The trio that is Enya, fronted and personified by Irish songstress Eithne Ní Bhraonáin, needs no introduction. From 1987′s The Celts, to 2000′s A Day Without Rain, Enya have carved out a unique musical niche that has generated fans from every corner of the globe, and, it seems, an equal number of critics. It certainly appears in vogue to dismiss Eithne and her songwriting partners Roma and Nicky Ryan as New Age fluff, constantly recycled nonsense that’s suited only for muzak and bookshop tannoys. But while some of us chuckle at the hint of truth therein, such a sweeping rebuttal is woefully inaccurate. The rank and file of Enya fanhood may be no place for an indie snob, but the sheer popularity of their music is no accident. Their unique orchestrations unabashedly create pure moods that are perfect for practically any occasion. That they are also about as inoffensive as a slice of white bread doesn’t hurt sales either. But whilst there is nothing remotely challenging about the music of Enya, there is a certain something to savour. Something familiar and comforting like a warm house at Christmas and reassuringly safe like a cup of herbal tea.
Predictably then, Amarantine is unlikely to disappoint Eithne’s legions of fans. In keeping with its title, which refers to a mythical eternal flower, it’s a longer and more satisfying album than A Day Without Rain and is subtly different from her previous releases. Abandoning the trademark Gaelic lyrics for a dabble into Japanese was certainly brave, yet works surprising well. ‘Sumiregusa’ is a striking blend of Japanese lyrics and ethereal vocals evoking visuals of geisha and white cherry blossoms, and may very well be the most innovative thing the trio has done in a decade. So much so that it nearly even manages to trump Amarantine‘s crowning achievement – that of Roma Ryan’s creation of the new language Loxian, a tongue inspired by the works of Tolkien, that appears on three of the album’s dozen tracks. Inevitably, by virtue of its indecipherability, the use of Loxian adds a little more to the fantasy and mystery of just what Eithne is singing about; those of us versed in more mundane languages, however, will just listen to those tracks as we always have with the Gaelic ones, enjoying the sound of the words rather than the actual poetry.
To be fair, a higher expectation would have been folly. The trio have found a working formula and it’s one that they pretty much stick to throughout. At times it can be overwhelmingly obvious – for example, ‘It’s In The Rain’ sounds remarkably like ‘China Roses’ from The Memory Of Trees, the title track is practically a carbon copy of the massive chart hit ‘Only Time’ from A Day Without Rain and ‘The River Sings’ harkens back to 1987′s often-sampled ‘Boudicea’. But despite the formulaic nature of the album, fans of Enya would expect little else, nor, it seems, do they really care to. Amarantine may do nothing to win new fans, but its soothing and comfortable sounds will at worst retain the masses who have come to love Enya for those overlapping vocals and synthesized swells. And since A Day Without Rain was the world’s bestselling album in 2001, perhaps comfort is really the point.
[WEA; November 13, 2006]