Enigma is not a band. And is not from France. In fact, Enigma is a musical project by one man called Michael Cretu. The fact that he’s from Rumania, has lived for decades in Ibiza (Spain) and his work is published by a German company may contribute to confussion, but still there’s no relation to France at all.
And, what does an Enigma album sounds like? Basically, like another Enigma album. With seven discs, or should I say seven chapters, already edited, Cretu configured a personal soundscape, characteristic, many times imitated but few matched, full of subtle references to itself. If you’re getting the impression that listening to one Enigma album is listening to all of them, don’t get wrong: a closed musical universe doesn’t mean it is not unbelievably wide.
To fully understand it, you better go on a journey…
MCMXC a.D (1990)
If the mix of gregorian chants, sensual female voices and dance rythms sounds familiar nowadays, it is thanks to this album. But in 1990 the world was not ready: it was considered a blasphemy and forbidden in some countries. Even MTV refused to broadcast the Principles of Lust videoclip. Despite all of this, it was a huge success of popularity and sales.
A temptress voice and a characteristic sound, the enigma horns (that plays at the beginning of each Enigma album) will take you into a world where religion and sexuality are disturbingly mixed. You’ll meet the Marquis de Sade and the principles of lust, you’ll doubt if Maria Callas really passed away, you’ll be tempted by the Snake and will cross The Rivers of Belief… If you can keep your common sense, you won’t be the same…
The Cross of Changes (1993)
The second chapter is faithfull to the spirit, but there are changes, not in vain it is The Cross of Changes. It’s darker, cheerless, and more romantic, but in the Enigma style: love is sensuality, but also danger, loneliness and madness at the same time. Rock influence is bigger and so it is the role of electric guitars, combined with ethnic instruments as the shakuhachi. Medieval chants are missing, but in their place you’ll listen to voices that will talk to you about the furthest corners of the world. Among so much darkness, a ray of light: Return to Innocence, a real hymn (you may identify the chants of this theme with those of the American Natives, but you’re wrong: they are from the Ami natives from Taiwan).
Le roi est mort, vive le roi(1996)
A beautiful manner of saying that everything changes so nothing changes. The third of its kind, the son of the previous two: gregorian and native chants, ethnic instruments, guitars, whispering voices… pure Enigma sound. Production is monumental: every time you listen there’s a new shade of sound, a new effect, a new message that was there already but unnoticed. Slightly more modern, even retro-futuristic, but smoothly consistent with the previous chapters. After darkness, the light.
The screen behind the mirror (2000)
At the beginning of The Screen behind the mirror Elisabeth Houghton’s voice describes the astronomical facts of Mars, not by chance the fourth planet of the Solar System. Just before the enigma horns let their place to the samples from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, wisely used along the whole album: sometimes laying in the background, other times hitting you violently in your face. The fourth chapter is, to many, the more mature. An intriguing symbiosis of new age, world music and dance rythms. Ruth-Ann Boyle and Andru Donald put the voices, Jens Gad plays the guitar and shakuhachi, whispers and American natives are back. The screen behind the mirror is also, to many, the end of the journey.
If you got to here, you’re a real voyager, a real voyageur. There’s no turning back. If one word could define Voyageur, that word is contemporary. All the elements that had previosly set the Enigma universe up are missing: no gregorian chants, no ethnic instruments, no new age. Above this, Voyageur is sophisticated avant-garde pop. The warmness of previous chapters is missing, too. The fifth is cold, like the echoes of a party night in a sleeping city at dawn. Like contemporary classical music. The strange vocal loops of Incognito or the hypnotic minimalistic melodies of Page of Cups aren’t an easy listening. This is the hardest stage of your journey. You’re warned.
A posteriori (2006)
A posteriori is a new turn in your way, truly, but it is not a turning back, but a jump above… really high above: the travel will take you this time further than ever, to the outer space. Ambient and techno shake hands with European electronic and a few moments of romantic meditation in the cold inmensity of a galaxy where rythmics patterns prevails over melodies. Sonorous messages from distant planets form layers of recognizable but still differente Enigma sounds.
Seven lives, many faces (2008)
And the seventh chapter brings you back home. Defined by Cretu himself as “omnicultural sound”, it’s an amalgam of every face of Enigma you might know and that are, after all, always the same one. Chants, voices and warmness of the first chapters are back. After looking for samples in the four corners of the planet, Enigma found La Puerta del Cielo (Heaven’s gate) just next to home, because this time they’re not distant voices but traditional songs from Ibiza island (Spain) the ones put together with heavy trance and hip-hop rythms.
Seven lives, many faces will leave you a feeling of déjá vu, that of strange familiarity, the same you could have looking at some pictures of a wonderful journey you took long ago…