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
LSD: Love, Sensuality and Devotion gathers over a decade's worth of Enigma's definitive tracks, including the song that started it all, "Sadeness, Pt. 1." "Return to Innocence," "Beyond the Invisible," and "Cross of Changes" are all featured as well, and though the collection ranges from the rock-tinged "I'll Love You...I'll Kill You" to atmospheric, electronic fare like "Shadows in Silence," since it's all essentially Michael Crétu's vision, it flows surprisingly well. Since Enigma's sound has varied fairly drastically over the years, LSD: Love, Sensuality and Devotion is the perfect starting point for anyone curious about Crétu's music, and the only Enigma album that casual fans might need.
Words: Heather Phares
Michael Crétu's attempt at fusing everything from easy listening sex music and hip-hop rhythms to centuries-old Gregorian chants couldn't have been more designed to tweak the nose of high art, a joyously crass stab straight at a mainstream, do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars. The result is something that shouldn't exist, but in its own way results in as much of a cultural scramble and explosion as anything Public Enemy were doing around the same time, crossing over the Euro-disco and new age spheres with style. Credit Crétu for an open ear for whatever works, which is precisely why "Sadeness," the first part of a longer track called "Principles of Lust," turned into a fluke worldwide hit. Snippets of monks invoking the Almighty effortlessly glide in and out of a polite but still strong breakbeat, shimmering, atmospheric synth and flute lines and a Frenchwoman whispering in a way that sounds distinctly more carnal than spiritual (as her gasps for breath elsewhere make clear). Guitar and male vocals add to the album version's try-anything-that-works approach, as do attempts at shuffling jazz beats and horns. If nothing quite equals that prime moment elsewhere on the album, MCMXC A.D. still trips out on the possibilities as it can, right from the opening "Voice of Enigma," inviting all listeners to sit back, relax, and take a gentle trip. Crétu certainly isn't trying to hide anything -- "Callas Went Away" goes right ahead and adds a sample of Maria Callas herself to the chirping birds and soft beats, while elsewhere the flutes, beats, monks, and French voices merrily go about their glossy business. About the only thing missing is the kitchen sink, making the entire album the "MacArthur Park" of its day.
Words: Ned Raggett
Enigma burst on the scene in the early '90s with a pretty nifty schtick: dance beats and lush chord washes underpinning such exotica as muttered French sex talk and Gregorian chant, all unified by a bizarre theme somehow related to the Marquis de Sade. The concept was never as original as some people thought (Mark Stewart's "Maffia" had set plainchant to electro-funk as far back as 1984), but it worked nicely, and "Sadeness" (har har) was an international dance club hit. Two albums later, Michael Cretu (the individual who records under the Enigma moniker) doesn't seem to have done much to expand upon his original ideas. The monks are still there, floating in a murky club mix, though this time they're joined by a cool Mongolian ensemble as well. Cretu is singing more, which is unfortunate since his voice is mediocre and his lyrics silly, but the occasional high point does emerge, such as the darkly lovely "The Child in Us." Most of the album, however, is twaddle. Song titles like "Morphing Thru Time," "Beyond the Invisible" and (seriously) "Odyssey of the Mind" will give you a good idea of what to expect -- lots of atmosphere, lots of reverb, lots of sternly intoned lyrics about, er...something or other.
Words: Rick Anderson
Enigma's fourth album The Screen Behind the Mirror continues Michael Cretu's explorations into ambient new age, Gregorian chant, world music, and dance rhythms. Cretu's vocals play a more prominent role than on earlier Enigma albums, which, unfortunately, often detracts from the songs' other diverse elements -- which include church bells, Middle Eastern and European choirs, sensuous female vocals, and a wide array of ethnic percussion and instruments. The album's pieces are mixed together continuously and are united thematically by samples and reinterpretations of Orff's "O Fortuna" and other material from Carmina Burana, giving songs like "Endless Quest," "The Gate," and "Smell of Desire" a flowing, cohesive feel. Though it doesn't reveal significant growth or change in Enigma's work, The Screen Behind the Mirror will please fans of the group's other atmospheric works.
