Enigma, the creation of Romanian composer and producer Michael Cretu, has always stood out as being genuinely original amongst the large slew of electronic music artists. Since the introduction of the debut album, "MXMXC A.D.", in 1990, Enigma has been known and praised highly for its calm and sensual mix of electronic music and choir chants. However, Cretu has decided to take a different direction for the album. As he has stated in interviews, he has not used any samples on this record. Gone are the Gregorian chants, and in is a slightly more electronic- and even, God-forbid, pop-oriented tone to his music. I've read many reviews of "Voyageur", and it seems that not everyone is happy about his decision to travel this way. Yet Cretu has decided to follow his instinct on this one (perhaps this is why the album is called "Voyageur"). And the result is still as inspiring and breath-taking as his previous works.
The record starts with Cretu's traditional sound. In From East To West, a soft piano overlooks a pad, and even his classic electro-brass instrument makes a guest appearance here. Old Enigma enthusiasts are probably thinking, "Good, he hasn't changed! Get ready for some sweet Latin chants and Native drum beats!" Soon into the track, a more techno-ish beat and some hi-hats come in to frolic around amongst the piano and pad combo. It's still the traditional Enigma style, but it's starting to change. This is a decent introductory track to what will be a journey down another path in Cretu's musical world.
Voyageur, the title track from the album (and the first single as well) contrasts everything that Enigma has followed in the past. A funky bassline, weird choppy-effect vocals by Cretu, a relatively light beat, and a girl whispering "Viens chez moi, voyageur..." make up this menagerie. Damn, it sounds like it could have been made with a porn film in mind! This sounds more like Cretu wanted to venture more towards a techno kind of style on his album. Fine by me.
The next track, Incognito has a similar feel to that of the previous track. Listeners may find its introduction rather odd, some guy chanting "oom-wacka-umm-wacka" and so forth with a lot of bass. However, this one actually has identifiably interesting lyrics -- "Like a shadow on the wall... hear it coming, then you don't..." or something like that. It's a rather odd concoction as the song progresses. Faux guitars and tribal drums end up coating this track as well. I do appreciate this one though.
Well, so far, this album really is defying everything Enigma has stood for in the past, but for those who doubt that Cretu has lost his touch, Page of Cups is laid out before them. With a rather sketchy synth and an indiscernable vocal string that is tough to comprehend, along with (sometimes) a hard kick, this song shows us that melody can still be the key. This is one that I enjoyed ever since the first listen, but it seems to have lost some of its effect once I listened to it for the twentieth time. For the record, I have no idea what a "page of cups" is either; maybe he was just loafing around one day, and started drawing tea cups on a blank piece of paper. Suddenly he was inspired! "Wow, I'll write a song about cups on paper!" Yes, I believe I've reached the stage of senility already.
The album then jumps from simplistic floaty music to a straight-out pop tune (and a duet, no less), Boum Boum. The vocal talents of Ruth-Ann (from the group Olive) and funk vocalist Andru Donalds team up for a croon-along about how their hearts go boum-boum-boum every time they see each other. Yes, this song is full of cheesy lyrics, which is very un-Enigma-like. While Enigma is normally about mystic and metaphorical messages, this song is very straightforward in its message (and very corny at the same time). Still, there's some merit in this piece -- the tune is catchy at least, and I've always enjoyed the masking effect placed upon Andru Donalds' voice in Enigma music. It's also the third single from the album! Joy!
But from this pop powerhouse, we glide straight into a short little tune, Total Eclipse Of The Moon, in which Cretu croons to the sounds of a seemingly-real orchestra playing behind him (although it's not). It's an average song, but it's not too interesting. It rounds out at two and a quarter minutes long, so you can listen to it even if you don't like it and it won't take up too much of your precious time. It then leads into Look Of Today... well, it's back to pop once again. It's a decent song that gives us a look at how Enigma would classify modern consumerism, but it still has a faint scent of cheese...
Thankfully, Enigma does not disappoint the listeners who are getting ticked off by the trend of the past few tracks by delivering In The Shadow, In The Light, my personal favourite track on the album. This song is greeted by the gracious return of the masked Andru Donalds vocals. With a nice mix of synth-bass and organ, it tells of someone who will follow their lover wherever they wish to go -- in the shadow, in the light. Donalds' vocal enthusiasm is well-noted, and this one is the only song that I would not even dream of skipping over. It has just the right mix of the classic Enigma aura with just a drop of gothic darkness. Smooth... very smooth.
Unfortunately, the smoothness is lost on the next track. Weightless is what I consider the weakest of all the tracks. It is trance-like filler, stuffed with all the whispy groaning one could ever ask for. Although sounding a bit classic, I still tend to skip over this track. Thankfully, the album instantly redeems itself with The Piano. This brings back the typical old-school Enigma style with the melodic piano, but has some nice aural padding in the background. Makes you think you're sitting in a fountain... maybe that's just me.
The album ends with a stellar track, Following The Sun, featuring again the vocals of Ruth-Ann of Olive. It has a similar poppy feel to "Boum-Boum", but is a bit more wholesome and less corny. According to Cretu, the song is supposed to inflict a mental visualiztion of a dawning autumn sunset. Well, feel free to see whatever you want; it's not a bad song at all, but not my favourite either (In The Shadow, In The Light, remember?). Following The Sun was also the first single off this album, but only hit #97 on the Germany Top 100 chart.
Voyageur is certainly a fun and funky trip for the brain. No, it's not perfect, but it does try and deliver a little something for everyone. It's certainly a departure from the usual Enigma formula, but you can only stay with one sound for so long before it goes stale like a bread loaf.