Stowaway Awards 2017

Finally! We kick Awards Season off in earnest with the Important Announcement of the winners of the 2017 Stowaways.

Best Track

Winner: Jean-Michel Jarre with Pet Shop Boys, for Brick England.

Best Album

These were the nominees:

  • The Avalanches – Wildflower
  • David Bowie – Blackstar
  • Clarke Hartnoll – 2Square
  • C Duncan – The Midnight Sun
  • I Monster – Bright Sparks
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  • Pet Shop Boys – Super
  • Shit Robot – What Follows
  • Yello – Toy

Winner: Jean-Michel Jarre, who had a particularly good year and stood a better chance of winning than most, with Oxygène 3.

Best Reissue / Compilation

The nominees:

  • Air – Twentyears
  • Cicero – Future Boy
  • The Human League – Anthology – A Very British Synthesizer Group
  • New Order – Complete Music
  • Dusty Springfield – Reputation

Winner: The Human League

Best Artist

Winner: Jean-Michel Jarre

Best Live Act

Winner: Pet Shop Boys

Best Ambient Track

Nominated were:

  • Air – Adis Abebah
  • Delerium – Ghost Requiem
  • Enigma – Sadeness (Part II)
  • I Monster – Alan R Pearlman and the ARPiological exploration of the cosmos
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)

Winner: Delerium, for Ghost Requiem

Best Dance Act / Remixer

Potential winners included:

  • The Avalanches
  • Clarke Hartnoll
  • Stuart Price
  • Röyksopp
  • Shit Robot

Winner: Shit Robot

Best Newcomer

Winner: C Duncan

Innovation Award

Winner: Jean-Michel Jarre

Outstanding Contribution

Could have been any of the following:

  • David Bowie
  • Vince Clarke
  • Delerium
  • Enigma
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

Winner: Delerium

That’s an unprecedented four out of ten for Jean-Michel Jarre. All being well, we’ll do the BRIT and Grammy Awards over the next couple of weeks.

Stowaway Awards 2017 – Nominations

Now for the moment that you have, of course, all been waiting for: the announcement of the nominees for the 2017 Stowaway Awards. As always in recent years, there will be exactly ten awards, one of which (Best Track) you know already from the countdown a couple of weeks ago. Here are five more key nominations!

Best Album

  • The Avalanches – Wildflower
  • David Bowie – Blackstar
  • Clarke Hartnoll – 2Square
  • C Duncan – The Midnight Sun
  • I Monster – Bright Sparks
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  • Pet Shop Boys – Super
  • Shit Robot – What Follows
  • Yello – Toy

Best Reissue / Compilation

  • Air – Twentyears
  • Cicero – Future Boy
  • The Human League – Anthology – A Very British Synthesizer Group
  • New Order – Complete Music
  • Dusty Springfield – Reputation

Best Ambient Track

  • Air – Adis Abebah
  • Delerium – Ghost Requiem
  • Enigma – Sadeness (Part II)
  • I Monster – Alan R Pearlman and the ARPiological exploration of the cosmos
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)

Best Dance Act / Remixer

  • The Avalanches
  • Clarke Hartnoll
  • Stuart Price
  • Röyksopp
  • Shit Robot

Outstanding Contribution

  • David Bowie
  • Vince Clarke
  • Delerium
  • Enigma
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

Greatest Hits – Vol. 9

Every so often when things are quiet, I like to take a bit of a breather and highlight some of the reviews you might have missed in recent times. Here’s another selection:

  • The Avalanches – Since I Left You
  • Camouflage – Spice Crackers
  • Enigma – MCMXC a.D.
  • Goldfrapp – Felt Mountain
  • Gotan Project – Lunático
  • Kraftwerk – Autobahn
  • Pet Shop Boys – Please
  • Sparks – Hello Young Lovers
  • Yello – Baby
  • Various Artists – Metropolis

Read and enjoy!

Enigma – Le Roi est Mort, Vive le Roi!

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.

Preview – Enigma

Well, Enigma are (is?) back after a bit of a break, with the sequel to 1990s Sadeness (Part I), and this time it’s very saucy. Honestly I really wanted to like it – the original is exceptionally good, but this is a bit of a mess. Still, the new album The Fall of a Rebel Angel comes out this week, and maybe there are some hidden gems on there, such as a sequel to Return to Innocence. For now, here’s Sadeness (Part II).

Looking back at 2015

As always, we started the year with some bold predictions about what 2015 might hold. Let’s see how accurate they actually were!

