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It's good, but it's not the one . . .
on 25 July 2002
Magnetic Fields needed to be made, because it breaks with the earthy mysticism found on Jarre's previous albums, "Oxygene" and "Equinoxe".
Some have said that Magnetic Fields sounds more "mechanical" than the others and there is good reason for this. This was the first album Jarre made using the brand new Fairlight synthesiser, although it would be called a "workstation" today, combining as it does a very powerful synthesiser with a sequencer and sampler (with a sample rate of 96Khz and an onboard memory of 16MB - not too shabby for 1981!) It cost around $60,000 dollars when new, so Jarre really tried to get his money's worth, using it in every album up to, I think, 1989's "Revolutions". However, the drawback of this synth is that it had a very 1980s digital "harshness", which contrasts with the smooth, organic sound of the 1970s analogue synths.
Jean-Michel Jarre's music usually falls into two categories - Dreamy, synthesised soundscapes and cheesy Euro-pop. Unfortunately both are represented on this album.
The first track, weighing in at some fifteen minutes is one of Jarre's masterpieces. The first part rolls along mechanically but catchily, his ever-present drum machine tinnily clicking and popping away to itself in the background. The second part is where it gets interesting. Jarre creates a dreamy soundscape over which he puts vocal samples, distorted and processed into some strange alien language (yes, he experimented with this before Zoolook). It ends with some wonderful sampled jet aircraft, flying from one side of the sound-field to the other before (and this is the best bit) suddenly cutting off and bursting into the third part, which is widely regarded as one of his best tunes (yes, that IS a Vocoder, and yes, it does sound great, doesn't it?)
Part 2 I really don't like, largely because it falls into the cheesy Euro-pop category and has dated very badly, but also because I played the game Bombjack incessantly as a kid and this used to be the in-game music!
Part 3 is wonderfully understated, beginning with sampled mechanical sounds before evolving into a beautiful dreamlike sequence with tinkling synths and bubbling arpeggios. This gradually becomes Part 4, a great tune in the classic Jarre style.
Part 5 is entirely superfluous, a song whimsically subtitled "The Last Rumba" and (deliberately or not) sounding like it was played on a £50 Casio keyboard!
This is not Jarre's best or most well known album, and if you are just discovering him you might think twice about buying this. But if you are interested in Jarre's work, it can be a very rewarding and enjoyable listening experience.