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I discovered Sarah McLachlan years ago after her music was featured in a television show I was watching. Since then I've bought many of her albums and songs. I usually, however, listen once to songs on the internet or the radio before I buy and when this album was first released in 2010 nothing I heard really stood out for me so I didn't buy it immediately. I recently had the chance to hear a couple of songs from the album again whilst browsing on Youtube and decided I would like to get into the whole album. I therefore bought the physical copy of the CD online. It was only £3.50 for the 'deluxe' version of the CD which also includes a DVD.
The CD comes with a chunky booklet which contains the lyrics for all tracks. There are also lots of photos of Sarah inside looking like a character from a fairy tale. On the album cover she is lying in the curve of a crescent moon looking dreamy and wistful. The pictures are an accurate portrayal of what images and feelings these 12 songs evoke. Listening to the album as a whole is a bit like listening to McLachlan reading out a book of fairy tales for adults. The lyrics are poetic and thoughtful, as is always the case with McLachlan's offerings. They have a tendency sound sort of hippy-ish. I was surprised to listen to the interview with McLachlan on the DVD in the deluxe set in which she admits she was finding writing the lyrics rather difficult and that her musical partner, Pierre Marchand, contributed greatly.
After listening to the whole album I can say that it is generally more upbeat and faster paced than her album 'Surfacing' but it does not have the spirituality of 'Fumbling Towards Ecstasy'. It does have a lot of similarities with 'Afterglow' but there is more of an obvious theme and interconnectedness of the songs on 'Laws of Illusion'.
Of the twelve tracks one that immediately stood out to me was 'Illusions of Bliss' which is probably the most radio friendly track. It's a lively mix of accoustic guitars and splashing synths. The melody is uplifting and memorable and the lyrics are clever, unique and beautiful. McLachlan also performs a stripped down piano version of this on the DVD in the deluxe version which gives the song another dimension and which is equally good.
Another great track is 'Out of Tune' which feels intense and powerful, like a quiet anthem to peace and love. The lyrics are intelligent and inspiring. I love the breathy vocals on this track and the contribution from Marchand on backing vocals. It feels like a very honest declaration of the artist's feelings and thoughts. There is a dramatic backward vocal effect at the bridge which is interesting followed by a segment which is slightly reminiscent of Coldplay's 'Fix You'.
'Love Come' is typical of what we've come to expect from McLachlan in her most recent albums. The track has a rambling style and whilst the vocal performance is stunning there aren't enough moments in the track for it to really burn with beauty. There is a hidden piano version of this at the end of the album and this version moves me much more. McLachlan's expressive voice helps to convey the meanings of the lyrics.
'Awakenings' opens the album. It's a fast paced, busy track that contains lots of meaningful lyrics. There is not quite enough of a core to the track for it to be instantly memorable though. There is essentially no chorus or repetition in the track which means the message is somewhat more difficult to interpret. The music on this track is much more rock style than I'm used to on a McLachlan album. According to her interview on the DVD the band recorded these tracks live so there is a real sense of a spontaneous, lively performance.
'Loving You is Easy' sounds like a song she's stolen from Take That's 'The Circus' album. It has a jovial beat and lyrics that celebrate love and union. It's a fun, upbeat track that stands out from the other tracks on the album because of it's pace and jubiliant style.
'Changes' is a strange ghostly track which seems to reference the very curious musical piece 'Last Dance' from her album 'Surfacing'. Although the lyrics are about a couple dancing together there is something slightly sinister about the notion. It's almost as though she is like a Mrs Haversham figure who is slightly deranged and desperate. The song is a little dreary on the verses but the choruses are a little lighter.
'Forgiveness' is a beautiful track which reminds me of the wonderful emotive tracks that great artists like Adele can conjure up. The song could works better as a simple piano and vocal version (as featured on the DVD) but this one has just as much feeling in it. The chorus is memorable with a strong, meaningful lyric.
'Rivers of Love' feels like a sorrowful song. McLachlan's vocal seems to melt and drain away, like a soft stream of honey. There is a deep sadness in her tone which is touching. It's difficult to tell from the lyrics whether the message of the track is uplifting or downbeat since the writing is very metaphorical.
'U Want Me 2' has a piano backdrop that is uncannily like Tears For Fears' 'Mad World' melody. The verses lack authority but the chorus melody is powerful and punchy. I do get the sense that this song is being played in slow motion though. The pace at the verse is quite weary.
