Enigma? You betcha. Only this latest riddle is trapped inside a problem of going to the well 12 too many times with a formula that, while interesting at times, is just far too stoic and stale.
Enigma carved itself quite a lovely niche in the “new” or “world” music market a decade ago. Whether it was “Sadeness” which put the band on the map, or the other favorite, “Return To Innocence”, everything that Enigma touched turned to gold. However, like anything else that is a decade old, Enigma has had to fight hard to remain relevant in a constantly changing market. The follow-up to 2003’s Voyager doesn’t quite measure up to anything remotely as mysterious or exciting as The Cross of Changes or MCMXC A.D.. Instead, as the opening notes begin, you are taken into a rather atmospheric, tranquil, and serene world that doesn’t have any real highs or lows. Straight and narrow does not a good Enigma album make.
The opening track, “Eppur Si Muove” sounds like a parody of Enigma, as subtle layers and textures give way to a Gregorian-like chant before the almost obligatory dance beat kicks things up a half notch. This continues on for a few stale, ordinary moments, with very little substance to keep one interested. It might work as a remix, but here it just seems to be Enigma V.7.0. This leads seamlessly into a slightly up-tempo house / dance / ambient number called “Feel Me Heaven”, which sounds like it could be intro music for a Depeche Mode or Pet Shop Boys concert -- somewhat appealing but equally as forgettable. A trace of jungle or drum ‘n’ bass is dusted off and thrown in for good measure but just adds to the sonic malaise. It’s as if Enigma has basically put a new coat of paint on what is an old sound.
The first effort where you get a sense of some of that old magic comes during “Dreaming of Andromeda”, which starts slow, but has a short, crisp groove headed in the right direction. Slowly it sweeps over the listener before heading into dance / world turf, as some subtle industrial accents are placed in tandem with some gorgeous operatic voice. And it seems to flow quite well over the next three to four minutes. Unfortunately, the first true clunker comes during the dreamy, ambient attempt, dubbed “Dancing With Mephisto”. It relies on a soothing arrangement that sounds like a cross between Enya, the Coors and Fatboy Slim hamming things up together. The spoken word snippets placed over it add very little to the proceedings. The voice talks about feeling eternity, and this song sounds like it takes eternity to finish. Finally, the gun is used to put this sonic yelping dog out of its misery.
Enigma probably isn’t keen on making any new headway with its signature sound, but everything has the sense of “been there, done that, bought the now tattered t-shirt, bought the DVD and am wearing the new limited edition t-shirt that came with the DVD.” It just ends up making some tracks fall flat very quickly, especially the rather dull and languid “Northern Lights”. It could be construed as one of the longest sleep-inducing musical interludes in history, as absolutely nothing noteworthy is heard. The only good thing about this song is that it leads into a promising little number that shows Enigma can still deliver a decent tune. “Invisible Love” sounds murky and mysterious, and never breaks through that well-constructed tension.
Yet for every slice of hope or light on this album, Enigma comes back with more of the same arrangements, sounds, effects, layers and backbeats. No better example of this is the rather tired and lame “Message From 10”, which is about a five on a scale of one to 10. The same can be said for another rather ordinary Enigma-ized track, “20,000 Miles Over the Sea” that doesn’t really have any sort of soaring feeling to it. This isn’t to say the whole thing is a shambles, as “Sitting On the Moon” is perhaps the best of the lot here as a nice melody supports a Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins-like vocal delivery.
Enigma may know the way around a studio, but this record (concluding with the strong and thoughtful, “Goodbye Milky Way”) seems to be the start of a string of albums that don’t quite measure up to what was done previously.