Watermark (Enya album)

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Studio album by Enya
Released 19 September 1988
Recorded June 1987–April 1988
Studio Aigle Studios
(Artane, Dublin, Ireland)
Orinoco Studios
(Bermondsey, London, England)
Genre New age
Length 39:42
Producer Nicky Ryan
Enya chronology
Shepherd Moons
Singles from Watermark
  1. "Orinoco Flow"
    Released: 15 October 1988
  2. "Evening Falls..."
    Released: 1988
  3. "Storms in Africa"
    Released: 1989
  4. "Exile"
    Released: 1991

Watermark is the second studio album by Irish singer, songwriter and musician Enya, released on 19 September 1988 by Warner Music internationally and on 10 January 1989 by Reprise Records in the United States. After the release of her previous album Enya in 1987, she met Rob Dickins, chairman of Warner Music UK and fan of her first album, signed her to the label. Her contract allowed her considerable artistic and creative freedom with minimal interference from the label's management. Enya recorded Watermark in ten months with her long time recording partners, manager, producer and arranger Nicky Ryan and his wife, lyricist Roma Ryan. It was initially recorded in Ireland in demo form before production relocated to London to re-record, mix, and master it. Watermark is formed of music in different styles, and displays Enya's sound of multi-tracked vocals with keyboards and elements of Celtic and New age music, though Enya believes her music does not belong in the latter genre.

Watermark received many positive reviews from critics. Its unexpected commercial success propelled Enya to worldwide fame; it peaked at number five on the UK Albums Chart, number twenty-five on the Billboard 200 in the United States, and went to number one in New Zealand and Switzerland. It was certified quadruple platinum by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipments of 1.2 million and four million copies across the United Kingdom and the United States, respectively. To promote the album, Enya embarked on a worldwide promotional tour which included several interviews and live performances. Four singles were released from the album, including the international top-ten hit "Orinoco Flow", which went to number one in the United Kingdom for three weeks and received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Music Video. The album received a nomination for Best New Age Album at the 32nd Annual Grammy Awards. Watermark was reissued in 1989, 1991, and 2009; the latter for release in Japan with a previously unreleased track.


In March 1987, the 26-year-old Enya released her first studio album, Enya, by BBC Records in the United Kingdom and by Atlantic Records in the United States.[1] It was originally produced as the soundtrack to the BBC television documentary series The Celts, with Enya and her long time recording partners, manager, arranger and producer Nicky Ryan and his wife, lyricist Roma Ryan. It was a mild commercial success, peaking at number 69 in the United Kingdom.[2] Soon after its release, Rob Dickins, then chairman of Warner Music UK, became a fan of the album, playing it "every night before I went to bed".[3] He then met Enya and the Ryans at a chance meeting at the Irish Recorded Music Association Awards in Dublin in 1987, where Dickens expressed his interest in signing Enya to the label. A deal was made at £75,000,[4] and Enya received the green-light to produce a new album with complete musical and artistic freedom and with minimal interference from the label's management.[5] Dickins recalled, "Sometimes you sign an act to make money, and sometimes you sign an act to make music. This was clearly the latter ... I just wanted to be involved with this music."[6] During this time, Enya moved from Atlantic to the Warner-led Reprise Records to handle distribution in North America.[7]

Recording and production[edit]

The Roland Juno-60, a favourite keyboard of Enya's that she used on Watermark. She added: "We wouldn't part with it for anything in the world".[8]

Enya began recording the album in June 1987.[9] It was initially recorded in demo form at Aigle Studios, the name given to a 16-track studio assembled in the basement of the Ryan's home, then located in Artane, a northern suburb of Dublin.[10] Nicky operated a Fostex E16 machine with KEF and Yamaha NS-10M speakers for monitoring, though the former set were less used. In addition, he used two MIDIverb II models, an ATC Q1 for reverb, and a Roland SDE-1000 Digital Delay.[11] He made a conscious effort not to use audio compression as he wished to make the music sound right "at the recording end".[10][11] Enya wrote and recorded the album without the use of a click track to retain a more natural feel to the music.[8] As many as 200 vocal tracks were recorded for certain sections; there were instances whereby around 90 tracks had been put down across several days, but Enya and Nicky found they were not sounding right, resulting them to be "very brave and wipe them" and start over. This was the case particularly for "Miss Clare Remembers" when they toyed with the idea of adding vocals.[10] Enya plays a variety of keyboards and synthesisers, including the Yamaha KX88 Master, Yamaha DX7, Emulator III, Oberheim Matrix, Akai S900, Roland D-50 and Juno-60. The latter was a particular favourite of hers; she intended to upgrade its sound prior to recording the album by inserting new samples into its memory, but she could not find acceptable substitutes. The basis of "Storms in Africa" originated from an arpeggiated line played on the Juno-60.[10]

The Enya logotype, first used on the front cover of Watermark and later used on the majority of her future albums.

