Various Artists

Enigma Variations, Vol. 2

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Although it came out only two years after 1985's The Enigma Variations, this follow-up shows how strikingly Enigma Records' stable of artists had changed in the preceding 24 months. 1985's little boomlet of goth bands has disappeared entirely, and only Plan 9 remained to keep the neo-psychedelia torch burning. Punk and power pop became the label's bread and butter, with tracks by Wire and ex-Van der Graaf Generator leader Peter Hammill evincing a newfound interest in progressive rock as well. And of course, synth dance producer Jon St. James, one of Enigma's early success stories (he brought Berlin to the label in 1982, making the imprint a tidy profit when Geffen Records bought out their contract less than a year later) weighs in with two tracks, one a rare effort under his own name, and one a previously unreleased track by an otherwise unrecorded post-Stacey Q lineup of SSQ. Actually, The Enigma Variations 2 is even more interesting than its predecessor in that way; although only 11 artists are represented (with the Smithereens, Poison, and the label's other commercial success stories notably absent), each delivers not only a key track from a recent album but a previously unreleased or rare nugget. So along with Game Theory's power pop classic "Erica's Word," there's the noisier "Shark Pretty," from their pre-Enigma Distortion EP. Besides Wednesday Week's excellent Don Dixon-produced single "Why," there's also Dixon's own version of the song, with his blue-eyed soul vocals in place of Heidi Rodewald's over Wednesday Week's original backing track. A couple of the tracks were previously unreleased for a reason, but this is the rare sequel that actually bests the original. A third volume covering the label's 1988-1989 output could have been more interesting still, but unfortunately, Enigma Records went bankrupt in 1990 before that could happen.

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