So naughty …
Over the last year or two, I’ve started to take a look back at my old mixtapes, tapes on which I collected my favorite songs from the radio. While I had a giant hiatus in the middle to take care of a bunch of work and personal things, I am back on track, and … with this entry I conclude Radio Remix #1!
What a weird song, this. And yet somehow, it perfectly encapsulates the early 90s, doesn’t it? The Eurodance fad of the late 80s, mixed up with New Age via plainchant (keep in mind, this is right before the huge craze for chant sparked by the cd released by the Benedictine Monks of Santo de Silos) — that’s basically the formula for Enigma’s success.
And Enigma — the perfect name, was it not? (I should say *is*, as they’re still around). On their debut release, December of 1990’s MCMXC a.D.,it was unclear whether the name referred to a group or a person, and those mentioned on the album were all given pseudonyms, including the dubiously tongue-in-cheek F. Gregorian.
In any case, the group was the musical brainchild of composer Michael Cretu, who had previously worked with Frank Farian (the mastermind behind Milli Vanilli) and Mike Oldfield (of Tubular Bells fame). In the late 80s, he came up with an idea for a new age-dance group, and by teaming up with others such as David Fairstein and Frank Peterson, Enigma was born. Their first single was entitled “Sadeness, Part I”, so named after the notorious Marquis de Sade, the early nineteenth-century libertine whose name coined the term sadist. Interestingly, in the UK, the song was entitled Sadness, perhaps because the record labels thought the extra ‘e’ was the result of a misprint. It was later followed by a sequel, “Mea Culpa, Part II,” which did not rise nearly as high on the charts as its predecessor.
The song is a swirl of New Age stereotypes; the static synth chords hover in the backdrop beneath a shimmer of almost New Jack Swing-like drum beats, the rustle of chimes in a non-existent breeze fade out while a MIDI-generated shakuhachi plays a modal melody. And of course, there’s chant. Cretu is a big fan of sampling, to which his record of lost lawsuits attests. On “Sadeness,” he borrowed vocals from the antiphon “Procedamus in pace” as sung by the German choir Capella Antiqua München; when they later brought suit, they and Cretu settled out of court. (Cretu would later be sued for sampling a traditional Amis song in Enigma’s later hit “Return to Innocence.”) Additionally, Cretu’s then-wife provided the spoken French lyrics, which basically question Sade’s faith, goodness, and very nature as a human.
It is strange revisiting a song like this, a song that’s so instantaneously recognizable yet the lyrics of which no one really thought about at the time. That was perhaps a huge part of the song’s success, part of New Age music’s success, really: the song is crafted in such a way as to invoke a sense of agelessness, of mystery and spirituality, and as such, the lyrics can be whatever you want them to be. Actually reading a translation of the lyrics for the first time can be a bit jarring; at least, you hear the song differently from that point forward. The veil has been dropped, the innocence lost, on some level, just as it was when it was learned that the chant had been borrowed without permission. It’s not a sound that has aged particularly well, to be sure. Today’s ears are a bit more jaded by the overuse of so-called “world” music elements (and as anyone who knows me musically knows, I hate the phrase “world music,” because until we get music from Mars, all music is world music) and the cloying naivete of New Age music, at least as it sounded in its heyday of the 90s and not as it might exist in its current spa iteration. But I think that those who remember it being vaguely about the Marquis de Sade, a person that you somehow knew by reputation even if not by specific deed (for certainly he did not come up in history class), the song still holds a tinge of naughtiness.
The unique sound of “Sadeness” propelled MCMXC a.D. to the top of the charts in over 40 countries, winning almost 60 platinum album awards. The single itself hit #1 in 24 countries, including the US Hot Dance Club Play chart, but it only hit #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in April of the following year.
Lyrics borrowed from here:
In nomine Christi, Amen
In the name of Christ, So be it
company of angels and children
et elevamini, portae aeternales
et introibit rex gloriae
Qius est iste Rex glorie?
and be ye lifted up ye everlasting doors,
and the king of glory shall come in.
Who is the king of glory?
Sade give me
In nomine Christi, Amen
In the name of Christ, Amen
Qu’est-ce que tu vas chercher?
le Bien par le Mal
la Vertu par le Vice
Sade, dis-moi, Pourquoi l’evangile du Mal?
Quelle est ta religion, Ou sont tes fideles?
Si tu es contre Dieu, tu es contre l’Homme
what is it that you seek?
The rightness of wrong
The virtue of vice
Sade tell me why the Gospel of evil ?
What is your religion? Where are your faithful?
If you are against God, you are against man
Sade dit moi pourquoi le sang pour le plaisir ?
Le plaisir sans l’amour.
N’y a t’il plus de sentiment dans le culte de l’homme ?
Pleasure without love?
Is there no longer any feeling in man’s Faith?
Sade, es-tu diabolique ou divin? Sade are you diabolical or divine?
Sade give me
Sade tell me
Sade give me