I’ll be the first to admit that it is impossible to select an album to be The Best New Age Music Album Of All Time. Though I will try to give my opinion on the matter, because people ask me this question all the time.
When answering I will focus both on the quality of the album itself, the impact the album has had on the new age music genre, and what this album has ment for the artist in question. The below album was number one in 24 different countries and stayed on the US billboard charts for 282 weeks – and it changed our genre forever. That sounds like the beginning of a review that just might answer The Best New Age Music Album Of All Time question, right? This is the album:
Enigma – MCMXC a.D.
After having listened to this album for almost 25 years, I still seem to find new sounds, aspects and emotions hidden deep within the music. It is getting better with age, like good wine. Its name, 1990, is almost like the year of a fine wine vintage too.
MCMXC a.D. is an extremely rich, deep and emotionally charged album. A little history first; Enigma is a musical project by Michael Cretu. This is the project’s first album, and as of writing we are waiting for the eight album by the same group. There are some superb albums later in Enigma’s discography too, like Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi! (1996) or The Screen Behind the Mirror (2000) but MCMXC a.D. is special because of its fusion between old and new, between the new age music boom of the 1980s and the pop/club music of the early 1990s. And, most importantly in this context, it redefined our music genre.
What I think makes MCMXC a.D. into a truly superb album is the way Michael Cretu uses Gregorian chants (Wikipedia article HERE), synths and beats to create a soundscape that, for some reason, seems to give the listener access to a mystical, enigmatic realm. There was nothing truly original with the synergy of samples used by Mr. Cretu on MCMXC a.D., but the result was extraordinary. The mix is sensual, fresh and refined; this is music you can play at top volume driving a fancy cabriolet.
Yet, the album has many flaws. The sound quality is not bad (it is a synth based studio album), but later Enigma albums (after Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi!) are much better. It is also impossible to talk about MCMXC a.D. without mentioning the Enigma sample controversy. Michael Cretu did use the Gregorian chant samples without getting permission (read about in an article HERE). The use (or misuse) of Christian symbols in the music, on the album cover and in music videos did also create rumors that Enigma actually was a Satanistic band. These rumors did live for quite some time (believe it or not).
I don’t think MCMXC a.D. is dated in terms of sound. The synths used are retro now, that is true, but the A.R.T. Studio used by Michael Cretu on the first five albums still fascinates studio enthusiasts (see the Wikipedia article about it HERE). And music is about so much more than the instruments used. I like the way the tracks flow from one track to the next without any pause. But there are tracks nevertheless (is not like Tubular Bells). And I enjoy the drum beats in the songs Sadness (Part I) and The Rivers of Belief. They still sound fresh and bold to me, just like they did in the early 90s.
MCMXC a.D. by Enigma is getting better with age, like good wine.
Its name, 1990, is almost like the year of a fine wine vintage too
MCMXC a.D. has had an enormous effect on the new age music genre. The Enigma style is a description that we instantly understand, much thanks to this album. Interestingly enough, Michael Cretu has really never returned to the Gregorian chant style of MCMXC a.D (with exception of a few sound clips on album no. 2 and 3), and his later albums are more influenced by various ethnic samples instead.
This opened a marked for artists copying Enigma, and 1000s of albums have been released under the “Enigma sounding”-label. But fans have never given up hope that Mr. Cretu one day would return to the original style, as you can see from this recent poll from Enigmamusic.
When reviewing music it is so easy to discredit Enigma, and especially MCMXC a.D. It is so pompous (monks and dance beats!? Give me a break!), so melodic and, on top of that, highly sequenced. Add the fact that Mr. Cretu hasn’t held concerts as Enigma, there is really nothing here for any serious music critic (or music lover for that matter).
These are all valid points, I see that. Still I feel that the artistic expression of MCMXC a.D is significant and there is no doubt that it has formed our genre over the last 20 years. To bring the sounds of the cathedral on to the dance floor was risky, but it paid off. Enigma has millions of fans and this album started it all. This makes MCMXC a.D into a great benchmark for other releases in our genre.
Rating; 100 / 100 (see information about our scale HERE).