Enigma certainly wasn’t the worst or even the most irritating musical trend of the 1990s. “Cotton Eye Joe” and the ska/swing revival are just a couple contenders for that title. But Enigma is a perfect illustration of that decade’s knack for ever-so-closely toeing the line between class and kitsch. Conceived by Romanian composer Michael Cretu, Enigma’s odd mix of New Age synth pads, club beats, Gregorian chants, the Marquis de Sade, and, thanks to Cretu’s wailing singing voice, the Scorpions, was the perfect siphon for ‘90s pop culture.
The Platinum Collection is an ostensibly “new” triple-disc set, released to celebrate Enigma’s 20th anniversary. It was issued in Europe late last year, in America in February, and won’t get an official UK release until April. The staggered dates alone are a sign of just how much Enigma’s popularity has fallen. Also, The Platinum Collection really doesn’t have much new to offer. 12 of the 17 tracks from 2001’s Greatest Hits collection are reprised here on the “Greatest Hits” disc. The “Remix Collection” disc culls seven of nine tracks from that year’s Remix Collection. In both cases, the main difference is a few tracks from Engima’s trio of 2000s albums. You didn’t realize Enigma released three albums in the 2000s, including one in 2008? You’re not alone. The third disc is a brief selection of untitled outtakes from Cretu’s collection.
It’s easy to forget that “Sadeness (part 1)”, with its boom-CHI-boom-boom-CHI, Soul II Soul rhythm, was actually a college radio hit as well as an international sensation in 1990. The sounds themselves weren’t fresh, but the combination was, and the affected “darkness” stood out in the charts and on the radio. The MCMXC a.D. album was more of the same, in a good way. 1993 follow-up The Cross of Changes added aboriginal chanting and “When the Levee Breaks” drum samples, and got away with it. Then Cretu ran out of ideas, or simply got lazy. From 1996’s Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi! on, the beats got a little thicker, the hooks dried up, and sales went downhill. By the 2000s, Cretu was actually singing “My heart goes boum boum boum / Every time I think of you”. No surprise at all, then, that most recent single “La Puerta Del Cielo” is a complete “Sadeness” rehash. The real surprise is that Enigma managed to stick long enough to produce all the material here.
Curious bystanders will want to opt for the 2001 hits collection instead. Hardcore fans will already have nearly all this material, save the outtakes. The best that can be said for them is they offer no surprises, and Cretu doesn’t sing. In the end, this Enigma was little more than a one-trick, 1990s-vintage pony.