THE SCREEN BEHIND THE MIRROR
“The Screen Behind the Mirror” is the fourth studio album by Enigma, recorded at the A.R.T. Studios in Ibiza, Spain. This is a very unique, concept album with a deep title name: “The Screen Behind The Mirror” which means that if you think that mirror shows the truth, then there is something beyond that truth that is unreal and surreal. Supporters of the album credited it as the most mature album Michael Cretu had created, while critics lamented the use of extensive samples from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, even though it only appears on four out of the eleven tracks on the album.
Enigma mastermind Michael Cretu has been pretty low-key during the electronica revolution of the second half of the 90s, despite the fact that his early compositions can easily be viewed as a key catalyst in starting the club-rooted movement. With The Screen Behind The Mirror, Cretu claims his rightful place among the top-shelf artists of electronica, offering well-crafted material that could elevate the genre to a new level of creativity and mainstream credibility. Cuts like the percussive, yet dreamy (the)” Gate” and the sweeping, cinematic “Push The Limits” are rich with complex melodies, insinuating rhythms, and the kind of hooks that make radio programmers sit up and take notice. In fact, the instantly memorable “Gravity Of Love”, which features an enchanting lead vocal by Olive’s Ruth-Ann, has the makings of a smash. It’s an excellent introduction to one of the must-hear albums of 2000. After couple of years out of the spotlight, Enigma – Michael Cretu and Jens Gad – returned with a wholly compelling track that could stir instant glee from creative top 40 and adult top 40 programmers. In November 1999 the first piece off the forthcoming album was released: “Gravity of Love”, it’s the album’s pilot single with Ruth-Ann Boyle on haunting vocals (known before as Olive, a singer of the hit single “You’re not alone”). The track is an electronic ballad that maintains its contemporary-sounding mystical aura and instead of Gregorian styled chant, Michael Cretu used a repeated sample from Carl Off’s “O Fortuna” that plays along with some nice echoed percussion and drums. Before Ruth-Ann, there had been other candidates to work with Cretu as a guest-vocalist on “The Screen Behind The Mirror”. Cretu said “(…) I tested three or four and I took only two at the end. But it has nothing to do with the quality of the other singers, but the music when it became clearer the way I am going. The other 2 didn’t fit to my intentions, so I took only these 2 and I am very happy with the way how they sang. They sang brilliantly. Especially Ruth Ann how she sings Gravity of Love because it is extremely extremely difficult to sing this song. And she managed it perfectly even if she said to me she had never sung something like this in her life before – not the range, not the kind of song, no nothing. And she did it brilliantly. So, a big compliment. And there are people who are basically unknown but they have the potential to become world stars (…)”.
Turn around and smell what you don’t see
Close your eyes … it is so clear
Here’s the mirror, behind there is a screen
On both ways you can get in.
Don’t think twice before you listen to your heart,
Follow the trace for a new start.
What you need and everything you’ll feel
Is just a question of the deal.
In the eye of storm you’ll see a lonely dove
The experience of survival is the key
To the gravity of love.
– “Gravity of Love”
“Gravity of love”, despite having a mediocre success on the radio hit charts, gained a decent airplay, in particular on minor, local radio stations across Europe. In the music video for the song, which is set in the 1930s, a masquerade ball is being held in a mansion, while passion starts to run high for some of the participants. The video was filmed on location in the Villa Wagner I (designed by the famous architect Otto Wagner) in Penzing, a district in Vienna, Austria. The director for the video is Thomas Job. The setting is reminiscent of the 1961 film L’année dernière à Marienbad and some scenes from Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 film Eyes Wide Shut.
The album was officially released worldwide on 17th January 2000, and became a fourth Enigma’s music chapter that imbues the music with modern mysticism and timeless rhythms. Cretu counters pipe organs with electric guitars and juxtaposes ambient interludes with bursts of choral splendour.