When the demo version of the album was completed, Dickens wished to have it re-recorded digitally as the analogue equipment used to record the demo had created a lot of tape hiss.[12] Dickens then arranged for recording at a more professional facility as Aigle lacked the required equipment. Enya and Nicky retreated to Orinoco Studios in Bermondsey, London where the album was re-recorded and mastered; "Storms in Africa" and "Orinoco Flow" were completed on the studio's two Mitsubishi 32-track machines.[10] Ross Cullum assisted with the production, engineering and mixing duties.[13] Nicky found the quality of the vocal overdubs recorded on the demo tape had diminished, leaving the only option of re-recording them.[10] Away from the "intimate and personal" setting of recording in Ireland, Enya found working in London to be more difficult among "so many distractions".[14] Cullum completed the majority of the album's mixing at Wessex Sound Studios; Jim Barton mixed "Orinoco Flow".[13] During the final stages of recording in London, Enya tripped on a step which resulted in two cuts to her knee. She continued to work, "taking these heavy pain-killers, sitting at the desk, in the studio with one foot propped up on cushions."[15] Recording for the album finished in April 1988, ten months after it began.[8][9]


The sleeve to Watermark was illustrated to a design by graphic designer Laurence Dunmore. Its cover image was shot by David Hiscook, with additional photography by Russel Yamy.[13] Dickins realised its sleeve design was an important aspect in its marketing campaign to ensure the album's success as its "not the kind of music that slots easily into Radio 1 ... It had to be the kind of sleeve you'd fall in love with ... And I think it works that way – the effect in window displays is stunning."[3] Enya felt the cover was "very classic" and "in taste with the music", not portraying her as the latest "girl on the scene" when compared to other female solo artists at the time, including Madonna and Kylie Minogue.[3] Dickins decided against the inclusion of a detailed set of liner notes and lyrics, a decision that Enya supported as it encouraged the listener to conjure up their own images and understanding when they play it.[8]

Music and lyrics[edit]

"There isn't a category for it."

—Enya on the album's genre, 1989.[16]

Watermark established Enya's sound of multi-layered vocals, keyboard sounds and influences of Celtic music. Enya felt the need to have layers of vocals to add a "human element" to her music as solely using keyboards and digital sampling sounded "a bit linear and straight".[17] It is formed of eleven tracks, eight of which list Enya and Roma as co-writers. The remaining three songs are instrumentals composed by Enya herself. Three additional musicians were brought in to play parts already written: Neil Buckley plays the clarinet on "On Your Shore", Chris Hughes plays the rototoms on "River" and the rototoms and African hand drum on "Storms in Africa", and Davy Spillane contributes the low whistle and Uillean pipes on "Exile" and "Na Laetha Geal M'óige".[13] Enya sings in Irish, her first language, English and Latin.[7]

"Watermark" got its title from a poem Roma was writing at the time of recording, which inspired her to name the track accordingly. The poem was kept as it was, and not adapted for a lyric to any song.[18] "On Your Shore" refers to a beach at Enya's home town of Gweedore, County Donegal that houses a graveyard where her grandparents are buried.[19] Its emotional and personal connection to her childhood inspired her to write it.[9] She added: "When the first people lived in Gweedore, there was a sort of shelter for the fishermen ... The sea came in when there was a sermon going on and everybody was wiped out. There are a lot of stories like that, where we would start to talk about them and a song would evolve."[19] She tested out numerous "vocal experiments" for the track, but felt neither of them suited as an accompaniment to the music which left them to keep it as a single lead vocal with one synthesiser.[10] The clarinet solo in the piece was originally sung in its demo form, but Nicky thought the way it was done vocally, a clarinet was the most suitable instrument to use.[10] "The Longships" makes reference to the longship war boats used by the Vikings. "Na Laetha Geal M'óige", translated from Gaelic as "The Brighter Days of My Youth", is about the reminiscence of the days of one's childhood.[18] According to Roma, "Evening Falls..." is "a song of a spirit travelling".[18] Nicky suggested the track title of "River" as the music made him think of one when he heard it. He knew Enya had the final decision over the title if she had a different idea, but she liked his suggestion and went with it.[3]

"Cursum Perficio" originated from a documentary Enya saw on Marilyn Monroe.

