Time has not been especially kind to Enigma: “Sadness Part 1” sounds today like an almost parodically generic chillout track. Its mysteries have evaporated – what remains is a ponderous mix of particularly banal elements. Gregorian chant? Synthesised pan pipes? Give over!
Were the group more impressive at the time? Are they a victim of their success? After all, juxtaposition relies for its effect on the idea that its components don’t generally fit together – if they slot in place too well then everyone does it. The worst thing that can happen to a track like “Sadness Part 1” is that it starts to sound natural – and this is pretty much what’s happened. Back in 1991 though, with ambient a buzzword again, there was a sense that even if Enigma weren’t touched by genius they were operating at least within shouting distance of credibility.
What sunk them back then is curiously what redeems them a little now, when their music feels so threadbare. Everything on this track is naff, but the breathy vocals – “Sade, dis-moi!” – are at least a different kind of naff, putting the single into a tradition of low-budget Euro-schlock as much as a New Age lineage. (The track was called “Sadeness” – as in the Marquis – in its European releases). Chains, cowled figures, monkish chanting, a damsel gasping – this is an old-school Gothic sensibility, and always welcome. But as with all Enigma’s other aesthetic borrowings – the track reminds me a bit of Lil Louis, of Dead Can Dance, of The Orb – there’s something reserved and half-hearted about the execution, and “Sadness Part 1” peters where it ought to peak.