MCMXC a.D. "The Limited Edition" Review
by Gavin Stok
Five and a half years after its release, MCMXC a.D. and its limited edition successor, which is the same as MCMXC a.D. plus 4 additional tracks, sounds as fresh, original, and hypnotic as it did when released in December 1990. The beat used in of Sadeness may have been copied many times over, but the album's original use of samples, rhythm, and mix remains unique and addictive. On no other commercial album will you find a mixture of English, French, and Latin lyrics mixed together with Greogrian chants, a surrealistic flute, the heavy breathing of women, and samples whose origin can not even be guessed.
It is MCMXC a.D.'s sheer originality which is its biggest attraction. In 1990, when music was going along at a steady pace, Enigma offered something different. Suddenly standard pop rules were not being followed. Instead the radio stations started playing a track containing flutes, Gregorian chants, French lyrics, and heavy breathing. From nowhere, and with no credit given, came Sadeness part 1, to date Enigma's biggest and most recognisable hit. One of the best tracks on MCMXC a.D., it forms only one part of three on the 12 minute track Principles of Lust (not to be mistaken with the single of the same name). In many ways it combines all the main elements of MCMXC a.D. into one track; Gregorian chants, flutes, heavy breathing, and French lyrics all appear again in some guise on other tracks. It has a hypnotic beat, and flows wonderfully into the second part of the track, Find Love (released as the single Principles of Lust)
It is Mea Culpa, the second single released from the album, that sounds most like Sadeness. It uses all the same type of samples, except that it has a heavy marching beat. Unfortunately its release as second single has also made people feel that Enigma is nothing more than Gregorian chants and flutes. This is far from the truth, and tracks like Find Love and Knocking on Forbidden Doors prove this. Neither contain a focus on Gregorian chants or flutes, yet both convey the same atmosphere, emotion, and energy using other instruments such as brass and electric guitars.
One credible feature of MCMXC a.D. is how it was mixed. All tracks flow naturally into each other, and the use of stereo and bass is used to perfection. Play MCMXC a.D. on a good stereo system with speakers that let out a lot of bass and you will be blown away! While the extra tracks on the limited edition also flow into each other, I found it to be less natural notably due to the changing nature of each of the tracks. Regardless, having the extra tracks flowing into each other instead of being separate (as is the case on the special edition of The CROSS of Changes) makes for an easier listen.
The four extra tracks on the limited edition are made up of one remix from each of the singles released from MCMXC a.D. They do not sit comfortably on the end of the original album, but are good to listen to in their own right. For this reason I wish they were offered as a separate CD. The Meditation Mix of Sadeness is quick and effective offering yet another hypnotic beat and brilliant use of bells, while the Fading Shades and Everlasting Mix of Mea Culpa and Principles of Lust respectively are more like extended mixes than anything else, providing heavier beats but little or no new samples. Finally, The Return Silence Mix of The Rivers of Belief has a wonderful middle section which sends shivers down the spine through the use of its instrumentation and the use of the provocative lyric "And if you believe in God, it's because of the devil".
Overall MCMXC a.D. is a masterpiece of the 1990s. The music is highly original and it creates a special and unique atmosphere time and time again. To date the sound and atmosphere have only been copied and improved on successfully by one artist, that being Delerium on their album Semantic Spaces. A great many others have tried and failed. Copying is not what music is about, however, and undoubtedly if more people are to take a risk and be as creative as Michael Cretu has shown to be in this album then we, as the listening audience, will be much happier people.
Thanks to Zenon Feszczak for pointing out an incorrection in an earlier copy of this review!