It must be time for something different in the writing music reviews… and it don’t come much differenter than this. With its weird combination of new agey instrumentals, Gregorian chants and thumping bassy beats, Enigma’s debut album is still unique in my music collection, even alongside the band’s later output.
MCMXC a.D. opens with what would later become Enigma’s signature sound, the Enigma horn, a relaxing opening that leads straight into the raving monk stylings that exploded the group to the top of the charts: Sadeness (Part I). It was a great track in 1990, and it is still a great track, especially on a bass-heavy stereo.
And while the beats come back for The Voice & The Snake and Hallelujah, there are plenty of more ambient sounds on the CD too, like the birdsong that opens Callas Went Away, the Close Encounters homage that is Rivers Of Belief, and those chanting monks again in Mea Culpa and The Voice & The Snake.
You may get the idea from some of the titles – not to mention those monks – that there is a bit of a religious theme going on here. And you would be right, of course; The Voice & The Snake and Rivers Of Belief both play with imagery from the book of Revelation (although I’ve never bothered to check whether there are any actual Biblical quotes – lazy reviewer!)
On the other hand, there are also tracks called Principles Of Lust and Knocking On Forbidden Doors, and I’m pretty sure Find Love isn’t just about romance. In fact, you only have to look at Sadeness, which juxtaposes the Marquis de Sade with the religious overtones of the Gregorian chant, to see the whole album encapsulated in four minutes and 21 seconds. (I can do it quicker: sex and religion.)
And in a weird way, that’s what makes it good writing music for me. Yes, it’s unobtrusive played on a laptop with no bass to speak of; yes it’s weird new age-y; and yes, what words it does have are mostly in foreign (and therefore also unobtrusive) – all good things when trying to concentrate on some writing. But some of my writing takes in themes of sex and religion; on those occasions, MCMXC a.D. is just about as perfect as it gets.
Stand-out tracks: Sadeness, of course; depending which issue of the CD you listen to, there are a few versions floating around, but the original version has just the right balance of monks and beats for me.
Sex and religion aside though, this is a classic album that thumbs its nose at the very idea of genre, and works just as well for background music while writing or for blasting down the lanes in a Mini.