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I have a confession to make. On a sweltering summer afternoon in July 1989, as I was leafing through some LP's at small independent record store in Little Neck, New York, a song came over the sound system. As I listened to the hypnotic and seductive strains of Sarah McLachlan's voice, I promptly fell in love. Twenty years on from her debut single "Vox", this exceptional artist remains as close to my heart as ever.
Her uniquely endearing voice - at times ethereal and achingly vulnerable, and at others bold and strong - heralds a remarkable talent that remains somewhat unrecognised and under-appreciated outside her native North America, except perhaps by her legion of loyal and adoring fans. Sadly, I have yet to see her perform live, and I am fervently hoping that the opportunity arises sooner rather than later.
Hailing from Canada, three-time Grammy award-winning singer/song-writer Sarah McLachlan's relative obscurity "over here" used to be a mystery to me. Perhaps she is simply too mature for Europe's pop-obsessed, shallow, showy excuse for a music business these days. She has always trusted in her talent and hard work to bring her success, as a result of which she as never had to compromise - no overt "sexing up", no faddy gimmicks, no backing male dancers in G-strings - just her talented musicians and her awesome, technically accomplished voice.
She is well-known in America for founding the all-female artist and band festival "Lilith Fair" which took place during the summers of 1997 to 1999, showcasing both established and (at the time) undiscovered talents such as Natalie Merchant, The Indigo Girls, The Dixie Chicks, Sheryl Crow, Fiona Apple, Paula Cole, Tracy Chapman and Suzanne Vega. A revival is planned for the summer of 2010, to include a two week tour of the UK and Europe.
Her songs have featured a fair bit in the movies, most recently in the 2007 Jodie Foster film "The Brave One" ("Answer"), City of Angels in 1998 featuring Meg Ryan and Nicholas Cage ("Angel") and The Brothers McMullan in 1995 ("I Will Remember You"). She has also recently released a "Greatest Hits" album called "Closer", with two new tracks ("Don't Give Up On Us" and "U Want Me 2") which brings together most of her significant work to date.
Her third studio album, Fumbling Toward Ecstasy (FTE) was released in 1993 and has since proved to be her international breakthrough. It produced two successful singles - "Possession" and "Good Enough", both of which have stood the test of time and remain firm favourites with her fans fifteen years on.
The dominant theme of the album - and the common thread that binds most of the songs together, is that of longing - a dignified, restrained and understated longing for love - unrequited, obsessive and romantic - and for self-awareness.
FTE comes in two versions. The standard 1993 album release (£4.98 on Amazon) and the "Legacy Edition" released for the album's fifteenth anniversary in 2008 which includes two additional discs - "The Freedom Sessions" (also available separately) and the "Fumbling Toward Ecstasy Live" DVD (£17.09 from the same e-tailer). This review deals with the 1993 version only. The fold-out booklet in the CD contains a full set of song lyrics in the artist's own handwriting.
FTE is full of hidden gems, changes of pace and a fair bit of experimentation with different musical and vocal styles. However, the one constant remains McLachlan's poignant and evocative voice, which, thankfully, the arrangements and harmonies never dominate. Following is a selection of songs from the album, which are fairly representative of its quality and depth.
The first single from the album, heralded by organ chords faintly reminiscent (but in no way similar to) George Michael's "Faith" is a haunting narrative written from the perspective of an obsessive fan, who seeks to possess the object of his affections. It's a perfect showcase for her unique, lilting voice.
McLachlan wrote the song after receiving a fair bit of unwanted attention from obsessive admirers - one fan (who later committed suicide) even sued her, claiming the song was based on his love letters. In interviews, she has credited this song as her "therapy". In a small way, its subject hits closer to home than many of us would admit - as fans, sometimes we are guilty of idolising and objectifying the artists we love. This song provides us with a sense of perspective.
"Oh you speak to me in riddles and you speak to me in rhymes, my body aches to breathe your breath, your words keep me alive."
