SEVEN LIVES MANY FACES
1. ENIGMA is Evolution
“The past only matters in that we can learn from it”
In mathematical terms, ENIGMA came of age in 2008: Michael Cretu is set to release “Seven Lives Many Faces”, the seventh album in his music project, almost 18 years to the day since the arrival of the project’s spectacular debut “Sadeness Part I” in autumn 1990. For all those interested in statistics: ENIGMA have collected top marks en masse – 40 million records sold, 50 no. 1 chart positions, around 100 platinum awards, and a presence on more than 1000 compilations so require no further superlatives: “I’m a musician, no statistician”, Michael Cretu is loathed to comment on his bestseller records. “The only explanation that I have is: I do what I feel – I respond to what moves me and I’m always at my best when the odds are against me. As soon as I try to adapt, it doesn’t work”. And so the latest ENIGMA expedition has turned into an omni cultural trip, which lasts 47 minutes and 35 seconds, but goes on resonating much longer.
The 12 chapters of Cretu’s seventh musical puzzle go well beyond the scope of the familiar sound range, expanding their audience’s aural horizon, living up to the high standard of adding another shade to the united colours of music and building a new foundation for the architecture that the musical status quo is based on. In its voluminous way, this is a very direct and transparent album. It transports power, like a mental vitamin pill.
2. ENIGMA is Revolution
“The idea was that there is no idea”
Joining the seemingly incompatible in an easy and logical way is the unique art of the homo musicus that is Michael Cretu. Setting counterpoints which are dissolved again: playful and spirited, instinctive and intuitive,wondrous and wonderful. “Seven Lives Many Faces” sees this quality reach a new level. Where before there used to be Gregorian chants to contrast laid-back club rhythms, this time the album is marked by string arrangements together with tough drums and percussion. A joint venture of classical and modern elements: “Figuratively speaking, it was my intention to combine the dirtiest Bronx hip-hop beats with the purity of the London Symphony Orchestra”. Listening to the title track, “Seven Lives”, the image phrased by Cretu becomes tangible: “Somehow I can see a hip-hopper bobbing his boom box and perhaps enquiring who Beethoven was …?”. You can practically see the rosin on the violin bow bristle while a rap crew is scratching at the turntables –yet it all remains a virtual image. The trained concert pianist knows: “These days, digitalised musicians are many times better than physical ones and once you know how to use this option for your purposes, technology becomes unbeatable!”.
3. ENIGMA is Innovation
“As long as I don’t repeat myself, I won’t get bored.
That’s why I always have to start something new, invent things!”
Every season, the trend barometer points to a new direction. Like oracles, the augurs of the music industry never fail to proclaim new artists as the makers of tomorrow and the geniuses of the day after tomorrow. Many of them have popped up in the world of producers, bands, composers, songwriters during the past 30 years – and disappeared again … Michael Cretu has persisted. His ENIGMA project has become a known quantity in the music industry and has sparked, influenced and inspired more than many would care to admit. The acquired parameters of the concepts of light music and e-music, of pop and rock, ambient and lounge, ethno, folk, hip-hop and spiritual music have changed – not least through him. “By now, I have close to 400,000 different sounds stored in my digital archive, and I know every one of them”. What sounds like manic bookkeeping is in fact the library of a musical cosmos which allows constant discoveries and expeditions.”What I choose from this archive and how I combine the different elements is frequently difficult to follow, even for people who are involved in music”. It comes as no surprise that Cretu doesn’t like to think in classic hit categories: “I don’t care whether you can sing along to a song. But I want it to stay in the audience’s memory and make them feel that they want to listen to it again. And again…”.
4. ENIGMA is Emotion
“Technology has never been a surrogate for a good idea – but even a good idea can never replace instinct”.
When Michael Cretu recalls how he converted his parents’ grand piano into a toy spaceship at the age of five, “communicating with the planets”, it’s not surprising that the 51-year-old’s favourite place is his multifunctional composing cockpit which consists of a number of screens, diode switches, keyboards, and an ergonomically designed chair. This “toy” has allowed him to create the whole album within 11 months, one-stop from the first idea to the furioso finale … “I’m bad at teamwork. Luckily, I possess all musical and technical attributes so I can translate my ideas into music from A to Z without any disturbances”. The 55 kilometres of cable in his old studio have given way to a compact, self-constructed unit which requires no more than 20 metres of cable – a fully equipped system which allows 5.1 recordings. The fact that Cretu has christened this enigmatic device “Alchemist” reveals his undogmatic creative concept: “I try to approach my work with a carefree attitude: like I did as a kid with my chemistry set, when you never knew at the beginning of an experiment whether and when it would detonate”.
5. ENIGMA is Delight
“Never have I enjoyed my work as much as I did during the recordings for this album. It didn’t feel like work, it was pure joy!”.