'Heartbreak' is possibly the weakest track on the album. It feels quite simply aimless and even the lyrics feel banal with lines like "put the kettle on". It might possibly take some time to grow on me but I'm not enjoying this one much at the moment.
'Don't Give Up on Us' is another track that feels a little bit meandering and tired. When I was watching the DVD interview with McLachlan she was laughing about her daughter remarking that she thought all of the songs on the album sounded the same. I have to say that there is some truth to that comment! This is one of the tracks on the album that suffers from a lack of variety of style and pace. Quite honestly it sounds very similar to several other songs on the album and that means it can't stand out or have any uniqueness.
'Bring On The Wonder' is the final track on the album (aside from a piano only track version of 'Love Come'). This track is very intense and the vocals are layered and carefully placed. There is a hint of Joni Mitchell in this performance. It is performed like a poem and there is a lot of feeling in the vocals. The music is heavenly and strange and it's one of the tracks that makes you think of the album cover where the singer basks in the moonlight and the stars.
Overall this is a good but not exceptional album. McLachlan's voice is as beautiful and expressive as never before though. There is a real sense that her voice is capable of relaying the meaning of the lyrics and the soul of the music. She is particularly good at expressing pain or heartfelt passion. I could listen to her sing anything and be happy but I do admire a well constructed song too. I'd say there are four or five enduring or classic McLachlan tracks on this album and the rest begin to blur into one sound. This album certainly does not have the appeal of her earlier works nor is it as widely accessible to the casual fan but I'm still impressed and am looking forward to her new album this year.
I've been a massive Sarah McLachlan fan for several years and have collected the vast majority of her albums. So, when she released her new album Laws of Illusion there was never any question of whether or not I should buy it.
Laws of Illusion is Sarah's first album in two years. She released Closer, a best of, in 2008. The last album with original tracks was Afterglow which was released in 2003 so there's been a long wait for this new album.
Several of the songs on this album have been written about Sarah's recent breakup with her husband.
I've struggled to find much information on this album, there's little information provided on the CD sleeve or case but the information I have managed to find is:
Producer: Pierre Marchand
Mixer: Pierre Marchand
Recording engineers: Pierre Marchand, Chris Potter and Pascal Shefteshy
Mixing Assistant: Pascal Shefteshy
Publisher: Tyde Music (except Bring on the wonder which is published by Feast Music Group)
Most songs written by Sarah McLachlan and Pierre Marchand, Bring on the Wonder written by Susan Enan.
Illusions of Bliss
Loving You Is Easy
Rivers Of Love
Out Of Tune
Don't Give Up On Us
U Want Me 2
Bring On The Wonder
Love Come (Piano version)
This isn't an easy album to describe or even really to form an opinion of which is a bit of a shame really because I've always loved her work so it's unusual for me to sit on the fence. However after listening to this album several times some of the songs have begun to grow on me.
This track starts with a very repetative riff which is quickly followed by the keyboard. This goes on for 30 seconds at which point the vocals join in. Sarah's voice is very difficult to describe but is crystal clear and very unique. It fits perfectly with her style and this track is no exception.
This song has a lot of variety starting and ending quite quietly and softly but there is a part fairly close to the end that is a lot more lively. A brilliant track to start the CD on.
*Illusions of Bliss*
This starts with a strong guitar and drum beat but this fades within seconds as the vocals come in. It does however continue to have quite a clear beat carried through on both the drums and guitar. However as with most of her songs the instrumental is nothing more then just background music with the vocals carrying the song through.
She has a wonderfully soft voice that carries the song through to completion well and blends in perfectly with the background music.
*Loving You Is Easy*
Another one with a strong beat, much stronger then the last and this is amplified by the keyboard playing nothing more then one chord per beat.
Nothing too special here and although I'm reluctant to call it a filler as it isn't too bad a song it's definitely not one of her best either.
Opens with the vocals and instrumental coming straight in. Sarah's wonderfully slightly husky but clear voice works very well in this song and really explores most of her range. There's small parts here and there with just the bass, keyboard and her voice which I find works very well to bring out the important parts of this song and emphasise certain lyrics without which, this song just wouldn't have the same effect.
Again opening with nothing more then her vocals and the piano which is all there is for the first minute and a half. I'm hesitant to call this a ballad but it is bordering on that kind of song with the slower tempo. However there is an element of sadness which is evident throughout the whole of the song and which you can't help but let affect you. It's obvious from this song alone how much the breakup affected her.
