Bliss: Quiet Letters (U.S.Edition)

[8 November 2005]

By John Bergstrom

PopMatters Associate Music Editor

Not Fooling Anyone.

Does the fact that they’re Danish earn Bliss a pass for turning out this bland, pandering, lowest-common-denominator chillout mush? Absolutely not. Just when you thought the novel-idea-turned-plague Enigma had worked its way out of the popular conscience, the new Quango Music Group has the nerve to try to put a sequel over. In fact, the most interesting aspect of Bliss is that Enigma man Michael Cretu isn’t involved.

This is an act whose equivalent of Cretu—producer / arranger / programmer Marc-George Andersen—in the liner notes thanks “J.S. Bach for continuous inspiration”. That pretty much says all you need to know about Bliss.

But just in case… Quiet Letters is the act’s American debut, culled from its first two European releases. The stark, carefully-lettered, black and white artwork is an exercise in effective marketing, leading consumers to think they’re paying for something vastly more sophisticated than it is. Underneath all the “mystique” is carefully-constructed background music. Lush, foam-insulated synthesizers; sterile electronic beats; and brooding, minor-key songs about nothing are the standard issue.

For that added degree of “sophistication”/ market appeal, Bliss features some multicultural touches in the form of vaguely ethnic percussion and occasional vocalist Tchando, a native of Guinea-Bissau. But the overall effect isn’t any more ethnic than, say, the final third of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”. In fact, the vibe is pretty much the same, only without Gabriel’s genuine emotion.

And then there’s the inevitable siren-voiced female lead, Alexandra Hamnede. She actually lends Quiet Letters its only palpable substance; on songs like “Kissing” and “Remember My Name”, her sincere teary-eyed delivery of even the most mundane lines almost convinces you to take it all seriously. But Bliss’ gimmick makes that almost impossible. Where Enigma employed plainsong and other pseudo-classical touches to get listeners’ attention, these guys use…accordion?!? Hey, that instrument has its place—just not in the middle of this New Age soup. At least it’s not a pan flute…

Musically speaking, Quiet Letters stands to offend no one, and that’s the most offensive thing about it. This is the stuff that does the trick on chillout collections; not surprisingly, Bliss has appeared on over a hundred of them. The calming soundscapes are sure to lower your blood pressure, until you realize you’re being duped.

In 1990, the idea of electronic chillout music that was too novel to appeal to the underground and just on the right side of New Age to appeal to the masses was a good one; who can deny that that first Enigma album served a purpose and allowed for some guilty pleasure while doing so? Fifteen years on, though, a European calling card and black and white photography simply aren’t enough.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/bliss-quietletters/