Canadian singer, songwriter and three time Grammy-Award winner Sarah McLachlan released her fifth studio album- Afterglow in winter 2003. The record sold close to 5 million copies worldwide, receiving a massive 5x platinum status in Canada alone. The album topped the charts in both the US and Canada whilst here in the UK, it entered the top 40 making Afterglow McLachlan’s most successful UK entry to date. Although McLachlan has achieved international success over the last two decades, she still remains an unfamiliar musician among many Brits. On her side of the pond however, she is a household name having sold over 26 million records worldwide since her recording career began in 1988 with her debut album Solace. As for not repeating this success here, could it be that she is yet to be discovered on this side of the Atlantic?
Sarah’s is the kind of music you would hear in the movies, romantic-dramas especially where songs speak the language of the emotionally wounded when love is unrequited, lost or in yearning. Her single Angel received immense popularity after being used in this respect for many soundtracks and quite often for tributes. It was respectively used in mourning for those lost in the 9/11 tragedy. The song was famously featured in Brad Silberling’s City Of Angels (1998) which earned the soundtrack to the film a quadruple- platinum status and made Surfacing (1997), the album to which the song belonged- her biggest selling album to date. I was impressed enough with City Of Angels to call it one of my favourite films of all time and while the entire soundtrack was easy on the ears, it was the track Angel in particular that has just stayed with me ever since.
After having discovered the enchantingly mellow sound of McLachlan, I quickly became a fan of the songstress and now own most of her albums. Afterglow is one of my favourites from the collection for its uniquely comforting qualities. I believe that McLachlan has always had a voice touched by the heavens and Afterglow flaunts the versatility of her euphoric vocals once again. Arguably, her voice is her most powerful instrument. It is gentle yet full of such strength that it compliments the wonderfully orchestrated sound of each track. Her soft undertones are truly sublime and could leave anyone speechless. Answer and Time are tracks that particularly illustrate how her vocals can almost become one with the atmospheric classical-folksy sound of her music.
Fallen was the first track to be released from the album whose initial popularity sent record sales flying in the far west. The song is essentially about the acceptance of defeat. It’s about loss and the desperate desire to escape from a situation with no doors and while this means the lyrics are a touch pessimistic, the upbeat sound of the song is elevating and applies reassuring optimism. The tracks World On Fire and Stupid are also from a similar vein to Fallen. Both are extremely catchy and are most likely to become some of the firsts to grow on you. The rest of the tracks are like hidden gems, the more you uncover them, the more they will shine. For me, these gems are undoubtedly Perfect Girl and Train Wreck.
Perfect Girl translates as a goodbye song- a sincere, heartfelt goodbye song that takes the strain out of a bitter ending. It's extremely sophisticated and sung with such beautiful clarity that it is deeply enthralling. The song is certainly a grower so give it time and let it's breathtaking melody ripen in your ears for it could soon become your personal favourite too! The track is perfectly arranged and reveals McLachlan as an outstanding pianist, especially during her piano solo in the last minute of the song. The easygoing Train Wreck is wonderfully poetic and lyrically one of the strongest tracks of the album. The song seems to be in yearning for a love that would soon erase the pain of a broken heart. It’s a feel good feather-lite rock song that is possibly the most romantic track of the ten. World On Fire is a political track that demonstrates McLachlan’s philanthropic ways. This inspirational song suggests how for some, a little can mean a lot- especially for those living in third-world poverty as the video to the track illustrates.
Dirty Little Secret takes me to a place very close to home. It’s a song about regret, the regret we carry with us when the things we wanted to say the most weren’t said... and then it’s too late. Surprisingly enough, the song isn’t as heavy on the heart as you would imagine. It’s strangely nurturing and takes you to a place of comfort through your pain, and if you’re not in pain, it’s simply a great chill-out track to unwind to. Drifting, Time and Answer are tracks that will radiate a sense of warmth around you. They’re like lullabies for the experienced and an incarnation of the truth that lies within your heart. They’re decadent and raw- And this is part of what makes this album so unbelievably magical.
Afterglow is McLachlan’s most ethereal album yet. Every track tells a story- a story about a time and a place where we all have been (or will be at some point in our lives). It achieves a strange sense of optimism through its pessimism that flows with eloquence, song after song. With a voice that could melt steel, McLachlan delivers a unique blend of chill-out music that resonates and like time- is a great healer. McLachlan is due to release her greatest hits album Closer: The Best of Sarah McLachlan early this October, while the European release date has been pushed back to February ’09. The album would be a great introduction for those who aren't familiar with Sarah McLachlan and will feature two tracks of new material- Don’t give up on us and U want me 2 which reflect the strain of McLachlan's recent seperation from her husband.
So until then, be sure to grace your stereos with the blissful sound of Afterglow. The album is produced, engineered and mixed by the visionary Pierre Marchand who has truly managed to ignite the magic created by McLachlan- and while this isn't the first time the two have collaborated for the production of an album, Afterglow seems to be one of their greatest efforts yet. There is not one dull song in the entire album, each tells a different story that carries a suited melody. The album paints an honest picture of the experienced and of all the feelings we like to hide- it is truly amazing, so be sure to listen to it if you haven't already. McLachlan is, without a doubt, one of the greatest musicians of our time. Hers is the kind of music we can all relate to and Afterglow... could be the soundtrack of your life.
'Music is my escape. Music is my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness. Music is the soundtrack to life; it explains perfectly what can not be put into words'
- Maya Angelou: Gather Together In My Name.
(First edition published in 1974)