I was thrilled when I learned, late last year, that Enya was coming out with a new CD. I've always liked her music, and will buy any disk she emits which has more than one new song on it. This has resulted in me owning some true turkeys (such as the English version of "Book of Days", the version for that hideous Tom Cruise film) but there are several good tracks available nowhere else but on the "CD single" disks and remix disks. So I put up with the turkeys in order to get the good stuff.
My first exposure to Enya was her track "Orinoco Flow" from her CD Watermark, which is probably her best release. ("Shepherd Moons" would be a close second, I think.) On Watermark she did what she does best, which is to write and perform music which is layered and textured. Most of it probably could not be produced without digital audio technology, but the sound is fantastic. And of course the all-acoustic title track, "Watermark", shows the depth of her ability as a composer.
I first heard "Orinoco Flow" on the radio, and then bought the CD...and then bought the others as they became available to me. The Celts had a couple of good tracks on it but left me cold otherwise. Shepherd Moons built on the artistic success of Watermark.
When The Memory of Trees came out, it was a bit disappointing. Only a bit; it was too thick with dreamy-lovey stuff and lacked some of the exotic flair of her prior releases. It was still good; with few exceptions most of the tracks on that disk are worth listening to.
The next release was a "best of" disk, but it contained two new tracks, both of which made the purchase a worthwhile one. The track "Only If..." was a return to the same form as "Orinoco Flow", with pizzicato strings and multilayered vocals which are typical of Enya's music.
Then came A Day Without Rain. The second track, "Wild Child", was very nicely executed; but much of the rest of the disk was a return to the same-old-same-old. "Only Time" got a drum-machine remix in late 2002 but otherwise was artistically identical to "How Can I Keep From Singing?" off the Shepherd Moons CD, which was itself a pro-Irish independance mangling of the Catholic hymn by the same name. The disk finished with "Lazy Days", which--again, artistically--hearkened back to the arrangements of earlier songs, but was at least somewhat fresh in its approach.
The most recent release, Amarantine, is basically a re-tread of Enya's prior art. Although she has added a fictional language to her ouerve--previous songs were written in Latin and Gaelic, as well as English--it has not changed the overall feel of her music. Amarantine has nothing new about it; it isn't even close to being an artistic departure for Enya, much less a minor deviation. It is as if someone has zeroed in on the songs she produced which sold CDs and bidden her to produce more like that.
None of the songs on the CD are memorable. I've listened through the CD twice since buying it in December, and none of the tracks demanded that I go back and listen to them again. Enya's prime artistic asset, her voice, is not used to its fullest, and any fan of Enya can listen to any track on this CD and identify which other songs of hers it resembles.
The process of creating art should always be evolutionary. The story I write today should not be the same as the one I wrote yesterday, not if I am in the business of creating art and not just selling books (eg romance novels, mercenary books, etc). It is possible to tell a good story which is itself a good work of art without resorting to repetition; and it's even possible to sell books like that.
Piers Anthony frequently commented in his various author's notes that he wrote his "Xanth" series because it made him money; it was not for the sake of art. It showed; if you have read one "Xanth" story, you need not read another: the basic plot is the same, and only the details change. (He also used this formula in his "Incarnations of Immortality" series.)
In the case of music, every composer who has been successful has not confused "style" for "composition": those who write the same thing over and over typically do not have more than one or two hits; those whose art evolves over time never get stale. For example, John Williams' style is unmistakable, yet none of his movie soundtracks sound alike.
The Alan Parsons' Project is my favorite example. Every year they would come out with an album--they were a studio band and didn't tour--and every year, I would have to get used to a new "sound" from them. Sometimes I liked it; sometimes I didn't--but at least their music was never pressed out like cookies...and until their album Gaudi came out, there had never been a song by them that I actively disliked. ("Inside Looking Out", for the record.)
I don't know who chose the music for Amarantine--whether it was Enya and her associates, or some record company honcho who can only watch the bottom line. Either way, this latest CD does not match up to her prior work.