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Surfacing (verb): to become apparent; to come to light...
Surfacing - Sarah McLachlan
Member Name: Hishyeness
Surfacing - Sarah McLachlan
Date: 20/08/09, updated on 20/08/09 (172 review reads)
Advantages: Emotional and lyrical depth
Disadvantages: Not enough change in tempo. Slightly too introspective.
Having at last emerged into the international spotlight with her previous album - Fumbling Toward Ecstasy (FTE) - Sarah McLachlan consolidated her growing reputation as a stand-out singer songwriter with her aptly named follow-up - "Surfacing". As a long standing fan starved of new material for four years, I had great expectations.
It was time to find out whether the raw but sparkling gem of talent revealed in her debut "Touch" (1988), refined with "Solace" (1991), and polished with the excellent Fumbling Toward Ecstasy in 1993, had developed into the perfect diamond her fans hoped for - or whether the weight of expectation and newfound attention would prove too heavy a crown for her to wear.
Surfacing, her fourth studio effort, was to go on to become her best selling album, selling over 11 million copies worldwide and earning two Grammy Awards (she won for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "Building A Mystery" and Best Pop Instrumental Performance for "Last Dance"). The album release coincided with the launch of her "Lilith Fair" project - a festival showcase for female artists and bands that ran at various North American locations for three consecutive summers between 1997 and 1999. The resulting publicity and promotion ensured that the album was a commercial success.
However, the critical reaction was muted - and rightly so in my view. In interviews, she had confessed that an exhausting year-long international tour and the success of FTE had left her with something of a writer's block, resulting in a four year gap between albums. Surfacing took eight months to record, and at times it shows. It is full of introspection, deliberately paced, and thoughtful, but at times meandering along, floating somewhat aimlessly toward a vaguely defined destination. There are points when you are waiting for it to kick on, to wake up, grab you by the shoulders and give you a shake - but it never really happens.
Four songs were released as singles from the album - "Building a Mystery", "Sweet Surrender", "Adia" and "Angel". As the most accessible, radio-friendly songs on Surfacing, they were well chosen.
The booklet does not include song lyrics, but the CD does have enhanced content in CD-ROM format which includes a biography, samples of songs from previous albums, production notes for Surfacing and videos for Angel and Building a Mystery. It is currently available at Amazon for £4.98.
There isn't a great deal of variety on the album and it can get a bit samey. There is little to find fault in vocally, it's just that the pace of the album does not change all that much, and as such, I find it easy to switch off for all but my best loved tracks. Instead of describing each one, I have opted for my four favourites.
> Building A Mystery
This catchy song is the most up tempo on the album and starts with soft acoustic and electric guitars backing McLachlan's vocals, before the drums and other instruments kick in, driving proceedings on to another level. It's a song about building an aura of mystery around yourself, to hide the part of you that you feel insecure about from other people.
"Cause you're working building a mystery, holding on and holding it in. Yeah you're working, building a mystery, and choosing so carefully."
> Sweet Surrender
More subtle than the first single, "Building A Mystery", this is a multi-layered song with an understated energy and drive. McLachlan's voice takes on a wispy, whispering character, relaying a deep, meaningful song, full of emotional character, about learning to accept that someone can love you despite all of your faults.
"You take me in no questions asked, you strip away the ugliness that surrounds me. Are you an angel? am I already that gone? I only hope that I won't disappoint you when I'm down here on my knees."
> Do What You Have To Do
A beautiful, simple composition with soft piano accompanying McLachlan's tender vocals which crack, catch and break in all the right places to convey the earnest emotion she expresses in her lyrics. This is one of my favourite songs - a song about realising that the intense emotional investment you have made in another person is all for nought, and you just have to do what you can to make do and get by.
"And I have the sense to recognize that I don't know how to let you go... I'm ever swiftly moving, trying to escape this desire. The yearning to be near you, I do what I have to do."
The inspiration for Angel - one of the most loved of McLachlan songs - was the death of Jonathan Melvoin, keyboard player for the Smashing Pumpkins who died of a heroin overdose in 1996. It's enduring popularity is down to its simplicity and power. This is McLachlan at her most accomplished - nothing but her, her piano and a subtle bass. For me, easily the best song on the album. Simply beautiful.
"In the arms of an angel, fly away from here, from this dark cold hotel room and the endlessness that you fear. You are pulled from the wreckage of your silent reverie, you're in the arms of the angel - may you find some comfort there..."
Surfacing is an album full of excellent, emotionally intelligent and lyrically astute songs with two or three stand-out tracks - however, McLachlan spends so much time inward-looking and navel-gazing that it makes you wonder whether she realises she has an audience. However, it's an honest effort, and it's clear that a great deal of emotional investment went into it.
Unfortunately, it falls a little short of the high standard she set herself with her previous album, and on this evidence, the crown weighed somewhat heavy on her head. Although Surfacing is a diamond with a few flaws rather than the perfect gem her fans had hoped for, it is still a beautiful album.
FULL TRACK LISTING
Building a Mystery (4:07)
I Love You (4:44)
Sweet Surrender (4:00)
Do What You Have to Do (3:47)
Black & White (5:02)
Full of Grace (3:41)
Last Dance (2:33)
© Hishyeness 2009
Summary: A very good - but not great - album that was more of a commercial than critical success