LE ROI EST MORT VIVE LE ROI
“Since the first two albums were of a rather experimental character, I now intended to produce a more ‘middle of the road’ one which wouldn’t ask the listener to look for a meaning and think about it a whole lot” Michael Cretu said in a media pressed CD interview prior to the Enigma’s third album premiere. “With the track Third of Its Kind, the album presents itself as the child of its parents, the first two albums. Again, there are ethnic and Gregorian chants but the album has its own identity. That’s what I wanted to achieve”.
Things are changing
But nothing changes
And still there are changes
-“Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi!”
The third album not only comes with the great music but it is considered by many as the best Enigma album package/cover in the 90s era of Enigma albums. The graphic elements of the E3 cover (alien-like stylized “man -machines”) had been already created over three years before its official release. In 1993, the graphic designer Johann Zambryski met Michael Cretu to present different cover art designs for Enigma’s upcoming second album release “The Cross Of Changes”. When going through the proposals, one design attracted Michael Cretu’s special attention: Three fantasy creatures with rather unusual hats. “I knew immediately that there was something special about this cover art,” Cretu said. “My first reaction was: I don’t know why, but it reminds me on Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi!. Although the design did not fit to the rather mystic ethno atmosphere of Enigma 2, it was the very first time the cover art was finished before the actual album and even led to its title. Later on, in 1998, Johann Zambryski’s album art design for “Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi!” brought him a Grammy Award nomination for ‘Best Recording Package’. Cretu said: “What I like a lot about this cover sleeve is the fact that it was incorporated in the video for the single (Beyond the Invisible). I hadn’t experienced anything like that before. Also, I think those three figures are fantastic. Just like people imagined the “man-machine” a hundred years ago. And anyway, I like everything that’s kind of Jules Verne. Those three figures go very well with Enigma 3”.
Michael Cretu, the man who is 95% of Enigma figured out after Enigma 2 (“The Cross of Changes”) that people don’t necessarily want to hear his music in the clubs anymore. Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi capitalizes on the best elements of past Enigma albums, adds new idiosyncrasies and themes, and follows a more unique stylistic approach. On third Enigma’s tour of inner journey, the listeners may expect the shimmering synthesizers, breathy female vocals, low boil beats, and brooding mysticism. Enigma is sticking to its tried-and-tested formula of anonymity, using the Enigma name as a proven marketing brand. The new album bears all the hallmarks of the Enigma experience: luxuriant carpets of synthesizers; breathy, whispered female lyrics; and claiming new-age vibe. The Gregorian chants of the first album, 1990’s “MCMXC a.D.” and the Indonesian voices of its successor from 1994 “The Cross of Changes” put in brief appearances on the “Le Roi Est Mort Vive Le Roi” but the most startling new theme running through this album is the voice of Cretu. “I didn’t start off by saying, OK, now I’ve got to sing” says Cretu. “I’m not a professional singer I’ve no real explanation how it happened.” The success of “Sadeness”, the first single from “MCMXC a.D.”, with Gregorian plainsong set to a laid-back Euro-beat, was the blueprint for a host of imitations, the inspiration for other projects such as Deep Forest, Gregorian and Sacred Spirit, and arguably the catalyst for the huge interest in chant that resulted in the worldwide success of the Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos.”It was a trendsetter and inspiration for a certain kind of music. That’s the best proof that you did something new” says Cretu. “This new album can’t be a trendsetter, because there are not too many elements to be copied.” Cretu says he never thinks of the commercial context of his work and is unhindered by thoughts of what the public will appreciate. Enigma has always been marketed as a concept rather than an act. For the first album, press photos and videos for the project featured images of hooded monks. By the time of the second album, it was no secret that the producer was Cretu, although his image was still not used. “We started off the Enigma puzzle with the first album, and now the puzzle has been solved”, says Jurgen Thurnau, managing director of Mambo Musik, Enigma’s management (later on named as Crocodile Music), “…now Enigma’s become a brand name. There are young people who will buy it, but I think it’s mainly people over 30 who respond to it”. For E3 promotional purposes Cretu did limited press for the new album, speaking to a few selected journalists, mainly from well-regarded German newspapers. While not shy by nature, Cretu said, “I don’t enjoy being famous. The music is the star”.
In Germany, the campaign for “Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi” – one of the most costly for Virgin Germany this year (1996), will be short on media promotion and will instead feature TV advertising on national cable and terrestrial channels; national 1,300-square-foot billboard sites, fly posters and a strong point-of-sale presence at retail. The first 3.5 million copies of the album sold in key territories have a translucent PCV cover, which allows the artwork to be seen from both sides. A newly released single “Beyond the Invisible” (October 21st) is just getting a cautious thumble-up from radio. Head of music at radio Schleswig-Holstein in Kiel says “the single is being played once a day, we are still a little hesitant about playing it, as Enigma is more of an album act than a radio act. Even so, we think that the song is very appealing and will definitely continue to support it”. A single “Beyond the Invisible” is a stunning ambient-pop tune which introduces the listener to a soothing foray into the land of Gregorian chants and hypnotic new age layered melodies. Cretu says “(…) at one point during my work, relatively early most of the times, possible single tracks start to crystallize. With the new single, at first a certain part in the middle of the song was missing without which it would never have become the single. The chorus and everything else was fine and actually it was just a little thing. But sometimes the little thing is important because the rest won’t work without it. In this case the second verse was missing and I couldn’t think of one for quite some time. I had almost given up on it and thought, then we’re going to have different first single. Maybe six months from now you will think of the missing piece and then this new version will be another single. And, when I least expected it suddenly the piece was there (…)”.
