Author: Bruce Jenkins  Date Posted:29 March 2024 


Musician, poet and minimalist composer Harold Budd famously said, "When I hear the term 'New Age' I reach for my revolver." Irish musician Enya, having won four Grammy awards in the New Age category and sold enough records to buy a Victorian mini-castle, might be tempted to duck for cover at them fighting words. But given the fortifications of her massive stone home, she need not fear; Harold would need more than a pistol to make an impression on Enya’s edifice.

So how is it that a style associated with meditation, relaxation and peace arouses so much passion? Like the area of Progressive Rock, artists assigned to the New Age genre are often quick to distance themselves, sometimes disparaging its musical attributes. Enya, for instance, observed that the term was applied "to any musician whom critics didn't know how to pigeonhole." Often criticism refers to an absence of musical substance in the recordings. "It's air, thin air," continued the Irish singer and keyboard player, who may also have used the word "spineless" when talking about the style.

As the estimated 80 million people around the world who have purchased Enya albums would attest, spineless is certainly not a word one would apply to her music. Watermark, the breakthrough album, is full of lush arrangements, delicate melodies and full, romantic swells of emotion. It is a journey through a range of seasons and moods. Wistful or yearning, melancholy or quiet joy, there is a depth of feeling through Watermark that provides it lasting substance.

Stately piano arpeggios open the album with the title track. It is restful, a pretty instrumental melody; a gossamer curtain raiser. The first vocal track, "Curium Perficio" (Latin for "Your journey ends here") has an ecclesiastical flavour, with a second part that could be almost a marching song heard through medieval mists. The pensive ballad "On Your Shore" follows, and here for the first time we hear in the foreground the collaboration between Enya and long-time writing partner (Lyrics Department) Roma Ryan. It features a fine clarinet solo that compliments Enya’s rich contralto voice, layered here by producer Nicky Ryan.

Enya’s Celtic origins flow around and through the music. "Storms in Africa" may have some percussion evocative of that great continent, but its lyrics are sung in the artist’s island tongue. The echoed vocals and rumbling tom toms make for a dramatic piece that tears off the tag of blandness often pinned to Enya’s music. Indeed, the same could be said of "Orinoco Flow", the surprise single that opens side two. A rousing rhythm and catchy refrain support a lyric dripping with travel destinations and wanderlust momentum. The song was a hit, #1 in the UK and climbing well into the Australian Top 10. That success assisted the album to do the same.

The album finishes with a strong mystic feel on "Na Laetha Geal M’Oige," uillean pipes being contributed by folk legend Davy Spillane.  The synthesiser foundation, a Gaelic lyric, and those haunting pipes blending into a magical whole. It the cohesion of Enya’s album. Far from being background music, Watermark is a rich and affecting musical journey that, almost forty years on, holds up well to repeated listens.


© Bruce Jenkins—March 2024

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