> Good Enough
This is an achingly emotional narrative which I number amongst my favourites. The haunting piano and gentle drum beat and guitars accompany McLachlan's voice perfectly. The song seems to be about someone whom she cares for deeply, but who is going through a tough time. The lyrics are a bit ambiguous, but hint at an abusive relationship - "it's not the wind that cracked your shoulder and threw you to the ground." A masterful combination of melody, arrangement, harmonies and lyrics.
"Don't tell me I haven't been good to you, don't tell me I haven't been there for you, just tell me why nothing is good enough".
> Hold On
This starts simply, with twanging guitars and a swish of cymbals, before McLachlan sets the sombre tone, entreating the listener to "Hold on, hold on to yourself, this is going to hurt like Hell". The opening line leaves you in no doubt that a perfect storm is brewing for the person she is singing to, and all this person can do is brace themselves and prepare for the worst. An inspirational song of support and friendship through rough times, and a kindred lyrical spirit to the likes of Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel's timeless duet "Don't Give Up".
"So now you're sleeping peaceful, I lie awake and pray that you'll be strong tomorrow and we'll see another day and we will praise it and love the light that brings a smile across your face."
> Ice Cream
It says a lot about McLachlan's talent that she can explore themes as deep as those in the preceding "Hold On", yet still get away with the cheerful frivolity of a song such as "Ice Cream". This is simple, pure, mischievous fun and needs no elaborate analysis. Love, ice cream and chocolate. Just enjoy it.
"Your love is better than ice cream, better than anything else that I've tried. And your love is better than ice cream, everyone here knows how to fight."
> Fumbling Toward Ecstasy
The title track is a quiet, wandering, and meandering effort which provides a fitting finale to the album, if not quite the ecstasy promised in the title. Introspective and emotional, McLachlan's heady refrain "I won't fear love" seems to suggest someone who has accepted that love is not a fairytale, and you need to accept the smooth with the rough. This one is a grower, It didn't impress me at first, but it stuck in my head after a while.
"All the fear has left me now, I'm not frightened anymore. It's my heart that pounds beneath my flesh, it's my mouth that pushes out this breath. And if I shed a tear I won't cage it, I won't fear love..."
Persevere with this track, as after it ends, and following a short musical interlude, the album serves up a delightful treat - an acoustic version of "Possession" with McLachlan playing the piano herself as the only accompaniment. Stripped back, slowed down and laid bare, this is Sarah at her finest. A hidden gem.
"Into this night I wander, it's morning that I dread. Another day of knowing of the path I fear to tread. Oh, into the sea of waking dreams, I follow without pride, nothing stands between us here - and I won't be denied..."
If you have never heard Sarah McLachlan before, then this album is a perfect introduction to her music. In the interests of brevity, I have passed over some excellent songs - with "Wait", "Plenty", and "Fear" all worthy of mention and investigation. FTE is a captivatingly atmospheric and lyrically accomplished album which fortunately doesn't live up to its title - this is a sure-handed, confident and engaging work - there are no signs of fumbling anywhere to be found.
FULL TRACK LISTING
Good Enough (5:03)
Hold On (4:09)
Ice Cream (2:44)
Fumbling Towards Ecstasy (5:48)
Possession (hidden track - solo piano version at 5:49)
© Hishyeness 2009
[I have also reviewed this on Epinions and Ciao]
Released in 1993, this is a stunning album from singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan that I would highly recommend to anyone in search of quality music. The musical style is mellow, slow and occasionally quite dark. What makes this album so great is the well-written, meaningful lyrics (some of the best I have come across to date) and Sarah's beautifully emotional voice.
Rather than go through all 13 tracks on the album (the last track "Blue" may not be present on certain versions of this album), I will simply highlight the songs I most like/dislike.
