your rock music, then you may just want to check out Hole In Your Pocket and pretty much every other release from these guys.

Check out Weatherman right now:

Vinyl From The Vault: Gilles Pellegrini 12 Hits No.76

An ongoing series showcasing less common albums and their covers

French pop covers record – no. 76 in the series. No year displayed but given there’s covers of Elton John’s Nikita and Lionel Richie’s Say You Say Me, it was released circa 1986-1987:

gilles-pellegrini-12hits-no.76

Five of the Best: Rock Sax Solos

A friend on Facebook asked around about the solos that you couldn’t help hum note for note when you heard them. When I had a think of my favourites, I realised there was a healthy dose of sax solos in there. I did some trawling and here are five hot sax solos that I think rate pretty highly. Don’t hesitate to make your own suggestions below!

1. Bruce Springsteen: Badlands

You could have a whole list of Springsteen songs that have killer sax solos, and Jungleland is probably considered the signature sax offering from Clarence Clemons. It’s also hard to go past Born to Run, but for mine, Badlands has the best rock ‘posership’ of the lot.

2. Eddie and the Cruisers 2 Soundtrack: Runnin’ Through The Fire

I’m really pushing it putting this right under the Springsteen pick, but there you have it. The movie wasn’t up to the standard of the original but it still had some great music thanks to John Cafferty and Co. If you ignore the mullets, this little ditty has a damn good sax solo.

3. Billy Joel: You May Be Right

Short, sharp and damn catch – it’s what every sax solo should be.

4. INXS: Never Tear Us Apart

Another sign of a great solo is not being able to imagine a song without it. This is one such song.

5. Men At Work: Who Can It Be Now?

Greg Ham – you are missed.

There’s a lots of others that deserve honourable mentions, but I’m keen to hear your picks. Which sax solos stand out the most for you?

Vinyl From The Vault: Oscar Cartier – Down Under And Way Out

An ongoing series showcasing less common albums and their covers

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Catalog Number: ALP 1004

Appears to have been an Australian recording and pressing from when Oscar Cartier toured Australia.

Vinyl From The Vault: Arctic Circles – Time

An ongoing series showcasing less common albums and their covers / history

arctic-circles-time-album

1986 from Spaceman Records. Cat. Number MRSM-05

01 Time
02 Wasp
03 My Window
04 Celina
05 Taste

Ten Uplifting Songs To Make Your Day

We all have bad days, weeks or months, and sometimes we turn to music to try and give us a bit of a boost. Music is such an individual thing, but I thought I’d share ten songs that may give you some much needed positivity in an otherwise crap day. Enjoy:

The Pogues – Ghost of a Smile

The Waterboys – Spirit

Architecture in Helsinki – Desert Island

Patti Smith – April Fool

Paul Kelly – Beautiful Feeling

Finn Brothers – Won’t Give In

Tracy Chapman – Sing For You

Yusuf Islam – Midday (Avoid City After Dark)

The Panics – Majesty

My Friend The Chocolate Cake – I’ve Got A Plan

Bruce Springsteen Gets His Own Academic Journal

The_Biannual_Online-Journal_of_Springsteen_Studies

No, it’s not a joke – McGill University have launched an academic journal devoted purely to the work of Bruce Springsteen. The brief is to publish scholarly works looking closely at Springsteen’s creative output in context of wider society.

The first issue is available for free now, and here’s an example of one article’s title and abstract:

SPRINGSTEEN AS DEVELOPMENTAL THERAPIST: AN AUTOETHNOGRAPHY

Based on differing theories of moral development proposed by Lawrence Kohlberg, Martin Hoffman, and John Gibbs, this paper posits that listening to Bruce Springsteen’s music can increase moral growth. Scores of Springsteen songs parallel psychological techniques used to increase moral development, such as being exposed to two or more beliefs that are contradictory, social perspective-taking by listening to moral dilemmas, gaining empathy with the distress that another person experiences, hypothetical contemplation, and meta-ethical reflection. Through qualitative-based autoethnographical storytelling, the author outlines how his moral development was enabled through such Springsteen songs as “Factory,” “Highway Patrolman,” “Independence Day,” “Johnny 99,” and “Used Cars,” as well as two self-disclosures from Springsteen’s Live 1975-85 album.

It’s easy to scoff, but hell if anyone has observed the progress of life in the USA over the past forty years, it’s Bruce Springsteen. I wouldn’t say no to a PhD in Springsteenology. Would you?

Album Review: The Empty Hearts

The_Empty_Hearts_New_LP_out_August_5__2014_-_YouTubeA rock band is a machine. It’s a totally unoriginal analogy, but powerful all the same. There’s a bunch of moving parts and when things are running well, a band can feel like it could go into perpetual motion. This is particularly the case where you have each member coming into the project with a decade or four of experience under their belt and a willingness to leave egos locked in the bathroom, if not at the door.
This appears to have occurred with The Empty Hearts. Consisting of industry veterans Wally Palmar (The Romantics), Elliot Easton (The Cars), Andy Babiuk (Chesterfield Kings) and Clem Burke (Blondie), their debut album is as polished as you’d expect, but there’s more to it than that. The agreed approach within the band was to recreate a time where playing music was plain fun, and to use the vintage gear at their disposal to achieve it. Which I’d argue they’ve done in spades.

The self-titled album contains twelve tracks and it’s driving rock from start to finish except for the Petty-esque I Found You Again, but even then the tempo doesn’t drop that far. Picking highlights is always fraught with danger, but the opener and Soul Deep stood out for me. I know it’s somewhat of an anachronism, but picking favourites is a little trite here, as this is an all-too-rare album experience. I’d actually make a plea to The Empty Hearts: get this album out on vinyl. Now.

For the older listeners amongst us, there’s going to be occasions of hearing The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones to name three, but the songs are well and truly strong enough to make it a pleasurable comparison on style rather than any concerns on being derivative. They’ve set out to recreate a period in time and have done it in stunning measure. The keyboard work of Ian McLagan (The Faces) also deserves a shout-out for the too infrequent times it appears on the album.

This is an album that any fan of rock is going to enjoy. I tend to judge a rock album on its ability to put out the feeling of that well oiled rock machine working for all the right reasons, and that’s exactly what The Empty Hearts have done. You’d hope they’re planning on touring in support of this release, as they could play the twelve songs in album order and bring the house down, let alone anything else in their repertoire.

Have a taste of some of the songs:

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