Enigma – The Cross of Changes

With some albums, if you didn’t hear them when they originally came out, it’s difficult to imagine quite what their original release might have been like. So it is for me with The Cross of ChangesEnigma‘s second album, released this week in 1993.

A couple of years on from Michael Cretu‘s debut as Enigma (he’d done a number of albums under other pseudonyms previously), The Cross of Changes is far from the “difficult second album” that you might expect. It’s a little darker than its predecessor MCMXC a.D. (1990), and driven more by the obscure vocal samples than the pure relaxation of the previous album, but it is, for the most part, easily as good.

The first track Second Chapter isn’t really a proper track at all, as much as an introduction, complete with a slightly silly whispered vocal from Cretu’s wife Sandra. It quickly builds into The Eyes of Truth, one of the singles from the album, and a totally epic track. Seemingly largely forgotten in recent years (that is, it didn’t appear on either of his “best of” albums), it’s easily one of Enigma‘s best tracks. The vocal is incredible and evocative, and all the pan pipey stuff turns the whole track into a bit of a rollercoaster ride of emotions. Or maybe that’s just me…

The same is very definitely true of the next track, the enormous hit single Return to Innocence. It’s worth mentioning that the main vocal on this track is in fact by an indigenous Taiwanese singer, not a Native American – just for the record. Either way, it’s a quite incredible track, and if you disagree you’re wrong. It’s also worth a quick mention for the Wikipedia article for this song, which to my great amusement describes how the single was released on a format called ’12” (30cm)’.

Then the longest track on the album, the nine-minute I Love You… I’ll Kill You, to close Side A of the original LP. Another totally enormous, and quite incredible piece of music, there’s very little else you can say. It’s got a huge guitar solo in the middle, which is either unnecessary or an epic rock and roll moment, depending on your viewpoint.

But despite all of what we’ve heard so far, it wouldn’t be unfair to regard The Cross of Changes as the weakest of the original Enigma trilogy – the first really set out the template for the project, and it wasn’t until the third that he truly entered his element, but that doesn’t make this a bad album by any stretch of the imagination.

Side B, from Silent Warrior onwards, certainly lacks the strength of the earlier tracks. The first has a lot going for it – it’s overflowing with rainforest noises, and the chorus is entirely chanty (no monks though). As far as I can make out Cretu is trying to question whether the Conquistadors were doing the right thing, and given that they almost uniformly weren’t, it’s difficult to work out quite what the point in the song is. It’s nice enough though.

The Dream of the Dolphin is also pleasant, although a little inconsequential. The line about “Remember the shaman, when he used to say…” has never yet failed to make me think it’s about to continue, “… Keep coming on / You know we keep coming on,” (The Shamen, who did Comin’ On the previous year, in case that isn’t obvious). And then we’re onto Age of Loneliness (Carly’s Song), which perhaps isn’t quite as good as anything on Side A, but it is pretty good nonetheless – another soaring vocal and ethnic rhythm. I’ve no idea what Sandra is banging on about in her bit, but it sounds good anyway.

Out from the Deep is the one track on this album which could really be considered sub-standard. At the very least, it’s different, but I don’t think that’s the problem, although it is entirely out of place on this album, as I suspect Cretu may have found out when devising the transition from the previous track. There is a lot that jars though, such as his pronunciation of “mishtakesh,” or the entirely inconsequential lyric, which seems to be an attempt to be profound, but fails on every level. By the end though, I suspect you’ll realise that you were actually quite enjoying it.

But every silver lining has its cloud, and The Cross of Changes is, by and large, an extremely good album. If nothing else, it’s an entirely competent follow-up to MCMXC a.D., which was no doubt part of the exercise. In the end, the last track – also the title track – rounds things off rather nicely and takes us back to the very relaxed state where the album began.

There’s a limited edition with some remixes tacked on the end and a gold-plated CD, but you’re probably not going to find a copy for a sensible price. Instead, just go for the 9-track version which is available all over the place.

5 thoughts on “Enigma – The Cross of Changes

  1. Rollo, not so “stowaway” after all… (with this blog). So, lets get it out there… It’s what this blog is about.

    Firstly, thank you for sharing all this with us, and in the detail you do.

    Thank you for “re-reviewing” an album that was released a decade ago. …An album by my Idol, the genius, “MC”, not “Hammer”, but “Curly”.

