Cover: The Memory of Trees


Enya sings in 4 languages,
but the words don't matter into the mood

Brad Kava, Mercury News Music Writer

San Jose Mercury News (USA) 5 December 1995

They should stick a warning label on Irish singer Enya's new album, The Memory of Trees, which goes on sale today: Warning: Don't take while driving. May cause drowsiness.

But don't take this as an insult.

Like all of the 34-year-old singer's work, this album is filled with ethereal, dreamy ballads. It background music perfectly suited for lying in bed and spacing out or sitting by a fire.

And it is a far better attempt at ambient music than many others, including the recent release "Original Soundtracks, Volume 1" by the Passengers, a group that consists of Brian Eno and U2 calling themselves the Passengers.

Enya's detractors deride it as musical wallpaper. It may very well be. But it's tasteful wallpaper - it sets a lush mood without calling attention to itself.

Enya's fans have bought 19 million of her albums since 1986, though she is the subject of little of the hype associated with other recording stars. She doesn't tour; she isn't all over talk shows; even her release date is off, missing the height of the Christmas buying season by a few weeks.

The new disc is her best since her first record, The Celts, although it doesn't stray from the richly layered, Celtic-inspired, mystical music heard on all four of her albums.

Enya's debut disc felt less like a finished recording and more like the experimental ramblings of a classically trained melodic composer. The songs, which were originally written as background for a BBC documentary, varied in length, tempo and texture and she seemed to be wandering down a number of roads, with a melodic surprise on each path.

A one-minute piano solo on one song melts into a harp and vocal collage on the next. Like a rock concept album, they hang together and are best heard in succession as a whole, rather On as individual songs.

The next two discs sounded less adventurous and, perhaps because of the huge success of the single "Orinoco Flow" (known by most people as "Sail Away"), were put together more like traditional song collections.

The new disc returns to the experimental. It is influenced by classical and religious music, with shades of Rachmaninov and Bach. It features vocals in Latin, Gaelic, Spanish and English, making Enya perhaps the most multilingual pop star ever.

The 'Memory of Trees,'' she says, is not an ecological statement, but a speculation on what trees may think about those of us with shorter life spans.

It's not something you want to think too closely about. And she usually doesn't ask you too. As with all mystical music, her songs are best when taken ambiguously, leaving their luminescence intact.

My biggest complaint with the album is when she sings in a language I understand and the words push into the foreground. The lyrics often sound like the New Age ramblings on a Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap label.

The words to "Anywhere Is," for example, sound like something from a teen-age girl's diary: "The moon upon the ocean is swept around in motion, but without ever knowing, the reason for its flowing. In motion on the ocean, the moon still keeps on moving, the waves still keep on waving and I still keep on going."

In Latin, which I don't know a word of, she sounds much more profound.

The effect of the other songs is like religious music to an atheist who goes into a hall of worship not caring a lick about what is said, but is brought to tears by the choir.

Note: Transcribed by Tomás Román .