Enya Sells Tranquility
Jim Sullivan, the Boston Globe
The Louisville Courier-Journal (USA) Early 1996
In the often-raucous world of music, Enya sells tranquility
Enya has sold more than 28 million albums worldwide, nearly 10 million of them in the United States. Her current album is at No. 2 on Billboard's "New Age" chart after four weeks, and at No. 29 on the Top 200 that rates all albums. Her lush soprano has been heard in the films L.A. Story, The Age of Innocence and Green Card.
She sings in Gaelic, mostly -- sometimes in English, occasionally in Latin or Spanish. She has never toured as a solo artist. Her primary influences, she says, are classical and traditional Irish music.
Do these descriptions seem incongruous? Doesn't this seem an unlikely mix for international success? Why has it worked?
"Let me just open this little book of answers," Enya said in her New York hotel suite, smiling and turning to thumb through an imaginary book.
No, the 34-year-old pianist-songwriter doesn't know either, but she has a theory about why she's popular enough to have sold more records than Eric Clapton (if fewer than Madonna) over a three-album stretch. It has to do with quiet space, the need people have for introspection and contemplation.
"I've been thinking about it," she said, "and in today's society, a lot of people don't take a lot of time to themselves. They're actually afraid to. They're used to noise, TV, radio, traffic, the office. And a lot of people are so focused on problems all the time: 'What do I have to do next?' Problems, problems, problems, thinking ahead all the time."
Her music, she suggests, helps people make constructive use of that time alone, provides an atmosphere in which thought flourishes. This, at least, is what fans tell her when they write. The music, she said, "is making them actually sit down and think about themselves. 'Am I happy?' 'What's happened in my life?' They interpret their own emotions to the music."
Much New Age music can be dismissed as gooey twaddle, adult-oriented wallpaper stuff that dares not speak its name. Enya's music does not come across that way; consider her proper, solo debut album, Watermark, which featured 'Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)'; Shepherd Moons, which has spent more than 200 weeks on the Billboard 200; and the current The Memory of Trees. There's subtlety, quirkiness, a sense of adventure that's both stately and frisky.
And then there's that voice. Enya has a voice that, in its multi-tracked splendor, conjures up glorious, celestial images. She's a spiritual, vaguely sensuous dream-weaver, an angel at the gates of heaven. The implicit spirituality is no accident.
"It's because I was brought up a Catholic," she said. "What I've done is I've kind of derived from religion what I'm comfortable with. . . . I love going to church on my own, the peace and quiet, I enjoy that and I think that crosses over into the music."
Her music might float in the clouds, but rest assured, Enya's feet do touch the ground. Born Eithne Ní Bhraonáin in County Donegal, Enya attended Catholic boarding school and studied classical piano. She also became immersed in Irish traditions and Druid mythology. Her career took shape without any grand design. She joined her sister, Máire, and two brothers in Clannad, bringing keyboards into the mix.
"I was two years with them," Enya said of a period in the early 1980s. "I enjoyed the experience and the traveling, the touring, but musically, I knew I was going to move on to something else."
In 1988 Enya released Watermark, which broke her music worldwide with New Age and world-music fans. Shepherd Moons, in 1991, did even better. But then four years went by between that album and the new one -- an eternity in the fickle pop world. Was Enya nervous about whether her audience was still there?
"I did wonder," she said, "because (when) I go into the studio, I forget about the success and I forget about the audience and I just work. When I finished, it was like my first album. I was quite anxious: Is there anybody going to listen to this? . . .There is no big guarantee for anyone, I don't care who they are. that's something I feel strongly about. So, I feel it's best to forget and just carry on and work on the music. At least, you'll be happy with your work."
Note: Transcribed by Benjamin Brinner. The article was accompanied by a photo from the Caribbean Blue video with this caption: "Enya's lush soprano voice conjures up glorious, celestial images. She's a spiritual, vaguely sensuous dream-weaver. The implicit spirituality is no accident". The article was syndicated and appeared in several newspapers in early 1996.