5 Essential Enya CDs (Minus One)

Enya: #12 of  20 Icons of Echoes

Late last year, Echoes listeners voted Irish singer Enya, #12 among 20 Icons of Echoes.

The voice of Enya has become ubiquitous on television commercials and film soundtracks.  Whether heard in American Express ads or the movie, “The Age of Innocence,” her ethereal choirs and Celtic cadences seem suited to almost any mood.  Enya floats in waves of reverberation and synthesizer pads, her multi-tracked voice cascading around her like silken eddies.

I have a certain ambivalence toward Enya, both her music and her presentations.  There are times when I think she takes me to a higher plain, an ecstatic, floating cloud of sound where I lie on my back, eyes pointed to the stars.  Her music is meticulously crafted, her voice a heavensent instrument.

Then there are times, more with each album, where she’s only tapped into the most saccharine, facile aspects of a faux spirituality.  Her music is trite, even clunky with dated sounds and over-produced, clotty arrangements.  Her voice, that beautiful instrument that shares a genetic lineage with her sister, Moya Brennan, is lost in turgid overdubs and an indiscriminate ocean of reverb.  And her pop hits have become increasingly Disneyesque, beginning with “Orinoco Flow,” thru “Carribean Blue,” “Anywhere Is” and the puerile confection of “Only If….”

I was going to come up with Five Essential Enya CDs, but honestly, of the only seven proper albums she’s released in a quarter century, I could only find four to highly recommend and one of them is iffy.

1 Watermark
This is the only Enya album you really need.  Her second recording, Watermark is packed with more gorgeous songs and original ideas than all her other CDs combined.  It has the hit, “Orinoco Flow,” the best of her “pop” songs, but it also contains the Latin-sung tribal thunder of  “Cursum Perficio,” the cinematic expanse of “Storms in Africa” and “The Longships” and beautiful aires like “Evening Falls.”  Every Enya album after this followed the same formula.

2 Shepherd Moons
The follow-Up to Watermark, Enya’s third album continued and expanded on those themes with the gothic chants of “Afer Ventus” and “Angeles”, more tribal stomps with “Ebudae” and the heartbreaking “Evacuee” one of the few Enya songs with real world concerns, in this case the London Blitz of WWII.  “Caribbean Blue” was the pop hit, but…..

3 The Celts
This is her first album, originally released as Enya in 1986 and reissued later as The Celts.  The soundtrack for a BBC television series, Enya mixes her choral chants with sweet ballads and a few instrumentals.  It’s simpler than her succeeding albums, but more direct.  Even though this was the beginning of the insular triumvirate of Enya, producer Nicky Ryan and lyricist Roma Ryan, they still sounded like they lived in the world and not the stone bubble of their castle.

4 The Memory of Trees
This album really started the Enya slide to sentimentality.  Pop ditties like “Anywhere is” with its nursery rhyme schemes, make me want to brush my teeth after listening, it’s so sweet  But there are still some beautiful choral works like “Pax Deorum” and “Athair Are Neamh.”

After that Enya’s music defines clunky and corny.  A Day Without Rain spawned the post 9/11 hit, “Only Time,” but also had MOR shlock like “Wild Child” and “Flora’s Secret”.  Amarantine would’ve been great if all the tunes had the power of “Water Shows the Hidden Heart,” “Less Than A Pearl” and especially  the vocal abandon of “The River Sings,” but those are the only lifeboats in this sea of shlock.  Her Slo-mo ballads manage to be dirge-like and singsongy at the same time, like The Carpenters (who did the multi-tracked vocal think years before) on quaaludes.  And the less said about And Winter Came, the better.  It’s albums like this that give seasonal music a bad name.

To many, Enya epitomizes the voice of the heavens opening.  But listen to Sheila Chandra‘s Weaving My Ancestor’s Voices or Gothic VoicesA Feather on the Breath of God singing the chants of Abbess Hildegard von Bingen and the difference between heaven and sentimentality become apparent.   Enya, she could be so much better.  She needs to get out of the castle and into the world.  In the meantime, these four CDs show how great she could be.

Enya will be featured tonight (May 12, 2010) on Echoes as one of our 20 Icons.  You can also see the complete list of the 20 Icons of Echoes.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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