Jean Michel Jarre Royal Albert Hall, London - Tuesday 1 April 2008
In the late 1970s, when we all believed we would be taking food in pellet form and teleporting to work by 2001, Jean Michel Jarre sounded like the future. His cosmic musical meanderings suited the era of sci-fi obsessiveness, of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jeff Wayne's The War of the Worlds: Jarre even dedicates tonight's show to his recently deceased close friend, Arthur C Clarke.
He was the future then, but how dated he sounds now. Jarre is halfway through a world tour to mark last year's 30th anniversary of the release of Oxygène, his commercial high-watermark album that has sold in excess of 12m copies. He has decided to play the entire album on the original analogue synthesisers; with more than 50 of them on stage, it resembles the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise.
Jarre, who remains a trim, dapper figure, opens the evening with a defiant speech in which he denies this is a retro exercise, describing the Moogs and Mellotrons as design classics in the league of Stradivarius or Les Paul. He expresses his delight at playing the "intimate" Royal Albert Hall, which could appear a tad arrogant were it not for the fact that he holds the world record for the largest ever concert, having entertained a mere 3.5 million people in Moscow in 1997.
Yet unlike other electronic music pioneers such as Can, Faust or Tangerine Dream, Jarre has never been hip, and as the evening unfolds, it is easy to remember why. Despite its colossal sales, Oxygène was a pat, diluted take on the musique concrète of Klaus Schulze or Walter Carlos that inspired him, and tonight soon dissolves into an inconsequential, soporific welter of bleeps, hisses and gurgles: only the iconic five-note melody of signature tune Oxygène IV emerges from the squelchy musical stew.
Jarre cuts a flamboyant figure, leaping stage front to shoulder a vintage portable Moog keyboard or wrestle a 1920s Russian Theremin. However, without the laser extravaganza that marks his vast outdoor spectacles, the only visual diversion is the giant tilted mirror above the stage, showing Jarre and his three cohorts scampering between keyboards. It can't obscure the fact that we are essentially listening to glorified, hyper-amplified lift music; the past is another country, and not always one we want to visit.