“Things are changing but nothing changes” is the mantra permeating “Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi”, an ambling philosophical meditation that pivots on the question “Why?” While not exactly a novel mission, the quest for answers can be a worthy aim, except when the search gets under way. Cretu gets so hung up ruminating on the crisis of the unknown that he forgets to open his eyes and get a clue. By the end of E3, even the most pensive sage would holler “Oh, why, NOT yet!” Not that it matters. In the language of Enigma, words are merely another instrument to caress the sensibilities. The voices of Zulu’s and Latvians mix with gentle flutes and strings and other worldly sound effects to create swirling, exotic collage. Cretu ditched crisp disco beats for muted drums that readily blend with the moody sonic. When “Le Roi Est Mort (…)” hits its stride, the result is ethereal and wondrous, as in the feathery “Morphing Thru Time”, “T.N.T. For The Brain” and “Shadows in Silence” – incredible utilization of background vocals, a hunting piece that recalls the creepiness of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells – the song was inspired by and tributed to Michael Cretu’s mother who passed away during the recordings of this third Enigma album (1995): “She was the one who always pushed me, but she never wanted to be in the spotlight. That’s why ‘Shadows In Silence’ came to light”
I am hunted by the future
Will the future be my past?
Or is time a fade out picture
Of my everlasting cast?
Love is phasing
Love is moving
To the rhythm of your sight
I get closer
– “Prism of Life”
In February 1997 a second song to promote the album was released in conjunction with the new video: “T.N.T. For The Brain”. This track gets its primary movement from quietly knocking electro-funk beat and subtle undercurrent of guitars, all covered by Sandra’s breathy whispered narrative vocals. Despite being not one of the stronger songs on the album and being questioned for its choice as a promotional single by fans, a song itself is pretty nice fit for a variety of radio formats of the 90s, this track will sound particularly good right next to the equally plush rhythm-pop musings of Robert Miles. A record company and Michael Cretu had also considered the release of ”Morphing Thru Time” instead of “T.N.T. For The Brain” but the second one seemed to be more radio friendly which was a decisive factor. It didn’t help to impress the masses though. By many fans until today, this album has been considered as the biggest lost (or wasted) opportunity to bring out to the masses a third Enigma platinum mega hit after “Sadeness” and “Return to Innocence”, especially that the actual singles from E3 don’t represent the album’s highlights. One of them is definitely “The Child in Us”, winning all the pools in most of the categories not only for E3 era but also for the best Enigma song ever until these days. The listener may find in this song almost everything what we love in Enigma: beautiful haunting vocals performed in ancient Sanskrit, accompanied by a beautifully mastered Gregorian chant and layered, echoed synth-pads. The song is simple, yet elegant and as opposed to most Enigma songs, it doesn’t contain any interval or change of the rhythm-flow. “The Child in Us” is one of the most popular, non-single released Enigma songs, being used in dozens of commercials as well as having been included in different music compilations, in particular within chill-out, “mystic” or “mood music” music genres.
Some day you came
And I knew you were the one
You were the rain, you were the sun
But I needed both, cause I needed you
You were the one
I was dreaming of all my life
When it is dark you are my light
But don’t forget
Who’s always our guide
It is the child in us
– “The Child in Us”
In August 1997 Virgin Records Germany was preparing to release a third single “The Roundabout” but when September came, they were still undecided about its potential release. In December 1997 the information about completed remix for “The Roundabout” by DJ Quicksilver surfaced to the public. A few weeks later that remix is reported to be performed by DJ Quicksilver on German music TV channel “VIVA” (Club Rotation). On 5th February 1998 Virgin Germany released a newsletter in which they gave a date of February 9th for a new Enigma single release “The Roundabout” but it wasn’t released until September 1998 when the record company officially cancelled “The Roundabout” focusing their promotion budget on Michael’s new project Trance Atlantic Air Waves simultaneously ending the third Enigma’s odyssey of the mind.
Facts to remember
- Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi! was nominated in the 1998 Grammy Awards for Best New Age Album and Johann Zambryski’s album art design earned him a nomination for Best Recording Package.
- Echo Award’97 (Germany) for Best National Artist in Foreign Countries; honoured for “Beyond the Invisible”.
- The album reached top 10 of sales charts in twelve countries and scored a peak position – no. 3 on Euro Charts
- The intro track begins with a sample of mission control contacting the Discovery from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The intro, including the famed “Enigma horn”, is played backwards for the closing track, “Odyssey of the Mind”.
- Beyond the Invisible was featured in 11th episode of TV series drama “La Femme Nikita” (also, released on an original “La Femme Nikita” soundtrack in 1998).
- Mustang Jeans used “The Roundabout” in their Indian-themed TV commercial (1998).
- “The Child in Us” – the most liked Enigma song on YouTube by reaching the highest ratio of “like” to “dislike” figures among all Enigma songs.
- “Why” – the most popular song from E3 on YouTube (over 1,3 million views annually) holding the 6th place for the most popular Enigma song of all times on YouTube.
Marcin Papke, Adrian Rode, Billboard materials,
Enigma-Archives, Joar Grimstvedt, EnigmaMusic.com,
Discogs, Virgin/EMI press releases, Wikipedia,
public internet materials.