Enigma, The Classic Album Selection:
MCMXC a.D. • The Cross of Changes • Le Roi Est Mort. Vive Le Roi • The Screen Behind The Mirror • Voyageur
221 min • Universal Catalogue • November 25, 2013
When I heard about the release of this box set of Classics from the Enigma catalogue, I admit I was excited. Michael Cretu’s music project Enigma was formed in 1990 and this box set includes the first five albums, which were released over a 13 year period. In 1990, their debut MCMXC a.D. was a massive hit, with it’s startlingly original blend of medieval plainsong and contemporary electronica – the album went to number 1 in 41 countries. It ushered in a new era of music dubbed New Age that was endlessly imitated – often poorly, though Cretu has a few noteworthy contemporaries. The dichotomy of religion and sexuality was at the thematic heart of the album which explored the Marquis de Sade’s texts, Christian doctrine and the apocalypse as detailed in ‘The Revelation of St John the Divine’. The overt sexualisation of these religious themes was too explicit for some and the album was banned in a few countries. Cretu built the album by weaving live elements created in the studio alongside some masterful sampling. The samples were diverse, using Maria Callas, Black Sabbath, Gregorian chant and even the signature theme of John Williams’ Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was at the time, and remains to this day, a truly innovative debut.
Innovative was not a word however that came to mind when I received the box set, which appears to be nothing other than a lazy and shameless exercise in trying to wring out some coffers from the back catalogue of an interesting artist. These five brilliant albums have been cased in gatefold cardboard sleeves and housed in one of the most poorly designed boxes I have seen in a long time. The unimaginative presentation is a disappointment, only superseded by the sorry realisation that these albums have not even been remastered for this release, making me wonder why the record company have even bothered to go through with this exercise. Who is this box set for I wonder? Fans will already have the albums – albums that actually have booklets replete with with gorgeous artwork, lyrics and liner notes which are sadly lacking here. And those that are looking to be introduced to Enigma and their oeuvre? They would be better to buy the albums separately and enjoy the individuality of each work as intended by its creators.
To mark its release, three of our writers review three albums from the collection and reveal why these albums are worth revisiting:
Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi
45:34 min • Virgin • November 20, 1996
Bryon Fear reviews
Cretu called Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi the child of the two albums that preceded it, which is even indicated as such on the album’s third track, ‘Third of its Kind’. This statement is in many ways true, but also to some extent a paradox, since this third album, whilst very much formed from the same mould of its predecessors, is a far more mature offering. It’s also darker than its parents, with a sound that is more contemplative than meditative. The medieval plainsong is pushed to the background here and replaced with vocals that evoke the expansive deserts of the middle east. Each musical influence remains a stark contrast to the next, allowing the album to find its own sonic divergency, which is a distinctive characteristic of Enigma’s work.
Reflected in the album’s award winning cover art, there is also an apparent futuristic departure and there are many futuristic motifs peppered throughout. The opening track uses a sample from 2001: A Space Odyssey and on ‘T.N.T. for the Brain’ there is a cheeky sample from Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds. These moments are playful yet somehow underscored with a deep yearning. Whilst I don’t feel this is Enigma’s most accomplished album, and indeed it had a very mixed reception when it was released, I do admire its ambition. Cretu established a sound that was familiar, yet different at the same time, and the music itself feels like it is stretching out for something else, as if seeking something lost or forgotten that would be later found on The Screen Behind the Mirror and the majestic Voyageur.
The Screen Behind The Mirror
43:25 min • Virgin • January 14, 2000
Andrew Darley reviews
It wasn’t until some stage in 2000 that I had heard of, or encountered, Enigma. Admittedly, being a classic pre-teen, it was chart music that predominately made its way into my Walkman. The Screen Behind The Mirror came into my awareness when it assumed itself as my father’s go-to album whenever we had to drive any distance together. Given my limited range at the time, this album tripped me up like nothing before. Hearing the unconventional song structures, choral arrangements, classical music embellishments; I simply did not know music could do that.
Listening to The Screen Behind the Mirror fourteen years on since my first encounter the same feelings exist. The overriding feature of Michael Cretu’s work, which runs through his back catalogue, is his bold and fearless approach to composition. The album unashamedly takes from all corners of the music spectrum and blends them in a way that defines the album. From the deep space ambiance of ‘The Gate’, the almost-apocolyptic ‘Gravity Of Love’ and inspiring closing song ‘Silence Must Be Heard’, he cleverly manages to balance bolts of high energy with moments of meditation in the breadth of one album. Now as an adult, I can hear how The Screen Behind The Mirror gave me my first taste of experimental, more abstract sounds and textures that music can achieve.
41:18 min • Virgin • September 30, 2003
Little Bastard reviews
Released at a time when most but hardcore fans would have thought of them as irrelevant to popular culture, Voyageur is an album that embraces the new while still cradling the old. Although the classic Enigma sound is still there, the album is much more upbeat and contemporary sounding than it’s predecessors. Whilst baring a lot of Enigma hallmarks, lead single ‘Voyageur’ is almost unrecognisable as the same band. The breathy female vocals are there, but they’re sexy rather than meditative. The ambient big beat drums are there, but they as faster than usual, and there’s a retro Hammond organ that replaces the usual religious overtone and makes this the closest Enigma have ever come to a dance floor filler – and it’s been my favourite Enigma track since release. How it wasn’t bigger astounds me. And there’s more where that came from. ‘Incognito’ opens with beatboxing and then transcends into into usual ambient trance territory. ‘Page Of Cups’ dances into pre-dubstep revolution territory, and ‘Boum Boum’ is the closest they’ve ever got to a pop song, with it’s refrain of,
My heart goes boom boom boom,
Every time I think of you –
and it’s strong production and melody have made if another firm favourite. The album does have its mellow moments, but most of them are shrouded in modern techno-ology, the most interesting being the abstract ballad ‘Weightless’, and the most beautiful being the Moby-esque ‘The Piano’.
With all of Enigma’s albums up until this point being entire sonic experiences, Voyageur does feel more of an experiment – like a collection of songs rather than an entire piece of work. Regardless of how well it did critically or commercially, this album was a bold move of a band trying to prove that the terms new age and ambient didn’t only mean healing crystals and Enya. Whether they succeeded on a grander scale is anyone’s guess, but it worked for me.