There’s a lot to like about Enigma‘s fourth album The Screen Behind the Mirror (2000), but the opening track The Gate is not among its finest moments. Four albums in, and Michael Cretu was still starting every album with exactly the same synth effects. This has a bit of added drama from Carmina Burana, but that’s not entirely original either.
Push the Limits, the first proper track on the album, is. This is what happens when Enigma does dance music. Admittedly the single version didn’t really cut the mustard, hence ATB‘s remixes, which did help on the commercial side of things.
After Le Roi est Mort, Vive Le Roi! (1997), undoubtedly the most defining album of Enigma‘s sound, it wasn’t really clear where Cretu would go next. He had said originally that the project would be a trilogy – the record company had even released a nicely packaged Trilogy set – and this would be the fourth album. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that The Screen Behind the Mirror follows very closely in the vein of its predecessor.
But with Gravity of Love, the first of several collaborations with Ruth-Ann Boyle (formerly of Olive), he really is at the peak of his game. Boyle is an exceptional vocalist, and this is really pop, in the purest sense, but full of weird offbeat ethnic samples and influences from classical music, built as it is around more samples from Carmina Burana. Most of all, though, it’s also an absolutely brilliant song. Also, the path of excess leads to the tower of wisdom, apparently.
Similarly Smell of Desire, which is a typically beautiful instrumental. This album is going very well indeed by this stage, although the lyrics bothered from 1990’s Mea Culpa could really be dispensed with on here.
It’s at this point that the album seems to lose some of its momentum. Cretu’s own vocals always jar slightly with his own music, which might be part of the problem with Modern Crusaders. The appearance again of Carmina Burana, and the guitar wankery probably don’t help enormously either. Ultimately, this track and Traces (Light & Weight) are both a bit of a mess. A pleasant mess, but a mess nonetheless.
A rather uncomfortable segue takes us into The Screen Behind the Mirror, a much more pleasant and straight-laced instrumental with weird processed vocal samples as the main melody and some more borrowed vocals, this time from Gravity of Love. Repetition is the key here, apparently.
Endless Quest, too, is pleasant, although it’s back to the echoey panpipes of old. It’s difficult to know what to say in retrospect really, because the follow-up Voyageur, which saw Cretu really trying to innovate and change his sound, was so fundamentally awful. But it’s also fair to say that ten years into the project, The Screen Behind the Mirror saw him largely retreading old ground.
Then come the awful Camera Obscura and the forgettable Between Mind and Heart (as in “lies the hand, which must mediate”), with more even more helpings of Carmina Burana and very little that we hadn’t heard before. It’s left to Silence Must Be Heard to save the day, and it really does that with aplomb – another collaboration with Ruth-Ann Boyle, it’s truly fantastic, and definitely one of the best tracks on the album. It’s a great closing track to an album which is something of a mixed bag.
The Screen Behind the Mirror has a lot going for it, and you do find yourself really wanting to like it – if only it had contained a little bit less repetition and a few more original ideas.
You can find The Screen Behind the Mirror at all major retailers.