Cover: The Memory of Trees


Enya's The Memory Of Trees

Hannah M.G. Shapero

A Fan review posted to on June 13, 1996

A cranky and iconoclastic review

If I had never heard an album by Irish New Age songstress Enya, I would think that her new release The Memory Of Trees was just wonderful. But I've been an Enya fan for years, ever since her 1988 hit Watermark, and so I have more perspective on her general output. With this perspective, I can only offer a mixed review for The Memory Of Trees. The main problem here is that Enya does not depart from the program for an album which she came up with 7 years ago. She simply places new songs into already formulated theme slots. As a result, Enya's new album is not so much consistent as formulaic. As I do with other albums, I will go through The Memory Of Trees track by track.

1. 'The Memory of Trees' is an instrumental, done with the same gentle harp and synthesizer blend Enya has used for other instrumentals. It is moody and soft, with humming voices in the standard "self-chorus" Enya uses, made up of her own voice multiplied through multi-tracked tape.

2. 'Anywhere Is' is a bouncy, simple, childlike song with incomprehensible lyrics - even if they are in English. I can't really fault Enya for these dim lyrics, because she didn't write them, her aide Roma Ryan did. Now you say - who listens to Enya's lyrics anyway? I do, because it is a song and the words are important no matter what. But I find lyrics like "I walk the maze of moments/but everywhere I turn to/begins a new beginning/but never finds a finish..." OK, it sounds like countless "deep thoughts" found in New Age books, but I find it shallow.

3. 'Pax Deorum' fits into the "soft-Gothic" slot in the Enya formula, which was filled by 'Cursum Perficio' in Watermark and 'Afer Ventus' in Shepherd Moons. It's in what appears to be Latin, but isn't really Latin, just a jumble of Latinate words which might or might not have any real Latin grammar in them. (I'm a Latin and Greek scholar, and it always amuses me how any media use of Latin garbles the language.) Enya wants to sound "ominous" here, which is accomplished by imitating, in her soft way, the standard movie/TV use of Latin chanting, which is Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. (Which has been used for more medieval and barbarian movies than I can count.)

4. 'Athair ar Neamh': The words of this song might make sense, but they're in Gaelic, offered without translation, so I can't understand them. The song is sung in her ultra-pure Irish voice, with her "self-chorus" in the background. The closer she gets to her Irish roots, the more I like her songs; this one is really pretty

5. 'From Where I Am' is a sentimental instrumental, mostly piano. Enya's a fair pianist, though certainly no virtuosa.

6. 'China Roses' is a fairy-tale-like song whose lyrics (deliberately?) remind me of the Grateful Dead's 'China Cat Sunflower.' These words are just as incomprehensible as the other lyrics, but have a flow of psychedelic, colorful imagery which carries them: "You talk of the break of morning/as you view the new aurora/Cloud in crimson, the key of heaven/One love carved in acajou." What's acajou? Beats me, but it sure sounds nice. This one's one of the best on the album sung by Enya in her little-girl voice, crooning and whispering. I know that many fans are just in love with Enya's singing, but I'm not; I think she doesn't have much textural or emotional range in her voice. She never belts out anything or even sings loudly; she gets up way close to the mike and whispers into it. After a while I wish that Enya had more soul.

7. 'Hope has a Place': Again, the closely miked and recorded Enya whispering sappy love lyrics. "Look to love/you may dream/and if it should leave/then give it wings./But if such a love/is meant to be;/Hope is home, and the heart is free." Romantics who are in touch with their inner child, or who are actually children, might find this moving, but I find it banal, along with the singing style and the music.

8. 'Tea-House Moon' is a vaguely Chinese instrumental done on synthesizers and keyboards: pleasant but not memorable.

9. 'Once You Had Gold' is a folksy song, sung in her piping little voice. It fits into the "sweet folk song" slot prepared for the album formula. Again, Enya must chirp forth moronic lyrics, composed of "large-concept" words like "ever and always," "time, darkness, and dreams," "heart," "new day," etc. strung together into a setting which reminds me of a nursery rhyme.

10. 'La Soņadora,' sung in what appears to be Spanish, is the only place where Enya tries something new. And it is also a cut in which she attempts to sing lower notes and put more depth into them, which indicates that she can do heavier songs if she wished to. This is accompanied by organ and a heavenly choir, with the electronic bell sounds that are characteristic of Enya's arrangements.

11. 'On my way home' is a faster song, which fits into the part of the program filled by the brilliant 'Orinoco Flow' in Watermark. Both song and lyrics are relentlessly sweet and cheerful. But by this time, even though the album is only 45 minutes long, all of the music begins to drag. 'Orinoco' was louder, used percussion, had a more marked rhythm, and didn't drag! As if to identify the programmatic formula, Enya sneaks in a riff from 'Orinoco Flow' in this song, but it doesn't help liven it up. She needs to go back to the "New Age Pop" quality which made Watermark such a sensation.

I am still fond of Enya's music, but there is such a thing as a surfeit of loveliness; the album is just too sweet, without the saucy charm of her earlier work. She takes a long time between recordings, and I hope that in the 2 or so years before her next one Enya will take time to break out of her formula and sing something new, in a new way.