Review Summary: After a seven-year hiatus, Sarah is back and as strong as ever.
When Sarah McLachlan released her landmark album, Surfacing
, in 1997 it was a bit of a novelty. I’m not trying to imply that she was the only female vocalist to grace the airwaves around that time, but she did manage to break through on her own terms. While everyone else seemed to be trying to emulate Alanis Morissette’s abrasive style, Sarah released an album that proved that it was still ok to display a bit of vulnerability. Since that year, many artists have picked up on Sarah’s successful formula and their albums have been saturating the market with hardly an original idea between them. Meanwhile, it seemed that Sarah was content with removing herself from the public eye while allowing her record label to push out occasional live and compilation albums. With the release of her new album, Laws of Illusion
, the question that requires asking is whether or not she can capture the attention of a fickle audience in an oversaturated market after seven years of silence – after listening to this album, the answer is a definite “yes”.
Admittedly, part of the reason that Laws of Illusion
is going to be so readily accepted is simply due to the fact that old fans will find a comforting familiarity that comes with Sarah’s vocals and the music that has become her modus operandi. Sarah McLachlan is still at her best when it’s just her voice and her acoustic guitar along with a bit of subtle accompaniment in the form of strings, piano or even the occasional electronic element. It has always been those smooth, lush arrangements that have allowed Sarah to wear her heart on her sleeve without turning every song into an oppressively cheerless engagement, and that is still the case on Laws of Illusion
. Evidence of this can be found on a multitude of songs on this album, but probably no more so than on “Forgiveness” – a song that is actually about being unwilling or unable to forgive someone for what they’ve done.
Despite all of the talk about the comforting familiarity inherent on this album, there might still be a few people that are a bit surprised. The reason is because the music has an occasional tendency to be a little more complicated (“involved” or “varied” might be better descriptors) than Surfacing
. Some may hear the opening track, “Awakenings”, and decide that it’s a new direction for Sarah, but it’s really not. In order to figure out where the ideas behind songs such as “Awakenings” came from people would need to look back to Sarah’s earlier albums – specifically Touch
. Those albums had a tendency to be a bit more “artsy” and musical than later releases, and it’s nice to see a bit of that return to Sarah’s sound. This is most obvious in the percussive arrangements that a few of the songs utilize as well as a slightly more expansive use of folk influences in some of the album’s melodies.
In hindsight, it should have been obvious that Sarah McLachlan could pick up right where she left off. Sarah is a consummate professional that has carved a niche for herself that other artists have simply been unable to emulate. Her lush arrangements combined with lyrics that display the everyday vulnerabilities that any one of us might deal with are still presented flawlessly on Laws of Illusion
. As if that wasn’t enough for most Sarah McLachlan fans, she has also returned a bit of the youthful ambition that drove her first few albums to be the varied, quirky releases that they were. Despite not having the huge singles that Surfacing
had or the momentum that followed Afterglow
, Laws of Illusion
still manages to stand on its own as another expertly crafted album in Sarah McLachlan’s discography. It is a strong album that collects every positive aspect of Sarah’s past work and presents it in one cohesive, professional package.