Review Summary: A beautiful album primarily marred by predictability.
Whether you're a fan of new age or not, many of the artists involved should at least be given kudos for creating unique musical environments with their works. For many (myself included), music like this is best experienced outside as a background experience, sort of like a soundtrack to daily life depending on the person's mood. Even more impressive is how certain artists can create an atmosphere for certain seasons or even weather conditions. For instance, Devin Townsend's 2011 album Ghost (which happens to be his only album with a new age sound) could easily be used for a quiet night at the beach; or there's Yanni, whose music is more classical in nature and can depict a sense of sorrow or the return of autumn. However, Enya's captured a very certain vibe over the course of her career, one that I feel has never been replicated. Imagine a mix of new age, folk, and pop; the folk is on the Celtic side (reflecting her Irish origin), and there can be hundreds of vocal overdubs at a time. The overall result is something extremely vast-sounding, and sounds like the equivalent of a large rainy Irish field in the springtime. Having sold over 75 million copies of her records, she still remains the highest-selling new age musician of all time and many of her songs remain staples of the genre. While her 80s/90s work was very well received and fared well commercially, A Day Without Rain is still her most successful record despite numerous negative reviews by critics. What do I think? Well, it's not her best, but it's still quite good.
The biggest strength on offer here is its consistency; the songwriting is predictable, but always gives you the mood you expect from a typical Enya album. The production is crystal clear, allowing the listener to grasp every little nuance of the lush atmosphere conveyed. The chemistry between Enya's vocals and her instrumentation is very in-tune and offers plenty of intimate moments such as the opening title track, which adds vocal harmonies and backing synthesizers in a gorgeously subtle way while making the piano work the main focus. At the same time, however, there aren't as many piano-driven songs on here as there were on previous records. The synthesizers, usually symphonic-sounding, dominate a good chunk of this record to give it a more vast sound while still retaining its emotional resonance. As with other Enya records, there's a huge amount of multi-tracking to create layers upon layers of different musical "voices" when the time calls for that vibe; even in a more accessible record of hers like this one, you might still end up marveling at just how much is going on at once during the instrumental sections. The lyrics can get quite sappy from time to time and don't really draw you into the atmosphere any further than the singing or instrumental aspects, but they do fit the overall tone of the album. The real problem, as said before, is the predictability. After a while, the songs start to run together and become tougher to distinguish; it really would have been nice to have more interludes like the dark symphonic brooding of "Tempus Vernum" or another piano number like the reflective ballad "Fallen Embers." The constant symphonic synth backing starts to get old about halfway through the album and even Enya's vocals suffer from a lack of variety in notation. It's a shame, because previous works like "Shepherd Moons" and "Watermark" were able to retain similar stylistic qualities and still mix things up songwriting-wise now and again, creating a near-perfect balance. However, I still recommend picking A Day Without Rain up. It's predictable, but the moments that are good are REALLY good. I'd just recommend listening to the record a few steps at a time so it won't get too boring too quickly. You can usually find it at the bargain bin for about two dollars anyway, so if you're into new age, it's worth a shot.