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 Changes, Enigma‘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.