The two tracks that I simply cannot listen to and which, in my opinion, let the rest of the album down, are "Mary" and "Fear". In both songs, Sarah adopts a high pitched voice that I find very distracting and difficult to listen to ("Mary" also has synthetic, dated drums that I wish were replaced). It has me reaching out to switch over to the next track, which is a shame since the lyrics are good, it is merely the delivery that disappoints.
My favourite track on the entire album has to be the alternate version of Possession, hidden on track 12 right after "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy". This version of Possession consists only of Sarah's voice and a piano accompaniment and in my opinion is much better than the version on track 1. The emotional impact is far greater with such a simple arrangement and the mood much more haunting.......And the lyrics....the lyrics are just breathtaking. The opening verse is below:
"Listen as the wind blows from across the great divide
voices trapped in yearning, memories trapped in time
the night is my companion, and solitude my guide
would I spend forever here and not be satisfied?"
This song by itself is enough to justify the purchase of this album, since it is pretty much damn near perfect!!! [That didn't stop me trying to mix it with Roni Size's track "Hot Stuff" which gives it a whole new twist, but anyway.... :P ]
Other favourite tracks of mine are "Elsewhere" (her voice is just dripping with emotion) and "Circle" (probably the most pop-sensible track on the entire album with a nice melody), but I'm sure every listener will have their own set of favourites on this album. The other tracks on this album that I have neglected to mention are all excellent songs but just don't grab me as much as those described above.
I was introduced to this artist when I heard her music featured in my favourite show, little heard of 'VR.5'. Mclachlan's voice was unique enough to recognise it in other T.V shows of the same era too - 'Due South' and 'Strangeluck'.
This lady has such a soulful, moaning type of tone. Her voice bleeds into the words and dances with the music. She is extremely talented at emoting and conveying an acknowledgement of spirituality. Her delivery and the intelligent, thoughtful lyrics are highly evocative. This, I suspect, is why her music so often makes it into the soundtracks of so many T.V dramas.
This album, for me, is Mclachlan's best work. Every song brings something to the table. The quality of writing and performance is top notch throughout. Mclachlan's performance is one of an artist who is totally connected to her work, feeling it in every atom of her being.
'Posession' is a stunning opening. The allusion to nature almost assuming a pantheistic characteristic. Mclachlan's singing style really validates the album title: she does indeed sound as if she is 'fumbling towards ecstasy'. The rhythm quickens somewhat after the intro and assumes an edgier, indie-rock style.
'Wait' is much more gentle. A shy guitar, Hammond B-3 organ and a little percussion accompanies the voice. The voice soars and drops with alarming dexterity. The lyrics are poetic and beautiful.
'Plenty' is the cousin to the first track on the album. It has an opening which sounds like the world of the future coming alive. The guitars are heavier and more involved. The music is up tempo and everything sounds a little angry, a little sharper. The refrain is haunting, like a lullabuy sang by a wronged woman.
'Good Enough' is slower and depressing. Mclachlan's delivery is tender and honest. The lyrics suggest that the persona in the song is angry but the performance and style gives an impression rather of sadness.
'Mary' is sweet and quirky. The lyrics are more specific to a personal subject and therfore more unusual. The melody is beautiful an simple.
'Elsewhere' has a serious, mature feel to it. Mclachlan's sombre voice at the verse suggests that there is are grave consequences and something at stake. The chorus explores desire and freedom and the soaring vocals at this point express these ideas very well.
'Circle' is the most upbeat song on the album, being decidedly more pop than rock-folk style. The percussion is funky and the voice is spunky and attitude heavy.
'Ice' has a wonderful guitar hook and is almost magical. Mclachlan whispers and groans over the music. The lyrics are poetic and personal. There is a dark atmosphere and suspense throughout.
'Hold On' is similar to 'Good Enough' since it's rhythm is slow and meandering. Mclachlan's voice is like that of a mythical angel. She holds the notes for so long on this track, it is very impressive.
