Album cover: Watermark



Liam Fay

Hot Press (Ireland) 21 April 1988

Watermark is reminiscent of lots of things - yet it's like nothing you've ever heard before. Traces of classical, traditional and rock are easy to spot but Enya and crew haven't been content to drink only from established sources - rather they've managed to come up with a potion all of their own.

What we have here is a lifetime's worth of sights, sounds and experiences condensed into an orderly and lucid aural aquarium that is more beautiful than anything you've seen on 'The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau'. It's a panoramic dreamscape filled with blood red coral, glinting white pearls and grey-purple pellets of rock which are suspended above a seabed of real life, organic hundreds and thousands. However, all is not aesthetic brilliance for, as Enya's Donegal childhood must have taught her, the ocean can also be a vicious marauder and her album is tinged with strong undercurrents of desolation, loneliness and even anger. Make no mistake, there's nothing wet about Watermark.

Some tracks are as expansive as the Atlantic, ruthlessly tossing about all sort of flotsam and jetsam, while others are like dewdrops that change shape slowly, and eventually evaporate. 'Cursum Perficio' comes the nearest to full orchestration and is similar in style if not content to 'Carmina Burana' (for lowbrows, the music from the Old Spice ads). But equally effective are the simple lapping vocals and instrumentation of 'Storms in Africa' and 'The Longships' or the haunting (I know it's a cliche but there's not other word for it) 'Exiles'. Then there's the exquisite liqueous pop of 'Orinoco Flow' which should, if there's any justice, be a hit single.

Lyrics are often the weakest element in projects like this, but even nursery rhymes delivered in an ethereal manner can convince some of their profundity. However, here Roma Ryan's words (in Irish, English and Latin) are integral and are ideally sculpted to allow Enya's voice to float between the gaps and pauses, remembering that this water nymph doesn't sing in any one particular language but enunciates the punctuation, alphabet and vocabulary of a universal musical language.

Admittedly, there are some relative lapses - 'Na Laetha Gael M'oife' is little more than a slow air (albeit a fine one) and 'On Your Shore' and "Evening Falls...' are too hymn-like for their own good - but these only pale when compared with the rest of the record. Anyway, pinning down individual pieces is more difficult than trying to catch rain with a fork because Nick Ryan has wrapped them in a production of multi-layered taffeta that reveals a different hue each time you hear it.

Where other 'ambient' albums are prepared to languish in the background or act as soundtracks. Watermark rushes in and fills your head like a shoal of tropical fish. Come and hear the mermaids singing.

Rating: 11/12

Note: Transcribed by Book of Days.