Jean-Michel Jarre

Recently, I ended up pondering for a few microseconds whether one should see Jean-Michel Jarre as
a) a visionary pioneer, bound by the technological shortcomings of his era
or

b) a talentless wanker guilty of some of the cheesiest music this side of Miami Vice.

For those of you who missed this particular episode of the apocalyptic genre that would come to be known as 80’s Synthesizer Music, here is a quick reminder:

Jean-Michel Jarre is the son of famous movie score composer Maurice Jarre (Lawrence Of Arabia and heaps of others) and apparently was spoiled at a very early age with more machines and expensive Casio keyboards than one can only think of. The results was an uninterrupted string of somewhat catchy, electronic-ish, cheddar-laced tunes, played from the late 70s until now in front of massive audiences, whose attention was safely diverted from the insipid music by record-setting amount of eye-popping pyrotechnics and more laser lights than at a Jedi sex orgy.

Admittedly the sound of yesterday’s electronic synthesizers really sucked beyond words, and creating a track with of one these without raising immediately a vivid imagery of supermarket PA systems and tech support waiting time is a hopeless task.

But here is the problem: with roughly the same equipment, both Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder did better than him, before him. Granted: a good 90% of Kraftwerk’s music would bore even the most neurasthenic East-German to tears while Moroder is himself guilty of things like Flashdance (oh yea, What a feeling)… However, the formers also produced some of the most anthemic (and widely pillaged… err “sampled”) tunes of all time, and “I Feel Love” remains the mother of all electro tracks.

On the other hand, a quick listen to some of JMJ’s hits (yes, I went that far, that’s how dedicated I am), will quickly bring you the proof that, back in the 80s you could definitely sell *anything* provided it had long hair, dark glasses and a pastel suit. Give it a try yourself: if you strip these tracks from their three-note melodies and endless sequences of filtered pads, you come face to face with the depressing sight of a pathetically naked beat-box that has roughly as much depth as an ethiopian lake in mid-Summer.

Other than that, one positive aspect of it all, is that we are probably talking about one of the very few artist whose work doesn’t suffer in any way when converted to midi files (aka: “all the power of a $30 Casio electronic organ into a $3000 computer”).

In conclusion, we can safely postulate that Jean-Michel Jarre is indeed a talentless wanker.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the creative genius of Vangelis Mike Oldfield and his seminal Tubular Bells.

Update: Indeed, prolonged exposure to JMJ’s music seems to yield some sort of brain damage, as I completely blanked on the actual author of that other monument of new-agey Bontempi music. Of course Vangelis was way too busy exploring the endless possibilities of the five “chorus” keys on his Yamaha keyboard… Lovers of crappy music among my readership will have rectified by themselves.
Thanks to Guru for ever-so-kindly pointing that out… I will gently overlook the lameness of his apology for the King of Cheddar (in a nutshell “You wrong. me right. JMJ great.”: I’m blown by such depth of argumentation), probably to be hanged on excessive marijuana consumption (or naturally limited intellectual capacities). While this might also be linked to his loose grasp of English syntax, I am not sure how it ties in with his morbid fascination for underage pornography (edited his post to remove the porn URL).
Since we are at it and since I seem to have stirred anger among the Supermarket-music fan masses: I shall temper my disparaging comments on JMJ by pointing out that, before eventually coming to the sad realization that most of it was utter crap, I used to actually listen to his music. And as most everybody know, you can only truly hate what you have at least once liked (even if you were only an influenceable 6-year old at the time). Kind of an oedipal post, I admit. But let’s face it: his music really sounds like what my cat could do, left alone with my cellphone and a metronome.

10 comments

  1. Man, you are totaly nuts. Why are you speaking about something that you don’t understand? JMJ is a great genious and as far from ‘untalented’ as you can be. Moroder and Kraftwerk better then him?? You are kidding, aren’t you?

    And buy the way, Tubular Bells was composed buy Mike Oldfield and not buy the ‘creative genius’ Vangelis.

    For the end, a warm advice from a life-long lover of instrumental music: don’t write on this subject ever again.

    greetings

  2. I really don’t fancy continuing such a sterile discussion. However, I will point out what I should have started with (sounded obvious enough to me, but anyway): matters of taste are better left out of arguments… so please don’t bother coming to tell me you like JMJ and that I’m an uneducated prick (I knew that already), if all the arguments you have to bring in are along the line of “you wrong, me right” (and if you are inclined to insert a porn url in your comment as a form of protest)…

    Christ, is it so hard to keep a civilized tone and develop constructive arguments when you disagree with people???

