Image © Reprise Records 2005
Lord Of The Rings OST (2001)
Only Time (2002)
A Day Without Rain (2000)
(21 November 2005) Although Enya has been releasing solo material for over 20 years, the announcement of a new album from one of the most enduring and unique artists of our time draws significant attention. Fans of the Irish songstress are always eager to hear her latest offerings especially since a gap of four to five years often occurs between her releases.
Enya's last album, A Day Without Rain was a blockbuster success, selling over six million copies in the US alone, and becoming the biggest selling album in the world in 2001. Enya followed this career high by contributing two songs ("Aniron," and "May it Be", the latter of which was nominated for an Academy Award) for the soundtrack to the first Lord of the Rings film, The Fellowship of the Ring.
After some well-deserved rest, Enya returned to the studio to begin work on her latest album in 2003. After several years of recording, Enya has released her sixth solo album, Amarantine and fans will not be disappointed. In fact, it is fair to say that Amarantine may be Enya's best body of work since her groundbreaking album, Watermark. While all of Enya's albums have been consistently appealing, Amarantine sees Enya exploring new territories both melodically and vocally. Critics have often accused Enya of recycling her sound. Without question, there is a sound that the entire world recognizes as belonging exclusively to Enya. Notwithstanding this fact, most fair-minded critics must acknowledge that Enya is a master of melodic songwriting and a craftswoman of the highest calibre.
Due to some novel and progressive innovations, Amarantine may actually be seen as one of Enya's most original and exploratory albums ever. Take, for example, the fact that none of the songs from Amarantine feature either Gaelic or Latin lyrics. Instead, "Sumiregusa" is in Japanese while "Less than A Pearl," "The River Sings" and "Water Shows the Hidden Heart" contain lyrics written in Loxian, a language invented by Enya's lyricist, Roma Ryan. Surprsingly, there is no entirely instrumental piece on the entire album either. Most of the freshness, however, can be found in Enya's willingness on this album to write more subtle and complex melodies.
"The River Sings" is a prime example of this. After a strange sitar and a near trance/techno drum kick begin the song, Enya begins to sing in a war-like tribal chant reminiscent of early Celtic mouth-music. Subtle Asian influences can be heard in the sharp pronunciation of the syllables. Without question, "The River Sings" proves that Enya is not a mere purveyor of formless new age music. There is grandeur, originality and mystery here.
The exceptionally moving "Long Long Journey" must stand as one of Enya's all-time best. Melodically, the song draws heavily from early American and British Isles' hymns like "All Glory, Laud and Honor." With military snares sounding throughout, Enya steadily layers each chorus with more and more heavenly vocals. The bridge of the song rings with a sublime and aching beauty. As Enya sings "Long long jouney through the darkness, long long way to go. But what are miles across the ocean to the heart that's coming home?" one can envision concourses of ships leaving harbor to a new land. This is epic and visionary music of the highest order.
Known for her melancholic and introspective ballads, Amarantine features one of Enya's best slow tracks to date--the ghostly and chilling "Water Shows the Hidden Heart." Although beginning with a touching and tender melody, the song really finds wings when Enya soars into the bridge/break section. In almost operatic fashion, Enya modulates keys as her voice resonates with silver-toned perfection. In the repeat of the bridge/break section, Enya splits her voice into two counterpoint parts that can only be described as "awe-inspiring."
The title track and first single "Amarantine" is a nice and romantic continuation of "Only Time" with a waltz tempo and gently plucked pizz and orchestral swells. It is refreshing to hear Enya sing some of her highest notes to date. The opening track "Less than a Pearl" recalls the cinematic sweep of her song "The Memory of Trees." Native American in tone, Enya uses her vocals to create a near ceremonial chanting textures. "If I Could be Where You Are" fits nicely alongside classic Enya love-ballads like "On Your Shore" and "Exile." With its heartstopping chorus and celestial melody, "If I Could be Where You Are" is one of the highlights on the album. "Amid the Falling Snow" is a picaresque and sweet song with bowed strings and story-book like melody: truly heavenly, and perfect for the winter season.
"Drifiting" is a near-instrumental number that is interrupted only toward the middle-end by some of Enya's famous choral "ooohs" and "ahhhs." Melodically, it is more complex than some of her other pieces and works very well as a sort of impressionistic and dreamy number. While not the strongest track on the album "A Moment Lost" is, nevertheless, a sonically enjoyable ballad in the vein of "Once you Had Gold." "Sumiregusa" is an exotic and intoxicating track sung in Japanese. Although the instrumentation is pure "enya," the unusual chorus section with its sharp vocals and gongs effectively conjures up images of ancient samurai warriors and silk-clad princesses.
Another ear-opener is the pop-friendly "Someone Said Goodbye" which features a lumbering swing tempo and Abba-esque melody. Again, fans may be pleasantly surprised by this original piece. "It's in the Rain" is another standout. In addition to the rolling broken piano chords and unexpected chord changes, Enya's! voice is up front in a way that fans have not heard since The Celts.
A further advancement can be found in Enya's increasingly assured and tonally varied voice. Never has Enya's voice sounded more controlled and sublime. Never has Enya explored the range and depth of her voice more than she has on Amarantine. Enya's latest will, no doubt, be a bestseller--and deservedly so. The album deserves critical recognition as one of Enya's best efforts to date.
It is as if Enya has drawn from all of her earlier works and created something new and vibrant for the world.--Justin Elswick in Provo, Utah and Russ Elliot in New York