At first, Mandalay makes a really good sell.
The English duo’s alternately sparse and lush arrangements, coupled with Nicola Hitchhock’s breathy vocals, make for some really nice, unintrusive listening.
Even when Hitchhock’s whisper barely registers above Saul Freeman’s oceans of synthesizers, Mandalay manages to bring everything together for the chorus, hooking listeners into the group’s ethereal sound.
“Not Seventeen” opens the album, and it’s nice. “Like Her” follows, and it too is nice. “Beautiful” offers more of the same, and it’s nice like the others.
Then “Deep Love” dabbles in a bit of Julee Cruise territory, and, well, it’s nice.
One track leads to the next, and to the next, and to the next, and after each track, it’s just … nice.
In other words, Solace doesn’t deviate from its basic aesthetic, and after a while, the entire album sounds like one long song.
By the time the album concludes with a cover of Phoebe Snow’s “I Don’t Want the Night to End,” Solace feels like it overstayed its welcome.
Even Enya, an artist who’s recorded one album numerous times, knows the value of giving a work some sense of an arc.
Granted, Solace is really a Stateside repackaging of Mandalay’s U.K. releases, and in that sense, the album contains very little filler. Freeman is also an incredibly deft instrumentalist, making the most minimal of textures feel incredibly full.
At times, Solace calls to mind Sarah McLachlan at the very start of her career. Other times, it recalls Craig Armstrong’s beautiful The Space Between Us.
But you have to be a pretty avid fan of very ethereal, soothing, dance-beat driven music to really appreciate Solace. Mandalay are incredibly good at what they do, but their single-minded adherance to their sound comes across as a bit too stubborn.