  3. Guru: You remind me of my old roommate (SF, year 1999 or so). He would would sit in a dark room near the middle of one of the most dynamic cities built and seethe about how ReplayTV beats the pants off TiVO, Volkswagen builds the only cars worth buying, and how anybody who buys anything else is causing him a direct insult.

    JMJ was, of course, his favorite music ever. There is one difference between you and him, though. He retreated into his own debilitating horror whereas you appear to lash out in preemtive strikes. Which is too bad — I was looking forward to hearing Dave’s take on Mike Oldfield (or Vangelis or Ray Lynch or…).

    DrD, don’t you think this is sort of like shooting fish in a barrel? I mean, what’s next, deconstructing Tomita? Mike and the Mechanics?
    Kenny G? Madonna’s newest album?

  4. Scott: just kidding about Oldfield and Co. No way am I gonna waste one more second of my time on their stuff.

    Re: shooting fish in a barrell: yea, I agree these are ridiculously easy targets. But the reason I decided to go over JMJ is that, as I stated at first, it is honestly possible to wonder if he really was a genius ahead of his time… and admittedly the line between his stuff and other real pioneers like Kraftwerk or Moroder *is* very thin. But I still think there’s a clear case to be made for the sheer laziness of his arrangements.

  5. That’s too bad — I was looking forward to a good Oldfield rant. I haven’t seen one of those since the mid-90s!

    Inspired by your question, I’ve been listening to some Kraftwerk (Tour De France soundtrack and a Live in Leverkusen 22.04.74 boot) and some JMJ (I only have Zoolook). The line is thin but I don’t think it’s THAT thin. I think it mostly boils down to the hard-to-describe but easy-to-recognize cheese factor.

    Kraftwerk keeps things agile. They don’t often give you 12 bars in a row of the same tired sequence. When they down a simple riff, it stays simple. When JMJ lays down a simple riff, he covers it with decoration and sonic flourishes. I think that JMJ is trying too hard, kind of like he’s a real estate agent struggling to upsell a condo.

    What’s the difference between Johnny Cash and Billy Ray Cyrus? Or Gladiator and Troy? Or chillout and soft jazz… I do realize my thesis here is stupefyingly obvious. 🙂 Wish I could offer more. If you could somehow quantify cheesiness and the difference between good cheese vs. bad cheese, I think you could make a ton of money in Los Angeles.

  6. Scott: brilliant, couldn’t have expressed it better.

    But I must also add that Zoolook is not even the worst example. If I really had to save anything in JMJ’s stuff, that might be it (I said: if I *really* had to)… To fully grasp the meaning of cheese, one has to give a listen to his equally popular “Equinoxe” or “Oxygene” albums… not to mention “Magnetic Fields 2” or “Rendez-Vous 4”, anthemic JMJ stuff that makes a serious case for a Geneva Moratorium on the use of clap boxes in Electronic music.
    And I’m charitably omitting all the obvious tax-motivated semi-albums and pseudo-remixes that sprinkle his discography.

  7. I’m so sorry fot you, because you don know that some of the best masterpieces of your favourite composer (vangelis whom I like too) are composed by jarre’s help.
    Also, kraftwerk has helped jarre alot in Jarre’s last album (AERO). I believe that you don understand anything from electronic genre, becasue 1. You don’t know that melodies of electronic genre can differ so much from classical works (you had mentioned that there are few notes in jarre’s works), so jarre’s music shouldn’t necessarily be the same as vangelis. 2. You don understand that there are many talents such as jarre, vangelis, kraftwerk, oldfields, kitaro, and etc who all try to improve electronic genre together. So the person is not really important, this is the group which is important.
    I finally recommend you to update your knowledge first and then write.

  8. JMJ’s music is mozzarella for the masses – tasteless cheese.

    I know it’s been a while since anyone added a comment, but I feel moved to say that I also listened to his music before I discovered real electronica and he is a waste of space.

    Watch him mime lazily on youtube – he clearly can’t even play keyboards and doesn’t know how his own muzak goes.

    He was a rich kid with tons of toys and his mates did all the work for him and he took the credit and built the brand.

    So, he is a pandimensional, apocalytic bullshitter.

    And a dwarf, to boot. Mind you, he did bang Charlotte Rampling in her prime…

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