My first exposure to Enya was through commercials for Pure Moods CDs. A brief clip of her singing, “Sail away, sail away, sail away…” stuck in my mind. I could almost close my eyes and picture myself 25 years later as a quarantined middle-aged man with a horrible beard taking a candlelit bath to the sound of “Orinoco Flow.” If you can see it you can be it.
And then in 2001, I saw a trailer for Sweet November with Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron and I first heard a clip of her gorgeous hit song “Only Time.” I was officially a fan. I believe I also saw the movie, but if I did, the only thing I can remember is that song.
I’ve been listening to a lot of peaceful music for the past few years but even more in the past few weeks. Enya has to be a homebody. I imagine that she has been sheltering-at-castle for years if not decades. Her music is the stress-relieving companion for an extended home stay. Here are tapes of her first three hit albums, which have been in heavy rotation around here lately.
Enya — 1987, cassette, Atlantic Records
Her style already sounds fully formed on her wonderful self-titled debut, co-written and co-arranged by longtime collaborators Roma and Nicky Ryan. The album is a selection of songs from the soundtrack for the BBC documentary series The Celts, which is an interesting watch (it’s streaming on Amazon Prime and YouTube). She sings in Gaelic here, as she often will throughout her career, incorporating a few traditional Celtic songs as well as uilleann pipes. My favorite track on the album is “Boadicea,” which was memorably sampled by The Fugees in their classic hit “Ready or Not.” This song is loaded with satisfying minor-to-major resolves, a characteristic motif that often colors her music a twilight shade. Another notable song is “Aldebaran (Dedicated to Ridley Scott),” where shimmering glissandos flash like mental lights.
Her music works very well in movies. In addition to her contributions to The Celts and Sweet November (and many other movies and TV shows), she also wrote the song “May It Be” for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, for which she received an Oscar nomination in 2001. And more recently I was pleased to hear “Orinoco Flow” used well in the excellent 2018 coming-of-age comedy Eighth Grade — as an entrancing accompaniment to a spaced-out social media montage.
Watermark — 1988, cassette, Reprise
Anchored by the pulsating rhythms of “Storms in Africa,” “Storms in Africa II,” and “Orinoco Flow,” this is a relatively energizing collection, maybe the energy from taking a deep breath of fresh air (at least 6 to 10 feet from anyone else, please). Those crystalline tracks contrast nicely with the foreboding “Cursum Perficio,” which was inspired by a visit to Marilyn Monroe’s home where Enya noticed the title words (Latin for “My journey ends here”) written outside the entrance. And in another movie connection, the beautiful single “Exile” was used effectively in the underrated Steve Martin comedy L.A. Story.
Shepherd Moons — 1991, cassette, Reprise
I find this one — the top-selling album of her career — to be the most soothing of these three tapes. With the exception of side-two lead-off “Book of Days,” the tempo of this album feels paced down. My favorite track is the touching “Evacuee,” one of the gentlest of this set, with lyrical themes that resonate with “Exile.” She likewise applies a delicate touch to the traditional spiritual “How Can I Keep From Singing?” and summons a heavenly choir (of Enyas) on the pristine “Angeles.” There is a profound stillness to this album, lake water so clear you can see your own reflection in it. Or, if you’re more like a quarantined me listening to Enya: bath water so warm you can start falling asleep in it.