Two versions of "Storms in Africa" were recorded, one with Gaelic lyrics and another in English. For Enya and the Ryans, the former became "a personal favourite" out of the two, and so it was selected to be on the album.[18] The English version, titled "Storms in Africa (Part II)", became a B-side on the former's single and a bonus track on later album pressings. "Cursum Perficio" came about when the three saw a documentary on Marilyn Monroe, who wrote the words, meaning "your journey ends here" in Latin, on the tiles of her door step.[10] Enya wanted her vocals to be "bold and up-front, as in a choral piece".[17] "Miss Clare Remembers" is a reworked version of a same-titled piano instrumental recorded in 1983, released as Touch Travel, an audio cassette featuring music from various artists.[20] When it was re-recorded for Watermark, Enya and Nicky toyed with the idea of adding vocals and other instruments into the arrangement, but decided to keep it solely as a piano piece as they believed it was how the track sounded best.[10] Its title refers to the same-titled book by Miss Read, whose depictions of country and village life, and the people who lived there, appealed to Enya. Roma thought it "recaptures the naivety and innocence of an age and a place far removed from the whirl and pressure of a sophisticated society".[18] The two wished to incorporate the shakuhachi, a Japanese flute, on "Exile" but they could not find someone who could play it confidently. Instead, as Nicky explained, they resorted to hiring "a gypsy guy to play the flute".[10] In writing about the song, Roma believed its theme of loneliness from the separation of one's love is met by a sense of "hope and determination" that they will return.[18] The song was recorded with wordless vocals at first, but Dickins thought the song was best suited with lyrics, and suggested poetry by Wilfred Owen. Roma was familiar with works by Owen, and wrote a set of lyrics "in that kind of style".[3] The version with the wordless vocals was released as a B-side in 1992 titled "As Baile".[21]

"Orinoco Flow" was the final track written for the album.[18] It originated from a riff that Enya developed that Nicky suggested to play in five different octaves. They left the arrangement to work on other things, but returned to it after they needed to add one last track on the album. The song developed around the riff they started, itself becoming part of its chorus hook.[8] Its pizzicato introduction has been compared to Andy Williams' 1963 single "Can't Get Used to Losing You",[19] and was the genesis of Roma's inspiration for the song's lyrics after she visited the studio and heard the introduction while she looked out of the window saw her children skipping.[22] Dickins and Cullum are referenced in the song's lyrics in the line: ""We can steer, we can near with Rob Dickins at the wheel. We can sigh, say goodbye, Ross and his dependencies".[a] Dickins only found out about it until after the album had been pressed. It embarrassed him at first, but he warmed to it after the single became a chart hit. "All these years later," he said, "if I hear that line ... I can't help smiling."[23]


Before the album was released, a private album launch reception was held at the Serpentine Gallery within Hyde Park in London.[24] Watermark was released on 19 September 1988 in the United Kingdom;[25] its release in the United States came after on 10 January 1989.[26][27] The album was a success on the charts, climbing to its peak at number five on the UK Albums Chart.[2] In the United States, it debuted the Billboard 200 chart at number 100,[28] the week of 4 February 1989.[29] The album had a steady climb, and reached its peak at 25[30] on the week ending 22 April 1989. It was present on the chart for a total of 39 weeks.[31] On the Billboard New Age Albums chart, the album reached its peak position of number two during its 286-week stay.[32] Elsewhere, the album went to number one in New Zealand[33] and Switzerland.[34]

In January 1989, Watermark had sold over 20,000 copies in Ireland and 300,000 copies in the United Kingdom.[26] Five years later, the album was certified quadruple platinum by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) for shipment of 1.2 million copies.[25] In the United States, Watermark sold 500,000 copies in its first four months of release. After 7 years, the album was certified quadruple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipment of four million copies. It sold one million copies in the country between March 1995 and March 1996.[27] Worldwide, the album has sold 8 million copies worldwide.[35]