Words: Heather Phares
Michael Crétu's formula of weaving old and new world sounds through new age atmospherics and dance rhythms has resulted in four Enigma discs that have straddled the line between brilliance and self-indulgence. The plodding bombast of 2000's The Screen Behind the Mirror seemed to signal that Enigma had stretched itself to a point where an explosion of pompous musical goop was imminent. So what's to be done when the bubble's about to burst? Simply ease up, let out some of the stuffy air, and allow for some space to breathe -- and that is what Crétu has done with Voyageur. Utilizing a lighter production style, his compositions benefit from the lack of themes, chants, and assorted ethereal voices that began to plague his discs while still retaining the essence of Enigma. Once again, the songs are seamlessly merged together into a flowing river of music in which there are moments of calm as well as sections that have a swift undercurrent of beats. The mandatory introductory passage, "From East to West," stretches further than on previous discs as its lightly rolling beats and simple melody suggest a move toward ambient electronica. The following title track reinforces this theory as the danceable beat propels the electro-guitar strums and backing organ like a hit song from a car commercial. "Incognito" expands the experiment a bit more by tentatively treading into Chemical Brothers territory and, as if to say he's getting back to basics, Crétu throws in a couple of "Sadeness" samples from Enigma's groundbreaking debut disc. Rounding out the excellent first half of the program is the single-worthy "Boum-Boum," where the pop sounds of *NSYNC exist happily within an Alan Parsons Project world. Although the beats continue with "Look of Today," the second half of Voyageur tends to lose focus as tracks like "Weightless" and "The Piano" sound as if they are lost in some kind of new age netherworld. However, with its strong opening and scaling back of theatrics, Voyageur is one of Enigma's more successful recordings and sheds new light on an old formula.
Words: Aaron Latham
Wedding ancient religious and art music with atmospheric sound effects and chilled-out electronic beats and loops, producer Michael Crétu created a worldwide phenomenon under his alter ego Enigma, and on his sixth album, 2006's A Posteriori, he employed his trademark style within a conceptual framework built around astronomy, mysticism, and the dawn of science. An alternate version of the album, A Posteriori , was also released, featuring the album's 12 tracks reworked by a handful of noted producers and DJs, including Boca Junior, Christian Geller, Tocadisco, Jean F. Cochois, and Ralf Hildenbeutel.
Words: Mark Deming
Enigma mastermind Michael Crétu took a self-described "omnicultural" approach to his seventh release under the moniker, and while that progressive, pioneering notion looks good on paper, any sharp stylistic changes to the project's signature sound on Seven Lives Many Faces are subtle, to say the least. Once again, Crétu seamlessly blends ethnic fusion, new age, and neo-classical electronica into the perfect background music for a European tourism campaign commercial, peppering each track with his seemingly endless arsenal of samples, both new and old. When Enigma strikes a balance between the two worlds, as is the case on the elegant (and surprisingly muscular) first single "Seven Lives" and its spiritual and melodic counterpart "La Puerta del Cielo" (the latter most resembles the band's most notable hit, "Sadeness, Pt. 1") the results are quietly stunning, but in more cases than not, the new age, fortune-cookie derived lyrics (especially when sung in English) mirror the unimaginative, two-chord melodies that carry them along.
Words: James Christopher Monger
Cretu being no fool, he figured if it worked the first time, no need to change things much for the second. But he also knew not to simply go ahead and just rehash his debut for Cross of Changes, resulting in a just different enough effort along the same overall lines. The usual air of tasteful middle-of-the-road spirituality takes precedence, right down to the cover art and appropriately pantheistic quote from Persian mystic poet Rumi in the CD booklet. Needless to say, the music attempts to match the same throughout, and often succeeds. Things kick off with more of the synth-whale song noises and atmospherics from MCMXC, however there aren't any monks to be found this time around, but what sounds like the same whispering woman talking about "clearing the debts of many hundred years" and the like. From there, Cretu merrily takes the same plunge -- some of his sample choices this time around show he's got a decent record collection, including parts from Songs From the Victorious City, the striking fusion of Egyptian and Western musics from Anne Dudley and Jaz Coleman. His work with beats and loops noticeably shows a more developed edge -- while hardly an innovator, there's a bit more grime and loud in his rhythms, which in combination with extra electric guitar make a reasonable contrast to the smoother elements. Consider the rampaging conclusion to "I Love You...I'll Kill You," which while sharing some cheese with the title itself still works surprisingly well, right down to a clever Robert Plant vocal sample at the end. "Return to Innocence" was the big single from this one, not quite up there with "Sadeness" in the popular culture in the U.S. but almost inescapable elsewhere. There's another Led Zeppelin sample (this time John Bonham) and a haunting male vocal providing oomph under the fuzzy-headed greeting card philosophy of the main lyrics. It's an impressive effort, showing Cretu had a definite something in his own way.
Words: Ned Raggett
Platinum Collection is a triple-disc set that contains one disc of Enigma’s greatest hits, one disc of remixes, and one disc of “The Lost Ones,” brief instrumental snippets that were used as source material and ideas for full-length tracks. Naturally, this last disc is what’s interesting for the hardcore fan which, unlike the rest, consists of unreleased material -- but even the hardcore may find this slightly ephemeral; after all, these were designed as something like work tapes, not for release.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine