Review Summary: One of the best electronic composers ever creates a very experimental album, that surpasses expectations with it's ingenious use of complex vocal samples and a very broad soundscape.
I've always regarded Jean Michel Jarre as a composer who is often overlooked; a musician with great talent and a pioneer in electronic/new age music. Oxygene was an album that was the prime example of how electronic music can portray an emotion so deep with its dreamy, euphoric atmosphere. "Oxygene (Part IV)" became one of the best known pieces of electronic music ever with its ever moody and oxymoronic melodies. The album "Equinoxe" was a more cheerful and pleasant experience, reflecting a human's life from day to night, the aura around the album's pace was exciting, reinforcing Jarre's natural ability to create soulful and emotional music that people can relate to.
"Zoolook" is an album that really is different to "Oxygene" and "Equinoxe".A much more experimental sound brings a whole new perspective, making it a very interesting listen. There is extensive use of sampling and there are plenty more vocal work, adding a much more surreal sound, and even the addition of acoustic drums and bass guitar. The album has an impressive back-up crew as well, consisting of Adrian Belew (King Crimson) on guitars and effects and Marcus Miller on bass. There are elements of 'Musique concrete', which is a style of avant-garde music that relies on natural environmental sounds to create music, a complex concept that really brings out the uniqueness of the sound in this album. Another interesting aspect on
"Zoolook" is that the album's vocal work consists of over 20 languages: including Arabic, Japanese, Polish, Tibetan, Eskimo etc. This furthermore extends the surrealness of the album, but adds that interest of how this factor works; and it creates a kind of 'universal' feel, if you know what I mean.
"Ethnicolor 1" is an epic 11-minute song full of variety. The song really creates a layer of a dense atmosphere. The work "Zoo" already comes into play as the sound of elephants wailing are present, but it really portrays a depressing mood as it sounds as if they are in pain. The dramatic synths and eerie vocal work set a more darker tone, making it sound like you are about to crash into a disaster, probably not the best comparison but think of the mood that Sigur Ros creates and add the element of electronic music and you have Ethnicolor 1. 7 minutes in and there is a sudden change of tempo, a more upbeat and sample-heavy experience. The sample work on this song I think is a prime example of how it should be done, every second feels intense and the emotion within is pure. "Diva" resembles the same structure of "Ethnicolor 1" but it is much more surreal in terms of vocal work. The sharp and chilling sound of a last inhaling breath of a dying man creates an uncomfortable feel, along with a seductive woman speaking in tongues makes the tone ambiguous. The sudden change of mood happens again in Diva, a more cheerful sound and there is an "African" influence within this part of the song. The first two songs of "Zoolook" already portrays a strong soundscape, full of versatile sampling and exquisite melodies.
The album becomes more 'radio-friendly' after "Diva", where the next 5 songs add up to nearly the same time length as "Ethnicolor" and "Diva" put together, which presents a more flowing and quick ride through different sounds. The self-titled song carries on the more upbeat mood into a groovy bass-style of music. A typical 80's sound that is affectionate and extremely catchy with clever twists of reversing vocal work whilst dubbing others over it to unite languages. "Woolloomooloo" slows the pace down to a more dreamer and dramatic tone, I think that this song serves as more of a filler for me since there is a significant drop in creativity compared to the previous songs, the sheer repetitiveness is what makes me neglect this. But the pace is quickly recovered on the most famous song on the album "Zoolookologie". The high pitched *uhs* in the vocal work represents the melody and the synths bring the riffs, this unison is outstanding as it creates an undeniably catchy song that will be stuck in your head for ages, funk and new wave are the genres that best describe this song but you have to listen to it to get a real feel of what the song consists of, I'd say its similar to Talking Heads in my opinion. "Blah Blah Kafe" serves the same purpose as "Wolloomooloo" just that it is more weirder in a bad way. Even though it carries on the theme of the album nicely, it just does not catch attention and the annoying random noises in the background cuts the creativity level by a lot, leaving the repetitive beats that hinder the song as well. It is a rather disappointing song to place on an album that had a great allegro before this song, but the way it slows the tempo down emphasises the effect that the last song of the album has, which is "Ethnicolor 2". Acting as a sequel to "Ethnicolor 1", it creates that uneasy mood with mystic vocal work and strange mechanical noises in the background, it feels that we are back in an 'abyss' after journeying through an uplifting middle section of "Zoolook", it is also a very safe closer for the album too as we are left with crowds of people walking and talking casually as if nothing happened.
"Zoolook" is definitely more accessible compared to "Oxygene" and "Equinoxe" since it has a more modern touch, even though it still sounds dated now. The way the album makes such an atmosphere with its sounds is sublime (Ethnicolor 1), not to mention the extremely catchy moments as well (Zoolookologie). Myself, I consider this a masterpiece of Jarre's and it is my personal favourite of his, but "Blah Blah Kafe" and "Wooloomooloo" drag the flow of the album down by a considerable amount. This is a typical showcase of talent shown by Jarre and I consider this potentially influential to those who sample; it is a top class example of how it should be done.
- Ethnicolor 1