For many people Enigma are something of an enigma. They seemed to come out of nowhere in December 1990 when their debut album, MCMXC a.D., was released. Yet the man behind Enigma, Romanian-born Michael Cretu, had released a number of albums under his own name, although none had really had any impact. Enigma‘s debut went on to top the charts in over 40 countries, went multi platinum and seemed to spawn an industry of offbeat dance trance, with world music overtones.
Cretu had spent eight months working on MCMXC a.D. (the roman numeral from 1990), at his studio A.R.T. Studios in Ibiza, Spain, where he both wrote and produced the album. It became Virgin’s most successful worldwide album and its success was helped by the single, ‘Sadeness (Part I),’ which included Gregorian chants and pseudo-sexual sounds all arranged over a dance beat – impossible to pigeonhole, but almost impossible to resist. According to Cretu the album was about, “unsolved crimes and philosophical themes such as life after death, hence the name Enigma.”
The riddle of Enigma was fueled by the fact that Cretu was shy in revealing almost any information on the album, it’s said because he was unsure of its potential. Real names were shunned and Cretu credited himself as Curly M.C; initially people were unsure whether it was a band, a person or quite what it was. In retrospect this helped the marketing of the album, adding to the mystery.
Enigma’s second album, The Cross of Changes, came along in 1993 and includes the single, ‘Carly’s Song’ (“Age of Loneliness”) that was also featured in the movie Silver, which Cretu had been asked to compose the soundtrack to. He felt unable to do the whole thing, given his commitments to a second Enigma record. This album developed the sound of Enigma with World music sounds and while not as successful commercially is a very satisfying recording.
Three years later, Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi! (French for “The King is dead. Long live the King!”) was issued and once again explored familiar territory. There was Gregorian chant as well as Sanskrit and Vedic chants all crafted into the familiar Enigma sound, but the album failed to arouse the interest garnered by the first two releases.
For 2000’s release, The Screen Behind the Mirror, Ruth-Ann Boyle (from the band Olive) and Andru Donalds make their first appearances on an Enigma record. This time Cretu used classical music as his inspiration, taking samples from Carl Orff‘s Carmina Burana to be used on four tracks on the album. The following year, Love Sensuality Devotion: The Greatest Hits and Love Sensuality Devotion: The Remix Collection brought to an end what Cretu considers the first chapter of the Enigma project.
In 2003, Voyageur marked a significant shift in Enigma‘s sound, no Gregorian chants and other world music overtones. Fans were left underwhelmed by the change, but there needed to be a move away as the old formula had run its course. For the project’s sixth album, 2006’s A Posteriori, there is a definite move towards techno and pop-oriented electronic music. With astronomy, physics, history, and sociology as its themes, this is an album that is well worth exploring. In 2008, Seven Lives Many Faces became the band’s seventh album.
Every now and then an album or an artist seems to come out of nowhere and take the music world by storm – Enigma is one such artist and their debut album, despite its influences was a genuinely unique and inspired creation. It introduced New Age music to the mainstream, but at the same time it relied on the heritage of artists including Tangerine Dream and Jean-Michel Jarre. Enigma also influenced others, most notably Deep Forest whose eponymous debut was definitely cut from the same musical cloth as Enigma.
Words: Richard Havers