Unlike previous recordings, his new, reduced studio technology didn’t flag for a moment during the production of “Seven Lives Many Faces”. The »magic number seven«, Michael Cretu’s personality number
in numerology, has had an effect which resulted in some 50, 60 finished compositions to choose from.
“I used to compose 14, 15 numbers during the same period of time in order to come up with the required 12 album tracks”.This allowed him more time to create new sonic images on his sound palette,one of them even with the help of his own offspring. His twin sons, Nikita and Sebastian, contributed the speaking and singing voices on “The Same Parents”, a pacifist, anti-racist song which uses few words to move a lot.
Confused by brutal news images, Nikita asked his father: “Why do religions and races fight each other?
Don’t we all come from the same prehistoric man? Aren’t we all brothers a million times removed?”.
This question inspired Michael Cretu to phrase an orchestrated lament from an adolescent’s point of view.
“We all had the same parents, many million years ago …”. He fondly recalls this inter-familial collaboration: “They had never been in front of a microphone in their lives. I was positively surprised.
And they’re not on this album because they are my sons,
but because they did an excellent job even by my demanding professional standards”.
6. ENIGMA is Life
“In the figurative sense, even after 30 years I still work as if every sound, every note was about life or death”.
It’s a cloistral way of working. Preferably in the dark, at night, in total seclusion. Self-imposed isolation for inspiration. A methodology which Michael Cretu has always preferred: “I isolate myself totally from the rest of the world to translate my visions into sound. I need darkness so I can hopefully resist all visual distractions. That’s the only way my full concentration, my innermost can flow into my music”.
Every detail of his work is marked by innovation. As a surprising sonic shade, there is a new voice to be discovered on two album tracks (“La Puerta del Cielo”, “Between Generations”).Since 1990, Cretu has searched all over the world for strange and wonderful ethnic voices which can be used like an instrument for ENIGMA, and in the end he found just what he was looking for on Ibiza. “Until recently, I had no idea that there is a uniquely beautiful old vocal folk tradition right here on Ibiza. Then I discovered a female vocalist who is more than 60 years old and one of the few to be proficient in this old vocal culture”. An amazing voice which releases unexpected emotions in the island’s Catalan dialect. But Cretu has remained true to his credo of self-imposed reserve. Although there are still 40 of these dreamy vocal takes stored in his archive, waiting to be used, he left it at two.”That ENIGMA still works so well after all this time is due to the fact that the music can never be assigned to any one person in terms of images or voice – it’s not “personised”. Everything about ENIGMA is equally important, whether it’s a simple breath or a lead voice. Emphasizing any one element would immediately call into question the very idea of ENIGMA. The result of this reduce-to-the-max approach – a philosophical cornerstone of his work – is a sonic evolution which is more revolutionary than it may seem at first glance. ENIGMA sends out sonic signals as emotional hyperlinks which go deep into its readers’ conscience.
7. ENIGMA is Creation
“The idea behind ENIGMA is to make the impossible possible”.
Michael Cretu allows his audience to experience music in its original sense again. Music, translated from classical Greek, is a combination of the terms »muse« and »art«, or »technology«: “Combining sound in sonic works of art”. Cretu’s music continues this meaning in the original sense of the word. For ENIGMA, he has made technology his muse in creating music – music as a universal language which he continues to place in new cultural contexts. “I try to do things every time as if they were a first”. An unusual aspect of ENIGMA has always been the unique form in which music and language, instrumentation and lyrics are blended together. “The Language Of Sound”, the last track on E7, as Cretu likes to refer to his new album,
could also be the title of the manifest of his latest musical creation. A track which blends vocal fragments and human sounds in a post-dadaist sonic collage that is universally understood: “Language produces barriers; music, on the other hand, is limitless.
It is indispensable for the human race because it causes vibrations, tremors, emotions. Always! Even an unintelligible sound, a noise »says« something. It’s often better to concentrate on the sound of a voice rather than the content”. A new shade in a seemingly endless sonic cosmos. This way, ENIGMA has decoded the DNA of music using a new key: sonic structures and rhythms from a diverse range of cultures and eras find each other symbiotically. At the same time, the individualisation of an idea which lives up to the demanding standards of Michael Cretu’s inventive talent happens to touch rather coincidentally on the mainstream; it becomes agreeable and doesn’t insist on the pose of the academic. Cretu still has a lot in store for the future: “While I was working on E7, I discovered new ways of creating my music. There are still a few ENIGMA albums waiting to be released. And I have formed the habit of simply letting some things happen, in life as well as in my music”.
