Sunday, 13 September 2009

1988 Enya: Orinoco Flow

There's something about 'new age' music that seriously raises my hackles, something to do with the way such 'not proper' music is taken everso seriously by the sort of worthy people who treat it as a religious experience and listen to it with one hand pressed tightly over their eyes. I often see multi CD boxsets of 'soothing' and 'relaxing' Andean pan pipes or whale songs stacked up by the till in pound shops and, rather than soothing the savage beast in me, the sight sets it running at full pelt. Factor in any trace of a flute and I reach for the bottle.

Though it's from the 'new age' stable, 'Orinoco Flow' has nary a flute in sight. Rather than the usual ambient wash of naturally found sound, it's heart beats to the same plucked staccato string motif that T'Pau and George Michael before it borrowed from Andy Williams. Lyrically too, 'Orinoco Flow' doesn't rely on cheapjack gimmicks of fairy rings, pixies and distant castles with lights in the far tower to generate it's atmosphere. Rather, it's an earthbound checklist of foreign places most of us will only ever visit in our heads.

In place of the usual lazy series of multilayered 'oohs' and 'aahs', Enya provides a lyrical travelogue that namechecks far flung places where waves crash on distant shores in a way that could be regarded as meaning nothing or everything in equal measure. For example, you can take the title to refer to a wistful boat ride down that Venezuelan river, or you can take it as simply the name of the studio where it was recorded. Depth is there if you want to lose yourself in the exotic itinerary, but if you're above that sort of thing then the song alone can provide enjoyment in spades.

It certainly stands out when set against the Kylies and the Glens around it, but that's not to say that it's anything startlingly original - the likes of Elizabeth Fraser, Lisa Gerrard and Caroline Crawley (to name but three) were producing similar sounds based on almost phonetic singing over in indieland throughout the eighties, but Enya broadened the palette from their insular worldview and provided a broader, escapist landscape for a less specific audience to wallow in and pretend that one day they themselves will tag along for the ride.

Evocative and atmospheric, there's not too much to dislike about 'Orinoco Flow' and it provides one bright light in what turned out to be a dismal year for number ones.

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