By 1996, Michael Cretu‘s Enigma project was well established, and was nearing the end of the trilogy that he initially intended. From humble and monastic beginnings, to his mid-1990s human era, and whatever was going to come next.
His third album Le Roi est Mort, Vive le Roi! was released two decades ago this week, and represented something of a change of direction. Primarily, we’re spared a repetition of the opening from both MCMXC a.D. and The Cross of Changes, instead getting a science fiction opener about a biosphere, or something.
Morphing Thru Time, despite the ill-advised spelling, is a beautiful piece of music. You do get the feeling it’s supposed to be timeless, with its combination of choral pieces and samples, and for once Cretu’s rasping rock vocal does actually seem to fit.
The miniature third track, clocking in at just nineteen seconds, is where things get a bit confusing. It’s called Third of Its Kind, and features just the spoken lyrics “The first is the father, the second is the mother, and the third is the child.” Which is surely religious nonsense, sexist and offensive, or just plain wrong, depending on your perspective.
Opening single Beyond the Invisible is next, with Cretu’s then-wife Sandra turning up to deliver a great vocal on a truly magical track. The video which accompanied it is a sight to behold as well. It mixes into the confusingly titled Why!… (which seems to use every form of punctuation except for the right one), a dramatic but very good track. This is the single that amusingly announces, in red, “on this record there are no remixes that violate the original song.” You would almost think that Cretu was trying to make some kind of point.
Just before the halfway point, we get the adorable Shadows in Silence, a melodic and ethereal instrumental which might have benefitted from a lengthy extended version on the back of one of the singles – you can easily see how this might have been drawn out to ten minutes or so without too much pain.
Unusual for the mid-1990s, there was no vinyl release of this album (although there was a cassette, so it would be interesting to know what happened midway through), so sixth and seventh tracks can just merge into one another. The Child in Us, with its intriguing foreign language vocal, is another beautiful moment, although this time Cretu’s own vocal delivery towards the end is a bit out of character.
Arguably the most notable thing about Le Roi est Mort, Vive le Roi! though, is not the music, but the artwork, with its curious images of people with funny hats, printed on translucent material so the whole booklet merges together – it’s really quite intriguing.
Second single T.N.T. for the Brain comes next, with another vocal from Sandra. You get the sense slightly here that this wasn’t quite the sound that Cretu was going for – if this album is supposed to be the futurist one of the series, then surely he would have aimed for something much darker sounding. It’s not a criticism – for me, this album is still far and away his finest hour – but it does feel as though he didn’t quite meet his own intentions.
The spiritual instrumental Almost Full Moon follows, perhaps one of the closest tracks in sound to the Enigma we knew on the preceding two albums, and then the rumoured but unreleased third single The Roundabout, which, despite mainly being made of the lyrics “ah-yay, ah-yah,” is a very competent piece of music.
Closing the album – for the most part, at least – is a gentle choral piece, Prism of Life, which brings some of the threads together nicely. Others seem to have been left hanging – if this release was intended to have a strong overriding theme, I’d suggest it was a little confused. But if you take it purely on face value, and enjoy it for what it is, there’s some extremely good music on here.
I would always argue that Enigma‘s repetitive intro and outro pieces are a little too much for me, although hearing the intro backwards for Odyssey of the Mind is quite pleasing. This album may leave you with a few reservations, but if you close your eyes and enjoy it, it’s one of the best chillout albums that has ever appeared.
You can still find the original release of this album at all major retailers, with its rather wonderful booklet.