    One of the reasons why I am fascinated by Cretu’s work, is that his albums are “theme-centered” – every track is related to a central theme. And for me, that is just one of the main reasons why he is a genius. He is able to compose 10+ tracks around a “single” theme. I think he once said (somewhere) that he’s albums are like books, and each song represents a chapter within the book. So, there is this “golden thread” that runs through the album – the theme.

    Rollo, I personally think you gave “Silent Warrior” half an ear. It is an “incredible song” and it is as “strong” as it gets on any album! …And, “If you disagree you’re wrong”!

    Here we go…

    In terms of the afore-mentioned “Cretu-doctrine”, this track might actually have been the title track, “The Cross of Changes” – (some lyrics within: “The white men said: That’s the cross of changes. Tell me why, tell me why, tell why, in the name of God these kind of changes?”)

    To enlighten you more.. Cretu is not “trying to question whether the Conquistadors were doing the right thing”. He actually implies judgement. They “used” the Christian religion as a sort of “smoke screen” to take the land and its resources from the indigenous peoples. “There’s no God who ever tried to change the world in this way, for the ones who abuse His name, there’ll be no chance to escape, on judgement day”.

    Furthermore, “Silent Warrior” is not just “strongly” related to the theme, but it is “strong” because of it’s complementary dynamics – instruments, vocals, lyrics (the story).

    The songs starts “peacefully” with an indigenous ambience, which is disturbed by the “strong, persistent” march of the “white men” (“in the name of God”). (Listen to the “quick” military-style roll of the snare in the build-up). But as soon as the indigenous people realised that “these changes” where not “in the name of God” as the “white men” preaches, “they tried to fight for liberty”. Wow, and listen to those “war drums” as the indigenous people prepare to fight… wow, again. Well, we know what the outcome was… – “with the cross as alibi”, Cretu adds.

    Now, from the indigenous people’s perspective, Cretu adds (as mentioned above): “…there is no God who ever tried to change the world in this way”. From a 3rd party perspective, Cretu “warns” (as mentioned above): “..for the ones who abuse His name, there’ll be no chance to escape, on judgement day:..” Wow, and listen to the Halt!

    Now that I listened to “Silent Warrior” again, I realise its probably Cretu’s strongest, most dynamic, …greatest artistical expression.

    Now, if you followed so far, your statement, “…seem difficult to work out quite what the point in the song is…” seems to have been worked out.

    But now for the finale…

    In the context of the album, the “concluding chapter” (the last track) has to summarise the “golden thread-message” – the “album-punchline”.

    And what a way to do it by “renaming” the “concluding “chapter” (the most important chapter) , to “The Cross of Changes”, the actual title of your strongest “chapter” (the chapter that carries your “golden thread-message” the best). (Wow, sort of “stealing” the title like the “white men” did). And guess what you now call the “strongest chapter” that got its name “stolen”… “Silent Warrior”!

    And, what does the essence of the “most important” “thieving” chapter state, “White Men”…

    “There’s a universal justice, and the eyes of truth are always watching you…”

  2. Hi Nemo,

    Wow! Thanks for the comprehensive response. My self-imposed rule is that when I write these pieces, I listen to the album in full, and just write what I feel. No research (except the odd bit Wikipedi’ing for checking half-remembered facts)… and no extra thinking about meanings! So your perspective is really welcome. In particular, you’re completely right about Silent Warrior – it might have helped if I’d had a copy of the lyrics handy when I wrote this piece! (See http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/enigma/silentwarrior.html).

    You’re also right – I do overuse the words “strong” and “weak”! I’ll remedy this…

    If you get the urge, I’d be interested to hear your responses on my pieces about Voyageur: https://musicforstowaways.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/enigma-voyageur/ and Seven Lives, Many Faces: https://musicforstowaways.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/enigma-seven-lives-many-faces/ and just in case you start wondering why I felt I needed to be so rude about Voyageur in particular, I’ll point out that Le Roi est Mort and A Posteriori are two of the best albums I own (as is Legionaere actually). Cretu is an exceptional musician, but he’s not infallible…

    Cheers,
    r.

  3. Pingback: Beginner’s guide to Enigma | Music for stowaways

  4. Pingback: Enigma – MCMXC a.D. | Music for stowaways

  5. Pingback: Enigma – Le Roi est Mort, Vive le Roi! | Music for stowaways

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