Random jukebox – Enigma

One of the great things about Enigma is their (his) absurdly pretentious videos – sometimes they hit the mark, and other times, they miss spectacularly. I’ll let you make your own mind up about The Eyes of Truth.

Random jukebox – Michael Cretu

I think this is probably my favourite track from Michael Cretu‘s pre-Enigma Die chinesische Mauer album. I chose the German version, because the lyrics are infinitely better – here’s Zinnsoldat:

Delerium – Chimera

By 2003, pretty much everybody had sampled O Euchari, and nearly a decade or so into the good bit of their career, it was time for Delerium to join in the fun. Actually, a lot of people had worked with Zoë Johnston by this stage as well, so Chimera‘s opening track Love may not have much new to offer, but it’s a pretty good song nonetheless.

It was hardly a concept invented by Delerium, but this was early in the age of overprocessed vocals, which is a shame, as Jaël is a good singer, but After All, the single which preceded the album by a few weeks, does suffer initially somewhat from sounding as though it’s being sung by a robot. Having got beyond that, there’s a good song hiding here, and packaged with the traditional million-or-so remixes, this was a reasonable hit. Well, except for the fact that it came out during the sorry era when the UK record industry killed itself by limiting singles to a twenty minute duration.

Ultimately, it isn’t until Just a Dream that we really get a taste of the beautifully scenic sound that had had typified the preceding albums Karma and Poem, and it’s every bit as good as you might have hoped for.

The pop sound returns with the promo single Run for It, for which they drafted in vocalist Leigh Nash of Sixpence None the Richer (that’s even how she was credited). It’s a good song, but somehow seems a bit insubstantial after the preceding track. Proper second single Truly follows, with none other than Nerina Pallot on vocals. Another pop song, but a particularly good one, and since they waited until 2004 to release it as a single, it managed to get a slightly more substantial CD release.

Serenity is next, one of the longest tracks on here, and perhaps the closest yet to the blueprint laid out by the preceding albums, with its operatic and multinational vocal samples and rippling synthesisers. Touched is sweet too, although honestly, after a decade and a half of listening, it does sound rather dated now.

Forever After suffers from this as well – the Turkish vocals from Sultana are nice, but the scratching in the middle section seems a bit questionable now. It leads into the adorable Fallen, starring Rani, who previously sang on Underwater, the final single from the previous album. Fallen is really sweet, although it does seem to be about someone who’s about to commit suicide in the morning by throwing themselves of a star, which isn’t so cheery.

Leigh Nash of Sixpence None the Richer reappears for Orbit of Me, which for me is another of the weaker tracks on here, but then Julee Cruise turns up to deliver Magic. This one is a bit schizophrenic – in a way, it doesn’t really work (and no, I’m not a warlock – to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what one is) – but in a way, it does. Either way, it definitely worked a lot better for me fifteen years ago.

Eternal Odyssey is a very pleasant, if long, instrumental, which does a bit of an Enigma by sampling Samuel Barber‘s Adagio for Strings halfway through for no particularly obvious reason. Which, by the way, is also something someone had done by this stage, probably more than once.

The general theme, in case you hadn’t worked it out by now, is that with ChimeraDelerium were trying to go “pop” by borrowing ideas from lots of other people. It works, for the most part, as this is an entirely competent album, but it lacks the innovative streak that had characterised their sound in the mid-1990s.

Delerium mainstay Kristy Thirsk appears to lead the vocals on Returning, which might actually be the best track on here – it’s a sweet, almost lullaby-like track that closes the album well. But just as you start to wonder why the rest of the album couldn’t have been a bit more like this, that O Euchari sample turns up again. Chimera is a good album – it’s just not quite innovative enough to be a great album.

The only CD of Chimera currently on sale in the UK appears to be an import, but you can find that here, if you like.

Olive – Extra Virgin

History – and probably a lot of the people reading this now – will remember Olive as a one-hit wonder. They brought us the fantastic You’re Not Alone in 1997, got to number one, and then faded away into obscurity.

Unfortunately, none of that is entirely true, and history has definitely dealt them a raw deal. The trio finally managed that number one on the song’s second release, and follow-up Miracle never even managed the upper reaches of the charts, despite coming out on three separate occasions and being, frankly, brilliant.

It’s Miracle that opens the album, in a slightly more subdued, seven-minute form, and it really is the massive hit that never was. Maybe the timing was wrong, or perhaps everybody had already had enough of Olive by the time this came out for the last time in late 1997, but it does feel like a great shame that this wasn’t more of a success than it was.

This Time comes next, a softer, more laid back piece. If you haven’t already, it will be around this time that you reach the inevitable realisation that singer Ruth-Ann Boyle is a truly excellent vocalist, and a couple of years later would lend a hand on Enigma‘s fourth and fifth albums before working on him with her solo album What About Us in 2003.

Chilled is definitely the mood here, but with some pleasant dub and slightly trippy influences from time to time as well, and so Safer Hands was hardly likely to break any particular boundaries, but it’s good nonetheless. Then Killing is strange in a way, both excellent and also very repetitive – there’s only one vocal line the whole way through, but accompanied by a whole lot of dub reverb and effects, it’s rather brilliant too.

After which it’s finally time for You’re Not Alone. Make no mistake, the singles are the best things on this album, but there is more than just one. Of course, if you bought this album wanting just thirteen renditions of that one song, you would inevitably be disappointed – you might even be disappointed that this one isn’t quite as lively as the single was, as the drums, much of the energy in this track, don’t actually turn up until nearly two minutes in.

But it’s still a fantastic song, and the album version is every bit as good as the single you remember, just in a slightly different way. This more spacious version allows you to appreciate Ruth-Ann’s vocals a lot more, and to really get to the bottom of just how great this song actually is. Twenty years old, and it really doesn’t sound it.

Falling is one of the stronger album tracks, a sweet and understated love song, which carries us through to the third single Outlaw. This one was only released once, as the follow-up to You’re Not Alone when that had finally reached the top of the charts, and apart from that, this is probably the most contemporary track on here, with its trippy drum and bass rhythm and catchy vocals.

There is also, despite the descriptions here, plenty of variety. Not in an in-your-face way, but the gentle trip-pop of Blood Red Tears is followed by the harder (but still soft) drum and bass of Curious. Then You Are Nothing is pure pop – and probably would have been the fourth single, if they hadn’t been concentrating so hard on trying to turn the same couple of tracks into hits again and again.

That just leaves two tracks – Muted, a trippy instrumental, and I Don’t Think So, a great little song driven by acoustic guitar. The lyrics are brilliant – love the life you lead, just lead the life you love? I don’t think so. It’s an excellent way to close the album.

Well, not quite – if you leave it playing for a few minutes, you get the accompanying version of You’re Not Alone to the single – this time, all the drums have been removed to create something rather ethereal and wonderful.

Twenty years on, Extra Virgin still sounds fantastic, and it’s a shame that history only leaves us with this, and its song-laden follow-up Trickle (which never even saw a proper release in the UK). But if you can find it, Extra Virgin is still worth a listen. Even if the title is a little on the silly side.

There are a number of versions of Extra Virgin available – the original release, which features a different version of Outlaw, a double CD release, and the Extra Virgin+ reissue which came out later. That’s probably the one to go for, although it omits the bonus track.

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!