'Ice Cream' is cute and quirky, a silly little song that is almost made for children. Infact it feels as if she is singing to her own child: "Your love is better than icecream..." being the refrain.
'Fear' is an amazing, operatic style explosion. Mclachlan's range on this track is stunning. The pitch increases the sense of high drama. The shuddering cellos are frightening and intimidating.
'Fumbling towards Ecstasy' is a slower piece that feels very focused and stiff. Mclachlan voice is almost monotone here. The energy levels remain consistent throughout the song. This track also contains a hidden song, an accoustic version of 'Possession', performed on the piano. This track is very moving and a brilliant example of Mclachlan's ability to captivate under any circumstances.
The UK version of the album also contains a bonus track, a cover of Joni Mitchell's 'Blue'. This is a stunning tribute and a successful update of the brilliant song.
If you hear a hauntingly beautiful female vocal exquisitely produced with shimmering piano and maybe heartmelting guitar on a tv show or movie, it'll probably be a track by Sarah McLachlan. I heard her music first on the tv series 'Due South' and was so entranced by the purity and passion of her voice that I bought the soundtrack album solely to hear two of her songs in full. Then I had to buy this as it included both those, 'Possession' and 'Fear'. The rest of the album effortlessly matched those songs. Don't be put off by any idea that Sarah M is merely a 'worthy' artist,into causes and 'isms' at the expense of her music. On this CD she gives voice to a fully rounded romanticism, bruised, hurt, scared, but full of love, hope, and longing. Perfect music to enjoy with lights dimmed, feet up and sharing perhaps a bottle of white wine with someone special...
This is Sarah Mclachlan's third studio album and yet again and absolute gem. Every song on the album is superb, with thought provoking lyrics that are expertly sung and arranged and produced beautifully. Sarah's clear, classically trained voice sets the spine tingling, whilst the emotion in the lyrics move the heart. This is a trademark of all Mclachlan's work and the reason why she is one of my favourite artists. Mclachlan is not that well know on these shores, and you may have only heard of her through her with the remix of 'Silence' by Delerium or 'Angel' from Dawson's Creek or Buffy, I'm not a big fan of either show so not entirely sure. But on the other side of the Atlantic she is enormous and even more so in her home country of Canada. Anyhoo, to give the album its full respect I will go through a brief track-by-track description. Here goes: 1: Possession 4/5 Straight away with the beginning of the album and the slow build up from the music you can tell that you are about to witness something special. Then Mclachlan starts to sing and it is just an unbelievable sound. The lyrics are so deep and the vocals so chilling, and dark. The song is for me about not being held back by your possession and not being weighed down by anything and that you should just go in the direction that you chose. A great song that sets the tone of the whole album. 2: Wait 4/5 The first use of the piano appears on this track, and when mixed with the slow guitars it makes for just magnificent music. As I've come to expect from Mclachlan the lyrics are so deep and meaningful and just immense. Words cannot describe how good the vocals on this track sound, they are perhaps the most beautiful I have ever heard. Mclachlan's voice is certainly the most addictive that I know of. The song is about loving someone and maybe that you just have to walk away because the situation or the tim
ing is not right at that point in your life. This track maintains what has been a great start to the album. 3: Plenty 4/5 This song has the most addictive start with Mclachlan just saying du, du-du (hope you understand!), this continues in the background throughout the song and is just so atmospheric. The vocals on this track are so haunting and spine chilling. Another smoothly polished song that is expertly produced. Another love orientated song that just says that she will love someone until the end. 4: Good Enough 4/5 This is one of the most beautiful songs on the album. The lyrics are so meaningful, and heartfelt. The track is about being perceived of not making the standard and deserving more than being treated with more respect than you are by certain people. The vocals of Mclachlan are again aw-inspiring and give the first indication that Mclachlan not only has a great voice but a great range of voice too. 5: Mary 4/5 The start of the song is so simple and sounds almost child like and innocent. Yet it has so much depth and is about being insecure and not knowing who you have become. But out of this desperate situation someone or something will come and help you through and bring the happiness and joy that you deserve. This track carries and great message and also great lyrics and vocals. It also slight differs in style from the previous tracks. 