January

We jumped into the New Year by marking post number 909, just because…

February

We finally finished our comprehensive history of the BRIT Awards! You can read the Complete Guide here.

March

March saw us revisit the archives of this blog and everything that came before it, with reviews of Depeche ModeEnigmaErasure, and others.

April

In April, we celebrated the 1000th post on this blog. Awesome. Quantity rulez.

May

May saw exciting new releases from Jean-Michel JarreHot Chip and Leftfield – which is a lot to fit into one month.

June

June saw us rolling back to the early 1980s, and reviewing a-ha and OMD.

July

As the official UK charts officially moved to Fridays, we celebrated our third anniversary and gave up on Sunday posting (probably for the sabbath, or something).

August

August for stowaways saw reviews of oldies from Goldfrapp and Dubstar!

September

September finally saw the last installment (for now) of our Beginner’s guide series. Collect the full set here!

October

October this year saw us counting down to the Q Awards and the Mercury Prize!

November

November saw the introduction of a brand new feature on this blog, Vinyl Moments – which hopefully will be back soon!

December

Sees us celebrating the Christmas and New Year period yet again. As the Germans say, have a good slide into 2016!

Enigma – MCMXC a.D.

When the soft, warbly strains of The Voice of Enigma first appear, there’s a part of you that has to fight back the urge to say “Good evening, The Voice of Enigma.” It’s easy to forget just how revolutionary MCMXC a.D. was, and just how special it is. Just a few seconds later, it mixes into the one single that matters, variously released as Sadeness, Sadeness (Part 1), and Sadness (Part 1).

Even now, years on, I’ve no idea what it means to be Sade, and I have no intention to check. This is, however you look at it, a beautiful piece of music, which as a concept was flawlessly translated into an album, and then a trilogy, and finally an entire career. The spoken vocals, the chants, the soft pad synths, the swing beats. The ingredients are clear and simple, the sound unmistakable, and the mood very pleasant indeed.

At the time, few would have known who Michael Cretu was – although he had seen some success across Europe, particularly with the Die chinesischer Mauer (in English, The Invisible Man) project, its response in the English-speaking world had been muted. But suddenly, his Enigma project cast him very much into the limelight upon its original release, incredibly now a quarter of a century ago.

There were four singles from MCMXC a.D., although you would have been unlikely to have noticed at the time, and Principles of Lust (Find Love) was the third. It’s another good song, but would have immediately drawn comparison with the infinitely better Sadeness. To view this album as a series of songs would be a mistake, and one for which Cretu can hardly be blamed.

The reprise of Sadeness which follows really just helps to reinforce this feeling, before mixing into the intriguing Callas Went Away, which is sweet and lovely, and you’ll get very confused if you try to figure out what it’s doing here. Mea Culpa, though, later released on its own as Mea Culpa (Part 2) is brilliant, and as a single was the darker and more dramatic counterpart to Sadeness (Part 1)‘s uplifting Gothic chanting.

The short and somewhat disturbing The Voice and The Snake follows, mixing into Knocking on Forbidden Doors, and then Way to Eternity. Seen alone, any one of these could be seen as a bit pointless, but in the context of the whole album, they somehow contribute to the genius of this release – full of deep and powerful atmosphere.

Way to Eternity in particular seems to be channelling the alien chimes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which may or may not be intentional. Cretu would, later in his career, most likely subconsciously weave the “that’s the look, that’s the look” refrain from The Look of Love into a song of his own, but I suspect here that the reference is intended, and is referring to the way that mankind’s dreams of journeying into the far-off future has changed little since Medieval days.

Bluntly, this is what this album does to your head. Reading that sentence back, it definitely doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it did seem to at the time, so you can place the blame firmly at Enigma‘s feet. Anyway, Hallelujah comes next, building on the themes from the opening track and paving the way to the dazzling final single and final track, The Rivers of Belief.

With our first taste of panpipes, which would become so prevalent on the second album three years later, it actually introduces a slightly different sound, but one which also fits here perfectly, and closes the album beautifully.

That would have been where the album ended, if you had been listening to it in 1990, unless you had waited and found the version with the hologram sleeve, which gave you an extra version of each of the singles. And which somehow, at some point further down the line, became the standard version of the album.

Viewed as a whole, either at forty or sixty minutes, MCMXC a.D. is a great album, and was a welcome introduction for Enigma to the world. Later albums may have covered different ground, for better or worse, but MCMXC a.D. was where it all began, and is very deserving of its place in history.

The entirely not limited “limited edition” version of MCMXC a.D. is still widely available.