Enya’s fourth album finds her wealthy, successful, and comfortable. The music has started to suffer. The Memory of Trees is lavish…but it’s self-indulgent in places, and wants for the smallness and humbleness Enya had on her early releases.
After the pleasant title track, we get “Anywhere Is”, which is catchy and enticing, but as unsatisfying as a cake that’s all icing. Enya’s voice utterly dominates the track. Enya used to sing over music, but now her singing is the music, with the instrumentation being some light percussion and orchestral stabs. The song sounds too samey. Where “I Want Tomorrow” and “Exile” took you on a journey, “Anywhere Is” takes you around in circles. Skip 10 seconds in or 30 seconds in or 1 minute in or 3 minutes in…same thing.
“Pax Deorum” is well-meant attempt at being creepy. It works about as well as “creepy” always does for Enya…not super well.
At “Athair Ar Neamh” the album finally gets out of cruise control mode. I really like this song. Enya sounds vulnerable and fragile, and Nicky Ryan’s production compliments the atmosphere. There’s still a “vocals > all” approach here but it works better than on other tracks. “From Where I Am” is a piano song that reminds a bit of the title track on Watermark.
From there the album goes back and forth between well-deserved classics and songs that sound pleasant and are easily forgotten. “Once You Had Gold” sounds great. “On My Way Home” comes from the same die as “Anywhere Is” but sounds a bit more varied and elaborate. “Tea House Moon” tickles the ears a bit with some strange melodies but doesn’t really stick with you. Another weird thing about modern Enya is that she doesn’t seem to be that great at writing instrumentals any more.
There’s not a lot of musical residue left over from The Celts. What a pity.
No more badass Vangelis-sounding tracks that mix classical music with futuristic synths. This is the album of piano, pad choirs, and Enya’s voice. No more songs like “Epona”, with wandering, lonely melodies that seem almost afraid to let you hear them. Enya now hews to a pop songwriting model worthy of Kara Dioguardi and Max Martin. This is the last Enya album I own a copy of, but I’ve listened to the later ones and they all seem to be like The Memory of Trees, but a bit worse. I wish Enya hadn’t decided that musical evolution means not adding things to her sound, but cutting things out of it.