Although usually described as New Age, when asked how Enya would describe her ethereal music herself, she uses the term “Enya.” And indeed, even without knowing this fact, many of her fans would likely describe it in the same manner. After having built this acute sense of self-awareness since the late ’80s and firmly establishing herself as Ireland’s second-most popular export (after U2), Enya is back again with yet another winter-themed album, And Winter Came, a title that encapsulates this confident release, one that uses the mystic, transitional motif of winter to highlight its creator’s music.

It is unfortunate this isn’t strictly a winter album rather than a Christmas album, but songs such as “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and a Gaelic rendition of “Silent Night” make the holiday element fairly prominent in some cases. But those unwilling to accept that the Christmas season now starts before Thanksgiving could skip these tracks and still find themselves exploring an album with rich depth and discover a few tunes hinting at possible, more energetic things to come from the Silver Lady in the future.

“My Time Flies,” for instance, easily establishes itself as the most unique tune, safely nested deep at the end of the album’s tracklist, but with an experimental nature and an unusually upbeat tempo, it is certain to perk the ears of those familiar with Enya and likely to draw in those who are not. With its curious lyrics, such as “My my time flies/ One step and we’re on the moon/ Next step into the stars” and “Could be tomorrow but then/ Could be 2010,” the song points vaguely at a musical interpretation of history, but more so at Enya’s own fascination with the transitory nature of life — hence her fascination with the seasons, particularly winter.

Other songs maintain a much steadier rhythm than Enya usually delivers as well, particularly for an album themed to such a dark, slowly-paced time of year. “One Toy Soldier” sets up a beat almost as firm as that found in the “Little Drummer Boy” carol, while still remaining uniquely Enya-like, and “Trains and Winter Rains” is quite perky as well, but with drums, chants and wood blocks more typical of Enya’s repertoire.

In the ways typical of Enya, the album is not entirely successful. “Journey of the Angels” and “Dreams are More Precious” are among the few snoozers, the type of music that embeds Enya’s reputation as a sorceress who merely excels at putting her listeners to sleep. And perhaps the biggest indicator of the album’s failure to be as dynamic as Enya’s albums have historically been stems from the fact that it features only English tracks (with the exception of the Gaelic “Silent Night”). Part of Enya’s mystique derives from an ability to sing in over 10 languages, including J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elvish and Loxian, a language created for Enya’s 2005 album Amarantine by writer and lyricist Roma Ryan.

But old and new fans alike will be comforted to know that despite its winter theme, this is certainly not Enya’s winter album. It may be too early in the season to fully appreciate the nature of this album’s melodies, but come darkness and some heavy snowfalls, And Winter Came will continue to draw out a deepening appreciation for Enya’s mystic styles.

4 stars out of 5

The Badger-Herald | November 15, 2008