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Sarah McLachlan continues to glow

Rebecca Saunders | Thursday, February 12, 2004

There are not many artists who can cross the generation gap like Sarah McLachlan. It would be difficult to find a person who did not have at least a singing-along knowledge of one of her songs. Sarah McLachlan’s angelic voice crooning lyrical poetry to a melodic piano is something everyone can appreciate, at the very least. While Afterglow is reminiscent of the old familiar hits from the Surfacing album, a whole new side of McLachlan’s talent is exposed throughout her new album. Afterglow is the first album McLachlan has released in seven years, when her three-time Grammy winning album Surfacing made her a world-wide name. In that seven years, much happened in McLachlan’s life – her mother died, and her daughter, India, was born five months following that death. Thus, the tracks on the album are a mix of love songs, songs of despair and songs of hope. McLachlan summarizes the album by explaining, “‘When you look up ‘afterglow’ in the dictionary, it is defined as ‘the glow or light that remains once the sun is gone.’ You’re used to this bright, shiny, beautiful glow but the moment the sun disappears, all of a sudden you have to readjust everything. It’s a very transitional moment. A lot of these songs are about transition … the turning over of the rock, what’s underneath, the murky, shadowy uncertainty where everything looks very different.” McLachlan ends up looking different to her fans on this album, in which there is a more jazz-like rhythm to many of her songs with a greater mix of instrumentation throughout the album. One of the strongest songs on Afterglow is the current single, “Fallen.” Not a happy or hopeful song, the lyrics still speak to everyone on some level as all people, at some point, try hard and still mess up. McLachlan sadly sings, “Though I’ve tried I’ve fallen / I have sunk so low / I messed up / Better I should know.” “Fallen” also conveys the moderately depressing, but most likely true concept that “We believe that we can change ourselves / The past can be undone / but we carry on our back the burdens time always reveals.” “Fallen” is not recommended as an addition to the party mixed CD, and if someone were feeling depressed, “Fallen” would probably just make that feeling worse; all that said, however, it is a still a terrifically beautiful song. The other major strong, – and more hopeful – point of the album is found in “Push,” a love song that doesn’t fall prey to the clichs. Love and life aren’t easy, and that is essentially what McLachlan conveys through “Push:” “Even when I have to push just to see how far you’ll go / You won’t stoop down to battle but you never turn to go.” As a beautiful song about unconditional love, “Push” reminds Sarah McLachlan fans why they have listened to Surfacing for the last seven years, waiting for the next McLachlan song to appear and speak to their lives.Afterglow comes closer to leaving one crying versus glowing, but in the end it remains a spectacularly well-done album and a must-have for every fan who grew up on Surfacing. It is not her best work, but it is better than just about anyone else’s in this genre.

Contact Rebecca Saunders at rsaunder@nd.edu