Saturday, March 24, 2012

Watermark - Enya

WEA Records  WX 199 243875-1

If you have seen David Fincher’s version of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” you may have noticed his little musical joke.  No I’m not referring to Karen O’s cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” in the opening credits (although that is kind of funny) but rather the scene where the serial killer is getting ready to get down to business and turns on his stereo (a reel to reel tape machine oddly enough) for a little mood music.  Out of the speakers comes Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” (supposedly a suggestion from Daniel Craig.)  I interpret this as a comment on the banality of evil or a not so subtle dig at bourgeois cultural values, but it is also a cheap shot at Enya (I’ll bet real serial killers prefer Fincher’s buddy Trent Reznor to Enya by a wide margin.)  It reminds me of the crude way that Bret Easton Ellis used his killer in “American Psycho” to mock Whitney Houston, Phil Collins and Huey Lewis (although they kind of deserved it.)  I’m not sure what Enya ever did to deserve becoming a punchline for hipsters and cultural snobs besides sell a lot of records, but I’m not embarrassed to admit that I like this record and I have from the moment I first heard “Orinoco Flow” on the radio back in 1988.  This record is commonly described as "New Age," a genre I don't care for, although I do like some of the world music variety in particular the mystical, trance-type stuff from Asia and the Middle East and the Celtic-style music of Loreena McKennitt and Enya.  I have some appreciation for New Age culture having grown up in what is arguably its birthplace, the San Francisco Bay Area.  We had transcendental meditation lessons at my high school.  My father and stepmother were both involved with est Training for awhile.  My sister became a homeopathic doctor and acupuncture practitioner.  I've had friends who were deeply engaged in New Age thinking and I'm not unsympathetic to their views.  Enya herself apparently disapproves of being categorized as "New Age" and she has a point.  This doesn't sound much like the contemplative instrumental music you hear from labels like Windham Hill.  It is more like a highly polished extension of traditional music as well as religious music.  The album begins with the title song which is a sedate instrumental with Enya tinkling the ivories over a soothing synthesizer backdrop.  It is the song that sounds most like "New Age" music on the record.  According to the lyric sheet on the album, the next song "Cursum Perficio" was inspired by an inscription at the entrance to Marilyn Monroe's last home.  It translates roughly as "end of my course" and the entire song is chanted in Latin lyrics composed by Enya's lyricist, Roma Ryan.  It is a little creepy, sounds like something in a gothic horror film although the lyrics are actually a benign advisory to avoid materialism and greed.  "On Your Shore" is a gorgeous song although it is so vague that I'm not sure if she is singing about holding a lover or embracing some sort of spiritual enlightenment.  "Storms In Africa" is one of the best known songs on the album.  It is a majestic song with lyrics in Gaelic.  Enya later recorded an English version that is on most American pressings of this album, but I have a European import copy that doesn't have it.  The lyrics offer encouragement to people as they endure life's storms.  The prominent percussion in the song gives it power and sonically evokes Africa in a world music sort of way.  "Exile" seems like a companion song to "On Your Shore."  The songs sound very similar with Enya's evocative crooning and a slow synth driven melody.  The lyrics discuss the situation prior to her arrival "on the shore" with the song describing insecurity and the journey homeward.  Side one concludes with another pretty piano instrumental, "Miss Clare Remembers."  The reverse side opens with "Orinoco Flow," a song I will always like no matter how many people make fun of it.  Like so many of the songs on this aptly named album, water imagery dominates the song as well as the theme of traveling as a representation of a spiritual quest.  Of course the Orinoco is not only a river, it is also the name of the studio where this album was recorded and I think the song is about the power of music to carry one away as well.  The song is dominated by a catchy riff and expressive multi-tracked vocals from Enya.  It is easily the most propulsive tune on the record, although there is not much competition in that regard.  "Evening Falls" slows the record back down.  It is a dreamy song about yet another quest although this one seems almost supernatural with its references to other worlds.  The instrumentation is quite sparse, the song is carried by Enya's gorgeous vocal.   "River" is another instrumental that resembles a more subdued "Orinoco Flow" in its motif and instrumental sound.  "The Longships" is in Gaelic but despite the nautical title, it is apparently about eternal life.  The album closes with "Na Laetha Geal M'óige" which is my other favorite song on the record.  It sounds like a traditional folk song and it has Gaelic lyrics that recount how youthful hope and idealism has been replaced by sorrow and regret as the songwriter has aged.  This record is full of exquisitely lovely music that is soothing and peaceful to listen to while retaining just enough pop flavor to keep me from getting bored.  Recommended for people looking for a little shelter from the storm.                

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