There is poignant irony in the fact that Enigma's Michael Cretu chose painter Wolfgang Beltracchi, the world's most famous art forger, to illustrate The Fall of a Rebel Angel, his first album in eight years. Enigma has been, since its 1990 debut album MCMXC A.D., a lush, carefully strategized, and orchestrated melange of electronic and cinematic styles (from crossover classical and new age to ambient and rock), with expansive textures, samples, and beats. He too is a copyist, and it works on a commercial level: He's sold over 70 million records.
The Fall of a Rebel Angel is a concept album about the evolution, redemption, and transformation of an unspecified protagonist. It's a conscious attempt to recapture the spirit and aesthetic of MCMXC A.D. in what Cretu says is "a new musical language." Each track contains a part of the narrative journey (adapted from an epic poem by Michael Kunze), and is represented in the booklet by an accompanying print of an original Beltracchi painting. The set's first single, "Sadeness (Part II)," is a sequel to MCMXC A.D.'s global smash of the same name. It features one of three vocal performances by France-based Indonesian pop singer Anggun. The intro is excerpted from Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" and introduces dubby loops, tablas, a classical choir, Gregorian chant (of course), and ritual singing by members of Taiwan's Ami Tribe. Anggun's breathy, seductive spoken word is answered by her remarkable singing voice. Her performance on "Mother" is a whispered hush, with overtly Oedipal overtones. On "Oxygen Red," she and Cretu head straight for the club floor. Her vocal is chopped, spindled through a vocoder and sped up with Auto-Tune, but framed by an anthemic chorus and majestic dubstep breaks -- it works. Cretu also collaborates with vocalist Nanuk on opener "Circle Eight" that offers new age drones and wordless voices layered atop a spacy drift that spookily recalls Vangelis' Blade Runner score. Brazilian singer/songwriter Mark Josher adds his proto-Bahia soul to the "The Die Is Cast," which is the set's best track. The closer "Amen" features electro pop duo Aquilo over pillowy layers of smeared chants, syrupy beats, and chorus vocals. A slow 4/4 tom-tom rumble builds the track up as swirling ambient soundtrack-esque effects send it, and the album, into emptiness. The Fall of a Rebel Angel may signify a new direction for Cretu, but given that the roots of all of these productions lie in a record 25 years old, there's only so much he can do. That said, given his tremendous commercial success and catalog, it's not like Enigma's legions of fans -- who've been patiently waiting for eight long years -- will care. It delivers what's expected: nocturnal, atmospheric, seductive -- and yes, nostalgic -- pleasure. ~ Thom Jurek