Ahh, 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.