When peo­ple talk about con­cept albums, the gen­re being dis­cussed is almost always rock, some­times with the occa­sion­al men­tion of soul artists like Marvin Gaye thrown in on the side.  It’s easy to for­get that dis­co offered pop­u­lar music a vast array of con­cept mate­ri­al.  This was a case of com­mer­cial­ism being the moth­er of inven­tion: the con­cept album was fre­quent­ly the eas­i­est way for a pro­duc­er to fill two sides of vinyl with the expan­sive musi­cal suites dis­co required and also pro­vid­ed the pro­duc­er with a way to dis­tin­guish their pro­duct in a com­mer­cial­ly glut­ted gen­re.

A great exam­ple of this is pro­vid­ed by the debut album of Voyage, a stu­dio project assem­bled by Roger Tokarz, a French pro­duc­er of library music.  He came up with the idea of a trav­el­ogue the­me, mix­ing in the sounds of dif­fer­ent nations to add fla­vor to the med­ley for­mat that had been a main­stay of the dis­co gen­re since Gloria Gaynor’s first album with Tom Moulton.   The results were strong enough to storm the dis­co charts and make Voyage an out­fit that was able to con­tin­ue into the ear­ly 1980s.

Voyage estab­lish­es its the­me and its musi­cal aes­thet­ic on the open­ing track “From East To West.” The lyrics give the lis­ten­er an ele­gant sales job on the glam­our of trav­el­ing to for­eign lands, work­ing in the famil­iar dis­co the­me of all dif­fer­ent nations get­ting down to the same groove.  The music cap­tures that escapist spir­it, wrap­ping the del­i­cate vocal melody in a dra­mat­ic, some­times brash Eurodisco arrange­ment: a cos­mic intro built on dra­mat­ic, swirling syn­th notes gives way to a light, nim­ble groove stoked by wah-wah gui­tar and med­i­ta­tive piano lines.  Variation is pro­vid­ed by per­cus­sive horn stabs and a funky gui­tar-and-hand­claps break before the vocals spi­ral upwards to match the return of the celes­tial synths at the song’s finale.

In just sev­en min­utes and change, “From East To West” takes the lis­ten­er on a dra­mat­ic jour­ney… but it’s mere­ly the first move­ment of an album-length jour­ney.  It deft­ly segues into “Point Zero,” a trib­al beat extrav­a­gan­za where every­thing is ori­ent­ed around metro­nom­ic hand-per­cus­sion and a match­ing, rhyth­mic vocal chant, before giv­ing way to the airy exot­i­ca of “Orient Express,” a Middle Eastern-styled opus that alter­nates string-laden pas­sages high­light­ed by oboe with intense, sur­pris­ing­ly hard-rock­ing gui­tar breaks.   It all adds up to a daz­zling first side that cov­ers a vari­ety of gen­res and moods with­out ever drop­ping the beat.

The sec­ond begins on a nov­el­ty music style note with the bag­pipes-spiked “Scotch Machine” and the Copland-esque fid­dles of “Bayou Village.”  Though they fit the album’s con­cept, they’re the weakest mate­ri­al on here as they allow kitsch­i­ness to over­take the artistry that defines the rest of the album.  Thankfully, things get right back on track for the album’s clos­ing one-two punch of “Latin Odyssey” and “Lady America.”  The for­mer is fuelled by con­gas and horns as it sim­u­lates a steamy, per­cus­sive Spanish groove à la Santa Esmeralda while the lat­ter is a piano-pound­ing slice of pro­to-boo­gie that fea­tures an addic­tive chant at cho­rus time, strong horn work and an unex­pect­ed vibes solo.

Like many a vin­tage dis­co album, Voyage is on the short side, clock­ing in at just over 34 min­utes.  However, the album has recent­ly been given the archival treat­ment by the Disco Recharge reis­sue series from Harmless Records and the results are a jum­bo 2-CD pack­age that offers well over two hours’ worth of music.  For starters, there are an array of sin­gle edits and twelve inch mix­es for sev­er­al album cuts.  “From East To West” alone receives sev­en alter­nate ver­sions, includ­ing a few mod­ern takes that weave in some tech­no-styled syn­th and drum machine over­dubs.

Also includ­ed are both sin­gle and 12-ver­sions of a pair of cuts record­ed by Voyage’s musi­cians under the name V.I.P. Connection.  “Please Love Me Again” is the first and it offers a fluffy, almost Eurovision style take on dis­co, com­plete with a sug­ary string-dri­ven melody and a female cho­rus swoop­ing in at cho­rus time, Silver Convention-style, to coo the title.  However, the oth­er track is pret­ty rev­e­la­to­ry: “West Coast Drive” is a funky jam that uses swing­ing, jazzy horns and an ear­ly drum machine to cre­ate the kind of sounds you’d expect to hear on a blax­ploita­tion film sound­track.  It’s a real find and Disco Recharge deserves a tip of the hat for includ­ing it.

That said, the biggest treat on this deluxe reis­sue is the inclu­sion of Special Instrumental, a super-rare col­lec­tion of instru­men­tal-only ver­sions of songs drawn from the first two Voyage albums.  It sup­plies yet anoth­er set of alter­nate mix­es for Voyage fans, includ­ing some cuts that are much short­er and punchier than their album coun­ter­parts.

All in all, the Disco Recharge ver­sion of Voyage is both gen­er­ous and edu­ca­tion­al, the lat­ter tack fur­ther aid­ed by a brief but infor­ma­tive set of lin­er notes by reg­u­lar Disco Discharge scribe/disco expert Alan Jones.  If you’ve got a soft spot for vin­tage Eurodisco, this set will allow you to indul­ge it on a grand scale.