Enya’s greatest songs – ranked!

This month, the Irish singer turned 60 – and her popularity belies how radical her Celtic futurism really is

20. Orinoco Flow (1988)

With the plinking, clipped synths and infernally moreish chorus, Orinoco Flow is the Enya song that everyone knows, yet it is arguably the least interesting moment on her breakthrough album, Watermark. Indeed, for years it seemed that its ubiquity obscured the stranger treasures in her discography.

19. March of the Celts (1987)

After Enya left family band Clannad, her solo career struggled until she got a chance to soundtrack the 1987 BBC TV series The Celts. March of the Celts showcases the oddness of Enya’s music. She’s not a solo artist, but actually a team, and producer Nicky Ryan’s roots were in sonic experimentation, such as designing a vibrating room so that deaf schoolchildren could sense music and dance.

18. Aldebaran (1987)

Aldebaran’s sparkling, synthetic harp and pipes are the backing for a text written by Enya lyricist Roma Ryan that tells of Celtic civilisation voyaging into space in hope of a better future – a concept that sits in curious musical parallel to Afrofuturist techno group Drexciya’s vision of a Black nation living safe from persecution beneath the sea.

Enya in 1997.
Enya in 1997. Photograph: Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy

17. Miss Clare Remembers (1984)

Enya’s first solo release, as Eithne Ní Bhraonáin, was on a cassette compilation put out by the experimental label Touch Travel. A fascinating document of an artist finding her feet, this simple piano sketch would later reappear as a transportive instrumental on Watermark. At one point it featured 100 layered vocals, all eventually removed.

16. Aníron (2001)

Enya’s singular and timeless evocation of vast landscapes and Celtic-inspired otherworldliness made her the obvious candidate to contribute to the soundtracks of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. Roma Ryan wrote the lyrics for Aníron in JRR Tolkien’s elvish dialect Sindarin, which in turn inspired her to develop Loxian, a fully realised language for Enya’s Celtic space travellers.

15. Deireadh an Tuath (1987)

Nicki Minaj spoke about her love of Enya on Stephen Colbert’s TV chatshow, saying: “It’s so peaceful, and it helps me with harmonies and sounds … I tap into my Enya.” Colbert made a trite comment about the singer being “like an elf”, and Minaj’s withering glance showed that her appreciation for Enya’s harmonisation, beautifully showcased in Deireadh an Tuath, marks her as a true believer.

14. Shepherd Moons (1991)

The title track of Enya’s third album, the difficult follow-up to Watermark, is an understated, shimmering delight that brings to mind contemporary artists such as Grouper. A perfect example of Nicky Ryan’s use of Enya’s voice as an instrument in the studio.

13. China Roses (1995)

A gorgeous, lilting song about finding your own heaven, wherever it may be. Enya’s involvement with spirituality is intriguing, her interviews on the subject elusive, and the nature of the music arguably makes it something of a blank canvas on to which those of various traditions can imprint their beliefs. I have it on good authority that she’s the choice for serious contemporary Wiccan rituals, as well as being used in Methodist church meditations.

12. Only Time (2000)

Enya’s non-ironic influence on contemporary experimental electronic musicians such as Holly Herndon and Gazelle Twin is well-known, but the fan that surprises many is Chris Carter of Throbbing Gristle, who recently selected Only Time as a favourite track. If it’s good enough for a “wrecker of civilisation”, it should be good enough for you.

11. Sumiregusa (2005)

The natural world is a constant source of inspiration in Enya’s music. Sumiregusa, inspired by a Japanese haiku, is an ode to the wild violet. It’s a floaty track interrupted by a deeper bass boom – another pointer to Nicky Ryan’s experimental tendencies.

10. Smaoitím … (D’Aodh Agus Do Mháire Uí Dhúgain) (1988)

Enya’s exploration of nature is never sentimental, and this affectingly sparse B-side to the jaunty Orinoco Flow is moving in its minimalism, her perfect voice singing of loss in the legend of a tidal wave sweeping ashore in her grandparents’ home of Maragallen, Ireland, and drowning the villagers as they prayed in church.

9. Watermark (1988)

The title track from Enya’s breakthrough LP, this delicate piano instrumental brings to mind Slowdive’s under-regarded 1995 album Pygmalion, highlighting how Enya can sit comfortably alongside supposedly more credible artists. I’ve even heard it mixed into Whitehouse’s Wriggle Like a Fucking Eel in a techno DJ set.

8. How Can I Keep From Singing? (1991)

Given that Enya is an artist whose sound is built from digital processing and production, some would no doubt blow their tops were she described as a folk artist. Yet it was the Irish tradition that shaped her life and career, and this delicate version of an old hymn, first reworked by Pete Seeger in the 60s, suggests that an Enya folk covers album could be an intriguing prospect.

7. The Loxian Gate (2015)

This elegiac track of quasi-ceremonial rhythms and misty synths is another written in Roma Ryan’s Loxian language. The gates, according to Enya, guard the planet where the wandering intergalactic Celtic people will eventually find sanctuary, and this might be their quietly triumphant anthem.

6. Oíche Chiúin (Chorale) (2008)

Enya’s Christmas and winter albums are a mixed bag, but this Gaelic language Silent Night is a thing of beauty – and, in the multiple layering of Enya’s vocals to make her into “a choir of one”, is Nicky Ryan’s ultimate realisation of what the Enya project was intended to be.

At the time of her biggest hit, Orinco Flow.
At the time of her biggest hit, Orinco Flow. Photograph: Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo

5. Pax Deorum (1995)

This haunting track comes immediately after Anywhere Is, the infernally upbeat single from the album The Memory of Trees; it sounds all the better for the contrast. The surging synthesiser pulse is as ominous as the war horns of an ancient army approaching across a blasted moor.

4. I Could Never Say Goodbye (2015)

While Enya’s private life remains a closely guarded secret, she has always had a keen ear for heartbreak amid the high-concept themes sung in an invented language, paeans to nature and Celtic futurism. I Could Never Say Goodbye, her voice wobbling with regret, is a particularly fine example.

3. Cursum Perficio (1988)

This track was released the same year as the 4AD label put out Cocteau Twins’ Blue Bell Knoll and Dead Can Dance’s The Serpent’s Egg to far greater critical acclaim, if not commercial success. Yet with stentorian rhythm and chanted Latin lyrics about Marilyn Monroe, Cursum Perficio makes the case that Enya ought to be regarded as the equal to these hip goth peers.

2. Even in the Shadows (2015)

If Enya has ever done a banger, it’s this – a gorgeous, rolling, sumptuous song, relying not on layers of her vocals, but a call-and-response with herself, building and building until it becomes ornate, euphoric pop. It comes from her most recent album, Dark Sky Island, a career high.

1. Caribbean Blue (1991)

When Enya’s music is so much about texture and feeling, and when she has such a distinctive and singular sound, assigning a top-ranking tune is a difficult task. Caribbean Blue manages to hit the sweet spot between her songwriting and her more ambient work. A burbling, magical waltz, it is the Orinoco Flow for the true heads. I have once, in a state of discombobulation out on the north Kent marshes, listened to a loop of this track for at least an hour in what ended up a genuinely uncanny psychedelic experience.


Luke Turner

The GuardianTramp

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