Fifteen years ago this week saw the release of the first real Enigma side project in a long time. Made up of Enigma‘s Michael Cretu and his long-time production collaborator Jens Gad, it is ostensibly a cover version album. However, unlike normal albums of this kind, it’s actually pretty good.
The first track is Lucifer, originally performed by The Alan Parsons Project in 1979. The portamento and guitar leads swell over what is, really, what sounds like a fairly typical Enigma backing track of the period. In a good way.
Second is a cover of Harold Faltermeyer‘s Axel F (1984), now with added samples of someone saying “Give me a big beat,” and another one which you’ll have heard before in The Happy Mondays‘s Hallelujah. Famously, Michael Cretu claims that he doesn’t actually listen to much contemporary music, and that does show sometimes, but this is still a pretty banging track.
Exactly what events led to this collaboration is difficult to fathom. The Enigma project was between albums, with the last album of the original trilogy Le Roi est Mort, Vive le Roi! having come out a couple of years earlier and the follow-up The Screen Behind the Mirror not due until two years later. Cretu’s wife Sandra wasn’t recording at this time either, so perhaps this was just a stopgap, or maybe it was just a bit of fun. The first single Magic Fly had come out the previous year, and was followed by Chase and Crockett’s Theme over the following months.
The great version of Crockett’s Theme is the next track in fact, originally performed by Jan Hammer in 1986. The vast majority of tracks are excellent – they’re all old synth instrumentals, which are rightly regarded as classics by the world at large. This one is particularly good, with bouncy drum lines and a massive synth lead.
Next up is Dance with the Devil, an odd choice given that the original, a 1973 hit for Cozy Powell is largely a drum solo. It works pretty well, but it’s probably the weakest track on what is actually a very strong album. Then the fifth track is the softer and more Enigma sounding Addiction Day, led by a brilliant morphing portamento sound. It’s also one of a couple of exceptions on this album, being a new track written by Jens Gad rather than a cover.
A long take on Ecama‘s 1978 hit Magic Fly follows, now with added samples saying, “I said shut up,” which isn’t too charming. It does sound a little dated now, fifteen years on (remember, in the case of this track, it was only twenty years old when the album was released) but it’s good nonetheless. This is the Wonderland Mix, and without having heard the “original” it’s difficult to know how they actually compare, but it’s a strong lead single.
Chase, also originally performed in 1978 by Hansjörg (better known as Giorgio) Moroder, is up next. It’s a much more atmospheric track than the original, although again it isn’t exactly contemporary, even for the late 1990s – the remixes done a couple of years later for Giorgio’s remix project are much more lively. It is good though – the atmosphere suits it, and it’s another great track.
There are then two more Gad/Cretu originals: Twelve After Midnight and L-42. Although obviously otherwise unknown, both fit in perfectly alongside their more esteemed neighbours, driven again by strong synth leads and sampled spoken vocals. L-42 could even have easily squeezed onto the previous Enigma album and fitted perfectly.
The final track covers Evangelos “Vangelis” Papathanassiou’s 1976 hit Pulstar. More of an extrapolation than a direct cover, it follows a similar pattern to the other pieces – the original melody is accompanied by spoken samples and lots of big synth backing. That description may not do it justice, and just so we’re clear, it is, of course, excellent.
Looking from the distance, both of fifteen years, and from not really knowing its history, Trance Atlantic Air Waves is an odd side-project, but although dated now it’s a good album, and a worthwhile look back at a handful of instrumental synth masterpieces from the preceding thirty years.
To my surprise, you can actually find this album on iTunes, here.