"You ask for forgiveness, you're asking too much. I have sheltered my heart in a place you cant touch."
*Rivers Of Love*
Opening with nothing more then the keyboard which is quickly followed by the vocals. As with the last one this has a slower tempo and begins with nothing more then just the piano and vocals. The drums join in after around a minute but only very softly. They're there purely to add an extra bit of emphasis to certain parts. The vocals and piano carry the majority of this song through to it's end.
A filler as far as I'm concerned. It has a repetitive tune played on the keyboard over and over throughout the song and the drums carry the bear. Not the most exciting track on the CD by any means and the keyboard repetition borders on almost annoying and at places overpowers the vocals.
*Out Of Tune*
Starting with a strong beat on the drums with the piano joining in fairly quickly. However unlike most of her songs there isn't any particular tune being played on the piano, more simple chords to add to the effect of the drums.
There's a sense of dischord throughout this song that although is reflected in the music itself it almost seems to come from outside the music. Before anyone tells me I'm going mad I do realize that that's not possible! It's just the sense that I get coming from the music.
A strangely up tempo song given the title! Three's several instruments that bring in this song but I can't place any besides the song. There's a sense of longing in the vocals but this isn't depressing or disheartening at all, I think the tempo of this song helps to lift up what would otherwise be quite a depressing song.
Another one that has been clearly influenced by her separation.
*Don't Give Up On Us*
The title of this song says it all. Sarah described it as being about "a plea to give it another chance and keep trying."
A slightly slower song that's very expressive in its lyrics and instrumental. Despite the upset and hurt that she must have been feeling when she wrote this it's not disheartening or upsetting at all. Instead there's a sense of hope that's evident throughout this that begins to affect you too.
*U Want Me 2*
Sarah described this as being "about that really uncertain, confusing place at the end of a relationship when there's no communication or closure, everything's still up in the air and there's a lot of anger and sadness. It's sort of that working through 'How do we move forward with some dignity and grace."
This opens with the piano which is quickly followed by the keyboard and drums. The keyboard is slightly dischordant with the piano but this provides a sense of unrest that carries through this song. Sarah's description of a "uncertain, confusing place" is completely reflected in the music. It's quite an unsettling song but not in a bad way. It's done very cleverly and attracts your attention right from the start and keeps it through to the end.
The lyrics themselves are very personal, almost as if you're listening to a personal conversation that you shouldn't really be privy to.
*Bring On The Wonder*
A quieter, softer and slower song that's completely dischordant. Mostly it's just Sarah's vocals but it's layered so that she's dischordant with herself. Again quite unsettling but nothing that's too unlike some of her older songs if you've heard them.
There's almost a magical quality about how this is mainly her vocals and piano and the way her vocals have been layered to clash with themselves is extremely effective.
Now, when I started writing about the songs I realize I was fairly critical of this album. I'm choosing to leave that as I do feel that criticism is fair to a degree. However, as I've listened through is for the sake of this review I've actually realized it's not too bad an album.
It's not as good as her older work in my opinion and so those of you looking for more of her older work will be disappointed. This is what I expected when I bought this and this is where the criticism has come from. Also, apparently her elder daughter said that it "all sounds the same"; I agree. Many of the songs on this album are quite similar and for this reason it's not easy to listen to all the way through. It's easy to see how her breakup has affected this album in both the music itself and the lyrics but this is cleverly balanced to ensure that the album itself isn't depressing. It's more relaxing then anything else and her voice, as always, has a certain kind of magic to it helped by its uniqueness that's so impossible to describe.
Price, Availability And Recommendation
I bought my copy from HMV for £10. A quick google is showing it as now available for £8.99 or there is a deluxe edition including a DVD for £11.99. It is also available for download from itunes for £7.99.
I would recommend this album if you're already fans of Sarah McLachlan just be aware of the criticisms I have made here and be prepared to listen to it more then once as it will need to grow on you. For those of you who aren't fans already then you won't like this, if however you are unsure most of the songs from this album are available in full on youtube.
It's a hard one to recommend and for that reason I'm only giving it three out of five, this may be a little on the harsh side but it's not her best album. I am however glad I have my copy and will be buying her next album.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Illusions of Bliss
3 Loving You Is Easy
6 Rivers Of Love
7 Love Come
8 Out Of Tune
10 Don't Give Up On Us
11 U Want Me 2
12 Bring On The Wonder
13 Love Come (Piano Version)