Enya released four singles from Watermark between 1988 and 1991. "Orinoco Flow" was the lead single, released in October 1988. It became not only the most successful of the four but of her career, topping the Irish and UK singles charts, the latter for three weeks. In its first month, it was certified silver by the BPI for 250,000 copies sold. Shortly after its release, Dickins found some people were confused on the title, and so he recommended to have the title changed on future pressings to "Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)".[36] The single became a crossover hit in the United States after the single gained airplay on progressive rock, Top 40, and new age format radio stations.[37] "Evening Falls..." was also released in 1988, and peaked at number three in Ireland and number 20 in the United Kingdom. "Storms in Africa" followed, and reached number 12 in Ireland and 41 in the United Kingdom. In 1991, after "Exile" was used in the soundtrack to Green Card (1990) and L.A. Story (1991), the song was released as the album's fourth single. A music video was produced for each single with director Michael Geoghegan, and included in the video compilation Moonshadows, released on VHS by Warner Music Vision in 1991.[38]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[39]
Robert Christgau D+[40]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[41]
The Washington Post (positive)[42]
Boston Globe (positive)[37]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 3.5/5 stars[43]

Looking back on Watermark, the words are those of loss, of reflection, of exile — not necessarily from one's country, but from those whom the heart loves. It has in its theme searching, longing, of reaching out for an answer. The ocean is a central image. It is the symbolism of a great journey, which is the way I would describe this album."

—Enya reflecting on Watermark, 2000.[44]

Watermark received mostly positive reviews from critics. Joe Brown wrote about it in a positive light for The Washington Post, calling it "a lovely collection of quasi-mystical pop" that is "somewhere outside of the pop mainstream but steering clear of the sugary shoals of New Age". He described "Orinoco Flow" as "lushly romantic" and praised the production on "Evening Falls..." and "Miss Clare Remembers" which evoke a "cathedral ambience, with multitracked choirs and shimmering echo".[42] In the Boston Globe, Steve Morse also wrote a positive review. He called the record a "series of lush dreamscapes that team the vocal beauty of Irish traditional song with multitracked synthesizer tones", and compared it to works from fellow ambient and new age artists Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis and Brian Eno. Its sound, he thought, is "beautiful" and noticed a recurrence of the imagery of water throughout. Morse concluded with "This is an album of atmospheres – true mood music for the soul".[37] In a retrospective review for AllMusic, critic Ned Raggett rated the album five stars out of five. The album, he thought, "established her as the unexpected queen of gentle, Celtic-tinged new age music" with a subtlety that produced strong tracks as a result. Raggett concluded: "It's a perfect combination of timelessness and technology, an appropriate end to this fine album".[39]

At the 32nd Grammy Awards in 1990, Watermark received a Grammy Award nomination for Best New Age Album and "Orinoco Flow" for Best Music Video.[45]

Track listing[edit]

All lyrics written by Roma Ryan; all music composed by Enya. All songs produced by Nicky Ryan.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "Watermark"   2:24
2. "Cursum Perficio"   4:06
3. "On Your Shore"   3:59
4. "Storms in Africa"   4:03
5. "Exile"   4:20
6. "Miss Clare Remembers"   1:59
Side two
No. Title Length
7. "Orinoco Flow"   4:25
8. "Evening Falls..."   3:46
9. "River"   3:10
10. "The Longships"   3:36
11. "Na Laetha Geal M'óige"   3:54


Credits are adapted from the album's liner notes.[13]

  • Nicky Ryan – production, arrangement, hand percussion on "Storms in Africa"[18]
  • Roma Ryan – lyrics
  • Ross Cullum – co-production, engineering, mixing (except "Orinoco Flow" and "Storms in Africa II")
  • Jim "Jimbo" Barton – mixing on "Orinoco Flow"
  • Pete Schwair – mixing on "Storms in Africa II"
  • Rob Dickins – executive producer
  • David Hiscook – cover photography
  • Russel Yamy – additional photography
  • Laurence Dunmore – design



Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Argentina (CAPIF)[63] Platinum 60,000*
Australia (ARIA)[64] 6× Platinum 420,000^
Belgium (BEA)[65] Platinum 50,000*
Brazil (ABPD)[66] 2× Platinum 500,000*
Canada (Music Canada)[67] 3× Platinum 300,000^
France (SNEP)[68] 2× Gold 200,000*
Germany (BVMI)[69] Platinum 500,000^
Japan (RIAJ)[70] 2× Platinum 400,000^
Netherlands (NVPI)[71] Platinum 100,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[72] Platinum 15,000^
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[73] 5× Platinum 500,000^
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[74] Platinum 50,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[75] 4× Platinum 1,200,000^
United States (RIAA)[76] 4× Platinum 4,000,000^
Worldwide 11,000,000

^shipments figures based on certification alone

Release history[edit]

Country Date Format Label
Worldwide 19 September 1988 Warner Music
United States 10 January 1989 Reprise Records


  1. ^ There is a region of Antarctica known as Ross Dependency.
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External links[edit]