Album review: Jean Michel Jarre (3) – Magnetic fields (1981)

“Magnetic fields” is actually a phonetic English translation of the title of Jean Michel Jarre’s 1981 album “Le chants magnetiques” (or “Magnetic songs” as the tight translation would be). But since when you say it out loud “chants” sounds a lot like “champs” (fields) this title was adopted. This was the first Jean Michel Jarre album I bought myself, on tape, to start my collection. The album is structured differently than the ones before, with one long movement on the first side and a few shorts ones on the second.

Jarre’s entrance into 80s marks a further evolution of his sound. The loneliness and darkness of “Oxygene” is long gone and replaced by a rich and even optimistic soundscape. Somehow once again some of the motifs in “Part one” make me think of rain and water. There’s something about the way the musician uses the synth that suggests to me the image of water bouncing of pavements or tables or dripping from roofs. Once the rain is over the mood changes and the echoes of laughter are being heard and the distorted. I like how the voices fade and are sucked into the electronic container the composer prepared for them. The section which starts at the 9 minute mark is my favorite part of “Magnetic fields”. It’s minimalistic and melodic and evokes the outer space for me. I am floating safely and enjoying the spectacular images around me.

For the first time Jarre uses samples in his compositions. This technique will become the cornerstone of electronic music in a few years. Sampling makes the music sometimes sound like an intriguing puzzle. “Magnetic fields” has an element of surprise as if it was improvised at times or, better said, as if Jean Michel Jarre let his inspiration guide his hands and help him create these exciting sounds. In the last third of “Magnetic fields, Pt 1” I find myself in even more familiar territory as I recognize what may be one of the influence for Jan Hammer’s “Miami Vice” music.

“Part 2” of “Magnetic fields” is one of the more recognizable Jarre compositions. I’m sure that if you give it a listen you will remember it. It’s the highest point of nostalgia for me from this album. It’s actually one of the pieces I recognized while listening to the album for the first time. I couldn’t remember where from but I knew this upbeat and infectious piece of music. I think it was used by our only TV station in the 80s for the downtime between programs.

“Part 3” is very relaxing and makes me think of a wooden receptacle from which water pours before returning and moving a metronome that’s placed in that vessel. This piece is fit for a Zen garden and serves as a sort of intermission in the album and an intro to the melodic “Part 4” which shows a very confident and happy composer. I love this piece and it’s part of my Jarre favorites playlists.

“Magnetic fields” is a light and enjoyable album which marks a slight departure from the sound of Jarre’s first two mainstream releases. It’s a very accessible album for the large public.

Track rating: 88 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 22 / 36

Album excellence: 61%

Highlights:

Part 1

Part 2

 

 

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