With Kate Bush having performed a slew of live dates in 2014, the title of Most Reclusive Popular Musician must surely be handed to Enya. She has never toured, she rarely gives interviews, lives in a castle in rural Ireland, and, every few years, releases a new album which quietly shifts millions of units. If only in light of her commitment to one very particular style of music – new age Gaelic folk – Enya bears comparison with AC/DC, another massively successful yet monomaniacal act.
Since the late '80s, Irish singer/composer Enya has become the most unlikely of international stars, delivering lush, Celtic-driven pseudo-classical odes in her signature Wall of Sound vocal style, rarely granting interviews, never touring, and generally taking as much time as she wishes between albums. Bucking odds and industry trends, her popularity has remained steadfast, allowing her to become the best-selling Irish solo artist of all time. Following 2008's snowbound And Winter Came, her silence stretched to eight years -- the longest of her career -- before the mists once again parted to reveal her eighth album, the evocatively titled Dark Sky Island.
It can be difficult to differentiate between Enya records. Her early work still feels only slightly displaced from 4AD and ambient music; though Enya has never been comfortable identifying her music as "new age," it shares new age's fixations on geology and infinity, which also appear in the music of contemporary acts, from Oneohtrix Point Never to Mark McGuire. But as her career advanced her songwriting and the architecture of her albums solidified into a kind of extreme aesthetic discipline, and her songs began to melt inextricably into each other.
Since her 1987 debut, Ireland’s enigmatic new-age megastar Enya has shifted 80m albums of gently bubbling, multilayered ethereal pop. Needless to say, her ninth album, and first for seven years, doesn’t exactly mess with the tried and tested formula, offering up 11 variations on the sweepingly dramatic. There’s genuine beauty nestled among the perpetually unfashionable folky arrangements, not least on the delicately sighing So I Could Find My Way and the relatively robust Even In The Shadows.
The success that Enya has enjoyed in her 25-plus year career is enough to make anybody jealous. Over 80 million albums sold to date, the extent of which has spawned its own economic term, 'Enyanomics'. The biggest selling solo artist to come from Ireland. Music that has soundtracked everything from heartfelt 9/11 tributes and Lord of the Rings through to car ads with Jean-Claude Van Damme, and has influenced artists as far flung as Bat for Lashes and Nicki Minaj.
Were it my solemn duty to compile a list of the finest things we human creatures have ever created – for a time capsule, say, or a diplomatic encounter with alien species – the songs of Enya would be paramount. I can imagine nothing superior to represent the beauty of being alive right now. For we live in a very, very beautiful world. And sometimes we require a swift reminding.
“Only change is here to stay,” Enya sings in “The Humming,” a song about geological cycles of creation and disintegration that opens her new album, “Dark Sky Island.” But constancy, not change, is what Enya’s music provides. On “Dark Sky Island,” as always, Enya offers plush serenity and the familiarity of sounds she has been using since her 1988 album, “Watermark.” She sings in her feathery voice amid orchestras of sampled strings, stolid keyboard arpeggios and choirs of her overdubbed vocals. She’s eternally consonant, bringing melodies that are steeped in hymn, lullaby, waltz, Baroque opera and Celtic tradition, all radiating a free-floating reverence.