6: Elsewhere 5/5 Another track that starts with great piano solo, which is then accompanied by violin. By now you are half way through the album and have come to expect so much from each song and this trend is not let down by this track. It carries great lyrics like 'drunk in my desire' superb. This song to me is about sometimes needing to be left alone to gather your own thoughts (we have all been there), and just hoping that your friends/loved ones understand and just remain there for you. 7: Circle 4/5 A very
dark undertone is present right from the start. First there Mclachlan provides a chilling laugh and then the music is also very haunting. This song is primarily about being in a relationship that is no good and being with someone that you don't really care for enough, but you still stay with because of habit. It also to me has a second meaning that you should not settle for something if you are not happy with, no matter what your walk of life. A great song with some great guitar solo's in. 8: Ice 3.5/5 Another haunting song, that is slow in tempo and relies on just a very simple quit music. This puts the emphasis on the vocals of Mclachlan. At time they just soar and sway, smoothly throughout the song. She really has one of the best voices ever, much better than Dido's who has been compared to her a lot. A chilling and haunting song, with plenty of atmosphere. 9: Hold On 4/5 A song that has plenty of base and feeling. To me it is about going through a rough patch in your life, and just hoping that everyone you care for can help you through, and that no one gets hurt by you, as you do not know what is going on and find it difficult to deal with people at bad times. 10: Ice Cream3.5/5 The shortest and most playful song on the album at 2.44. The lyrics don't appear that meaningful, with the opening line ' your love is better than ice cream'. Most artists would not be able to get away with such lyrics, but somehow Mclachlan just makes it work, I don't know how it just does! A very simple song with simple lyrics and music. It is also very raw like the majority of her earlier work. 11: Fear 4/5 Starts in a similar fashion to the earlier plenty (track 3), and is just as haunting. The song starts of slowly and builds with some chilling and powerful, there is also some excellent violin playing on the track. Full with insecurities and anxiety, the song is about feeling that you
are alone and has nothing to give or gain and plenty to loose. A song that is literally full of fear. 12: Fumbling Towards Ecstasy 5/5 The title track of the album is yet another echoing affair. Unsurprisingly it features yet more dark vocals from Mclachlan. The lyrics on this song are just so well written and I find it difficult that one solitary person can imagine and produce such imagery and emotion. The meaning of the song is in contrast to its predecessor, and is about not fearing anything and not battling or hiding your emotions and feeling. There is also a hidden extra on the end of this track, which is again not available on the U.S version. It is a piano solo of the opening track. It is just so emotional and worth swapping the U.S version for just to get your hands on this track. 13: Blue (Bonus track not on U.S version) 3/5 A cover of a Joni Mitchell song. In my opinion Mclachlan produces so much more from this song and has more quality than Joni. For not being written by Mclachlan, this track still fits in well with the whole feel of the album, although not one of the better tracks in my opinion. What can I say about this CD apart from buy it! In my opinion Surfacing is just slightly a better album, simply because the better song s on the album are better than those on this, like Adia for example. This CD is still a great purchase though and can be picked up quite cheaply now. I own all of Mclachlan's work and would love to go and see her on tour when she is in the country next. She is also working on an album at present, but this has been delayed as he has just given birth to a baby daughter named Indy! I look forward to her next album; as for me there is no better female vocalist that can better her. She also has amazing song writing ability. Other Info Genre: Adult Alternative/Singer-Songwriter Released October 1994 Number of Discs: 1 Label: Arista
Plat time: 57.45 (some dead time for hidden track)
Disc #1 Tracklisting
4 Good Enough
9 Hold On
10 Ice Cream
12 Fumbling Towards Ecstasy