E7 - critical reception
Back before there was fame, success and rappers, there was music. Music, in some senses, could be appreciated as a form of art, expressing emotions, certain styles and unending imagination. This was respectively divided into many genres. One of those was New Age, which in modern talk equals monks, MC boards and synthetic guitars. Amongst the laughable concept, one act presented it as a serious form of art. That was Michael Cretu, a composer who knew his genre and stuck to it… often. While he spawned on of the greatest New Age albums in history, his work went on as experimental electronica, to world and a variety of genres. Cretu has created pop, ambient, rock, techno, chant and many other standing genres. Now, its hip-hop’s turn. Seven Lives, Many Faces is a mix of stylish hip-hop beats over haunting violin pieces. The combination seems awkward, but it doesn’t fail to impress. M.C. has taken word from the mainstream to create much more diverse production work, including attempting to rival Timbaland’s drum rhythm technique. All of it seems far-fetched, but still manages to keep its professionalism.
Claims that “Seven Lives Many Faces” lacks melodic appeal are actually quite accurate in this respect. Never before has an Enigma album focussed this closely on rhythm and texture. “Seven Lives” boasts pumping human beatbox beats, echoing string staccatos and bouncing HipHop flavours; “Fata Morgana” rides on a wave of pumping Guitar riffs and electro-rock stabs and “Hell’s Heaven” charges between sceletised drum loops and bubbly bass vibrations. “Je t’aime till my dying day”, meanwhile, is more of a poppy Ambient wash than a veritable song and “Deja-Vu”’s string arrangements loose themselves in a pastiche-like easy-listening arrangement. One could even go as far as to say that the record eschews spelling things out in full, preferring intimations above verse/chorse schemes.
On the other hand, accusations that the album constitutes nothing but a collection of mid-tempo chill out zones can easily be dispelled. The core musical themes running through “Seven Lives Many Faces” are minimalism in instrumentation and compactness in form. All pieces bar one are shorter than five minutes, many don’t even touch the four minute mark. For the largest part, Cretu concentrates on three or four motives per piece, developping them softly, researching inspiring permutations and killing them off before the danger of repetition creeps in. There is not much spatial depth to be found in the production, too, which awards the music a strangely solitary ambiance, as if it were constantly in search of missing elements or concrete emotional outbursts.
What may sound like superficiality turns into the work’s strongpoint, though. Rightly because typical highlights are few and far between, the flow and mood of the album as a whole takes center stage. Like deadly effective cogwheels, individual tracks push the record’s machinery forward, relentlessly forcing the audience into their seats and their minds into gentle submission. The sonic screen has not been clustered with paint (as with the supernova-like shine of “A Posteriori”), which allows for creative input from the listener. If the back catalogue of Enigma has been minutely detailed on a three-dimensional map, listening to “Seven Lives Many Faces” is like walking through a metaphorical wasteland without compass.
Seven Lives, Many Faces is a huge step away from Cretu’s faithful techno-chant music. The hip-hop beats play a key element to the album’s formula. Seven Lives is the album song, an impressive combination of click-beatboxing over epic violin work. Andru Donalds has stuck around again, and frankly his vocals are now as annoying as ever. But he is surprisingly blended into the song, creating an “epic apocalyptic” feel instead of stuffing it up like he always does. Touchness features world-renowned violinist Hilary Hahn, with an intro so perfect it could’ve been used in a Godfather movie. The beat falls short of the mark, but is very deep and relaxing. Deja Vu is a completely sample-driven track, with ambient pieces taken from Enigma’s third album. The structure is basic at heart, and like Enigma’s past work, focused on meditation. The album runs well until now, but not to say its perfect…
Apart from the stunning production, Seven Lives, Many Faces falls victim to repetition. A lot of the music sounds exactly the same as the past songs, only with a booming new beat and then there’s Andru Donalds. His voice is ultimately boring, repetitive and irritating. Distorted Love is a terrible example of it. The beat is flat-lined to one tone, and the lyrics are god-awful. Any song with the line “touch me, I’ll be your daddy” is, put in modern terms, utterly repulsive. Now we know why everyone hates rap music so much. Luckily, Andru doesn’t play a very big part in the album and we can all recall the originality again.
It cannot be clearly said that Enigma has matured, rather longed for childhood memories. Also, this leaves room for much debate as Cretu’s past work has been serious on subject. Seven Lives, Many Faces is playful at heart, and not enough to stun first-listeners. Many was surprised by the change in direction, and was pleased, but just killed the authenticity in the entire purpose of Enigma. We would only recommend this to the the hard fans. Newcomers might feel disgusted, as it lacks some form of entertainment and deeper meaning. The extensive use of preset sounds from Logic Pro sound libraries doesn’t help to convincedly defend this album. Nonetheless, “Seven Lives, Many Faces” is a decent, earthy album for non-demanding New Age / Pop music fans.
Virgin/EMI press release,
Sam Knight (E7 review),
Tobias Fischer (Tokafi.com, E7 review),