This week sees the anniversary of the release of two Enigma albums – the first we looked at yesterday; the second was ten years ago. Voyageur was their (well, strictly speaking his, for Enigma is mainly Michael Cretu) fifth album, following the first “best of” compilation which had been released a couple of years earlier.
The opening track is From East to West, which opens softly enough, working its way into the traditional wah-ha sound which had, at this point, opened every Enigma album since time began. An extremely chaotic drum beat arrives, and then the main track begins. It’s pleasant enough, but the drums are totally distracting, and out of sync with anything else you hear, leaving the end result as a bit of a mess.
The title track Voyageur comes next, and although the album version isn’t as good as some of the alternative mixes on the single, it isn’t bad. There’s a good pumping bassline, a bit of wailing from Cretu, and a bit of French whispering. In fact, monks aside, it’s got most of the ingredients of classic Enigma, but even so it falls a bit flat.
A bit of scatting is always good. If you’re recording a jazz record, which Cretu wasn’t. He also never seems to have understood that his own vocals don’t really fit his music particularly well, and hiding them under a whole load of effects doesn’t make it any more ethereal or dreamy, it just renders them incomprehensible. So all told, to call the third track Incognito a bit of a mess would be doing it rather a large favour.
Cretu has said before that he doesn’t really listen to “modern” music, and so it’s difficult to judge quite what the purpose of Voyageur was. He obviously wanted to break away from all the mediaeval chanting and whatnot of the preceding four albums, but he also seems to have struggled with the right direction, fusing pop with… well, whatever you would call this.
Page of Cups is similar – it’s got some pleasant elements, but it’s also entirely pointless and doesn’t really go anywhere in particular. Not only that, but it fails to go anywhere over a duration of seven minutes. That’s a lot of filler, even for a chillout album!
Boum Boum, with vocals by Cretu’s long-term collaborator Ruth Ann Boyle (formerly off of Olive) is probably the closest this album gets to a pop song, and despite the rather vacuous lyrics it’s pretty good too. Of course, the Chicane remix on the single the following year was considerably better, but the original is certainly the best track on the first half of the album.
After that it’s back to being lousy. Total Eclipse of the Moon is a brilliant Enigma title, and also one of the worst tracks he’s ever recorded. Fortunately it’s pretty short, although the ending does make it sound as though he just got bored half way through writing it (I wouldn’t blame him). Then Look of Today, in which Cretu seems to narrowly avoid accidentally covering ABC‘s The Look of Love, is a little better, but not a lot. Its bass line does make up for some of its other failings, such as the vocal, the lyrics, the melody, the manic drumming, and… well… the entire rest of the song.
Another experiment Cretu tried with this album was with the packaging – the booklet is largely round, which is certainly distinctive. Unlike the semi-transparent Le Roi est Mort, Vive le Roi! sleeve (1997) I don’t think the intended effect is really achieved.
Let’s pause for a moment and contemplate In the Shadow, In the Light. Just because it’s the best track on the album, and is entirely deserving of a bit of extra contemplation. It may not be up to the standard of the first few albums, but that’s OK – he’d been churning out that monk-based stuff every year or so for a decade and a half. Ignore that, and this track is very good indeed. The vocal is from Andru Donalds, another of his regular collaborators.
Then you get the pointless and dreary sound of Weightless and The Piano, and finally you’ve made it to the last track, Following the Sun. For this one he brings back Ruth Ann for another outing. Again, the lyrics are largely drivel (“Following the sun, the golden one,” seems an unnecessary distinction given the number of suns that most people revolve around), but the melody is good, and it’s a nice enough song. And after that, the album is over already.
It’s difficult to say exactly what went wrong with Voyageur, but it certainly seems to have missed its mark in a very significant way. I suspect the fairest thing to say would be that this one is for completists only.
You’re probably best to go with the download version of Voyageur if you really want it, as the CD has become rather expensive. Start here.