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What’s your ‘unguilty’ musical pleasure? Chilly Gonzales loves Enya. Here’s why

What’s your ‘unguilty’ musical pleasure? Chilly Gonzales loves Enya. Here’s why
Entertainment
If you type “guilty pleasure” into Google the top result is a Spotify playlist of mercilessly effective commercial pop songs, Paris Hilton, Backstreet Boys, Black Eyed Peas. So that’s what constitutes a guilty pleasure: openly, unashamedly capitalist pop music with no apology. Songs that are trying to be loved, maybe even to the point of desperation.

The guilty pleasure begs for approval — no wonder we feel guilty! To say, “I shouldn’t like Enya,” is to say we look down at her ubiquity and commercial dominance. None of us would openly admit to falling for lowest-common-denominator vulgarity. If everyone likes something, the natural instinct is to find something rarer, like the Welsh singer Arabella (no one knows her yet, she’s so obscure I just invented her name).

Or else we come upon the cliché of “I liked their early stuff.” A rapper friend of mine loved the Black Eyed Peas when they burst onto the scene in the late nineties as a backpack rap collective. Then Fergie joined the band, they became everyone’s favourite pop act, and he had to abandon ship. He didn’t feel like a connoisseur anymore, just a punter. Enya’s early stuff was already for everyone. She wasn’t ever the unlikely underdog. The world fell in love with her instantly in 1988 with “Orinoco Flow” when she emerged fully formed in the mainstream.

Is she cool or uncool? Her music is New Age, for f--k’s sake. Uncool. I remember hearing the words New Age for the first time in relation to Enya. Clearly this was the invention of some marketing douchebag. This was around the time that yoga, sushi and meditation emerged into public consciousness. This movement needed a soundtrack and Enya was in the wrong place at the wrong time. New Age music had that spiritual dimension, and was musically healthy, good for you, like raw carrots, in a way that Guns N’ Roses wasn’t.

It felt healthy because of the soothing (lullaby) effect of her voice. Healthy because it wasn’t noisy or aggressive. Healthy because of the air, reverb and space, like nature itself. Healthy because it was easy to listen to. And this meant that New Age could be added to the list of unchallenging, unthreatening, conservative genres that I already was trying to purge from my system. Enya was easy listening, therefore massively popular, and therefore vulgar.

Cool music isn’t easy to listen to. It doesn’t need to be liked on first listen. Gordon Gano from the Violent Femmes doesn’t have a pleasing voice, so he doesn’t need to be liked, he just needs to be heard. Sonic Youth’s sound is noisy and dissonant, it’s not trying to be pretty. It’s anti-pretty. Aphex Twin makes us sit through multi-part structures that can’t be understood until the twelfth listen. Bold and challenging rather than pandering to the masses. Heroic! Deep. Definitely not shallow.

Last night I was with some friends smoking weed and shooting the shit. A pianist friend and a grumpy painter were among the guests, and an argument arose about which record to play from an extensive jazz collection on vinyl. The pianist chose an album by the Modern Jazz Quartet which included Milt Jackson on vibraphone. The first chords sounded, then the vibraphone took over the melody. The painter scoffed at it and accused the pianist of preferring shallow music. Neither of these dudes were native English speakers, so there was some confusion about what the opposite of shallow music would be. We were trying to find the right word. “Deep” music?

The painter ran over to this collection and loudly touted that he had the right record: “Autumn Leaves,” Miles Davis.

The topic shifted to everyone’s preferred desserts. Then there was a pause in the conversation as a trumpet solo started.

“This has depth. You feel it here,” the painter said, touching his stomach.

“And the Modern Jazz Quartet is superficial?” “It’s easy listening! Cruise ship elevator music!”

The painter was probably referring to the sound of the vibraphone as elevator music. True enough, the vibraphone carried with it some untraceable connection to lounge music, to kitsch. Music that should be heard but not listened to closely. Background music.

So, this argument boils down to a faint sonic association of one particular instrument, the vibraphone. And even though Milt “Bags” Jackson was an undisputed vibraphone master, he couldn’t escape something intrinsic in the instrument he had chosen as a teenager. Tough luck.

But my pianist friend wasn’t convinced that the Miles Davis record was any deeper than the Modern Jazz Quartet.

I took a puff and said, “This is what my Enya book is about. This idea of music that sounds good while you eat or party or take a bath, versus music that you give your full attention to. And you guys are having the wrong argument. It’s not that all music falls into these two categories. The goal of music should be to function on both levels. It’s like with people.”
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