Sarah McLachlan
(Arista/Nettwerk Records)

If there was one disappointing thing about the recent Lilith Fair concert, it was that Sarah McLachlan's new album, Surfacing, had not yet been released by the time the tour hit our fair town. Therefore, many of the songs McLachlan performed were being heard by the audience for the very first time.

But aside from that unfortunate bit of timing, the show was a success, and the new album reveals that McLachlan hasn't lost her touch in the more than three years since her last studio album, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. Surfacing is somewhat more upbeat than McLachlan's previous work, but it's clear that her strength remains her ability to tap into darker emotions. Though as a whole the album may not be quite as satisfying as Fumbling, there are a few songs that rank favorably alongside McLachlan's best.

The standout on the album is "Angel," a song about people who turn to drugs to deal with life's problems. McLachlan reaches the grim conclusion that, for so many, the only way to escape addiction is through death, as she ends the song with the words "You're in the arms of the angel/May you find some comfort here."

The first single, "Building a Mystery" (co-written by producer Pierre Marchand), proves that McLachlan hasn't lost her flair for intriguing lyrics ("You live in a church/Where you sleep with voodoo dolls/And you won't give up the search/For the ghosts in the halls"). The song "I Love You" showcases two of McLachlan's trademarks: a heartbreakingly beautiful melody combined with lyrics of longing and unfulfillment. From the title, it may sound as though McLachlan is making a positive statement of contentment, but a closer listen reveals otherwise as she sings "I forgot to tell you I love you." The feelings of yearning are again present on "Do What You Have to Do," where she sings "I have the sense to recognize/That I don't know how to let you go/Every moment marked with apparitions of your soul."

McLachlan spent more than two years touring in support of Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, then took six months off before entering the studio to record Surfacing. After fighting through a period of writer's block, she reportedly scrapped many songs she was unhappy with and started over last fall. Then she worked feverishly to get the new album ready for its targeted release date. Yes, it's good to have her back. -- Scott Verbout

Thanks to David S. Hill for typing this up.
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