The production is glimmering, as well as the beautiful sleeve. The content also proves that Enigma may not have taken their thing all the way just yet. There’s still a need for their kind of relaxation, in today’s climate of increasing stress. And when it’s as nicely put together as “The Screen Behind the Mirror”, I’d say most people could enjoy at least a small dosage of the Enigma dreamscape ambience. On “The Screen Behind the Mirror” it’s still the pompous and the grandeur music hypnotizing you, giving you the feeling you’ve heard it before but still with a craving for more. It’s more of the same, but refreshed. “The Gate” is an album into track that opens dramatically with a classical-sounding chorus, then sliding into a combination of spoken and hauntingly sung vocals. Disguised as a modern pop song, “Push the Limits” does just that with powerful orchestration. “Camera Obscura” fuses Renaissance-era chorale with a pulsing dance groove and vocals that are played backwards. The results are almost beyond description. Lyrically, “The Screen Behind The Mirror” incorporates contradictory metaphors, shadows of Eastern philosophy, and overtones of enlightenment. In a realm of endlessly derivative modern music, Enigma successfully draws upon many cultures and eras for a sound that is above all else, unique.
“(…) This work of Enigma is such a beautiful kind of working, especially from my background from my Classic. I still say it today, I am like an alchemist in music because you have bits and pieces, you have no idea where, which way they will go, you follow your target (…). I would say that the title and the lyrics and the bits and pieces inside – they including a lot of hidden messages, hidden sounds”. As already mentioned, major theme on the album is a sampling of Carl Orff’s o Fortuna from the opera Carmina Burana. This song is well-recognized and very enigmatic, and is featured in several songs from this album. Also noteworthy is that several new people worked on this album. Ruth Ann Boyle from the UK group Olive is a guest vocalist, as is Andru Donalds, a German reggae singer produced by Cretu. Sandra is back again, and Elisabeth Houghton (officially a photographer for Virgin Records – unofficially, Cretu’s baby twins’ nanny at that time) fills the role of Louisa Stanley. Jens Gad – apart from being a guitarist, became a co-producer and co-writer for a couple of tracks. After unnecessary delay, the next single “Push the Limits” was released in April 2000 in conjunction with the video directed by Thomas Job. The shooting session for that video took place in South Africa. Unfortunately the album didn’t get a third single release in order to extend the promotion of the album (and elongate its media appearance) . Some say that a rhythmic and a radio-friendly ”Modern Crusaders” could be a good choice to lift the album on the charts. The song samples “O Fortuna” as well (but in different context) ending with sample from Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”. Not many know that this track features the vocals of Michael Cretu and Andru Donalds that sound alike. Cretu sings the first part (verse and chorus), Andru sings the second part, and the final part contains the blended vocals of them both.
The album besides a new, fresh, a bit more atmospheric pop production brought also a major wave of criticism that hadn’t appeared so extensively before. Some people claim that Enigma, by having released this album lost its bone: “ (…) the biggest disappointment is that most of the cuts are either dead average or completely forgettable. Both “Traces (Light And Weight)” and the title track are simply mediocre, being fluffy attempts to incorporate a more commercial aspect to the album. This was completely unnecessary and an unwelcome indicator of what was to come in Enigma’s next album, Voyageur. Meanwhile, “Silence Must Be Heard” tried to recreate the epic nature of what came before it, coming off as merely substandard. It appears that Cretu has left a part of himself in Le Roi est Mort, Vive le Roi!, which is perhaps why he took so long to produce this”.
Of course, these few critical comments matter little as it is all about taste and preference, and as future showed, even bigger criticism was poured on Cretu’s head after release of “Voyageur” or “Seven Lives Many faces”. In comparison to these two mentioned albums, “The Screen Behind the Mirror” is an amazingly elegant album that should be heard at least once by every person who considers themselves a lover of music.
Facts to remember
- E4 received multiple Gold records awards in Europe and USA.
- E4 reached spot no.2 on Billboard charts in the category “Internet Albums” and top 5 on sales charts in 11 European countries . Overall, the album and its singles showed better media appearance / chart results than the previous Enigma album.
- The initial version of “The Screen Behind the Mirror” song was titled “The Experience” and contained Ruth-Ann Boyle’s vocals instead of Sandra’s
- “Smell of Desire” became the most popular song of Enigma (besides “I Love You I’ll Kill You”) being used as a background music in XXX movies.
Marcin Papke, Adrian Rode, Billboard materials,
Enigma-Archives, Joar Grimstvedt, EnigmaMusic.com,
Discogs, Virgin/EMI press releases, Wikipedia,
public internet materials.