By Ken Ficara
Enya's new album, Shepherd Moons, is everything you'd expect from her: a gorgeous tapestry of new-age spaces and traditional Irish music, with a killer VH-1 single, hymns, songs in Irish and Latin, and, naturally, breathtaking vocals. The single, "Caribbean Blue," is a gorgeous waltz with a haunting melody driven by a gently bubbling guitar line that is clearly hoped to duplicate the success of "Orinoco Flow/Sail Away," her 1988 surprise hit.
"How Can I Keep From Singing," a traditional hymn, is in some way the best song on the disc, but it's treated far too delicately. The lyrics are a Wordsworthian celebration of life -- "Through all the tumult and the strife/I hear its music ringing/It sounds an echo in my soul/How can I keep from singing?" -- but Enya hardly sounds like she's having trouble containing her joy. In fact, if she were any more contained, you'd hardly be able to tell her vocals from the surrounding wafts of keyboards.
Like the entire album, it's nearly perfect, in a sense, but there's something missing. Enya's music is absolutely not the pointless, soulless meandering of much new age music, but it's a little too pretty. All the corners have been carefully sanded down, the seams filled in, and the whole covered with layer after delicate keyboard treatments, multilayered vocals, and spacey production.
There are many points on Shepherd Moons where you wish she'd just shake off the treatments and ornate production, and sing. Such a voice should not be melded seamlessly into a background of gauzy music, sometimes to the point where it's hard to distinguish from the synthesizer.
The album is afflicted with what you might call (Brian) Enoism, a condition in which no instrument or voice escapes unscathed from touches of the producer's brush. On "No Holly For Miss Quinn," for instance, her piano is almost left to itself. But producer Nicky Ryan couldn't resist adding some delicate keyboard shadings behind it. Why? The song would have benefited more from the natural and intimate sound of an acoustic piano than it does from the production tricks, which leave it colder than it should have been.
This is a carp, though, in the long run. Shepherd Moons is a stunning album that will stand up to repeated listening. A steady diet of this would soon leave one begging for a good dose of The Clash, but there are times when nothing else will suit. I listed no tracks to program in or out because it's all one piece. You can't really pick songs or melodies out; in fact, even when you make an effort to focus your attention on the music, you find yourself drifting. Perhaps that's a fault, but it's also the point.