Saturday, December 4, 2010

Sarah McLachlan's Sellout Album: Wintersong Is A Mediocre Christmas Album

The Good: Well, it's Christmasy good . . ., Good voice
The Bad: Nothing terribly original, Seems like selling out, Nothing superlative
The Basics: On an album that reeks of insipid conformity, Sarah McLachlan mortgages her talents and artistry for a cheap performance that is sure to disappoint fans.

I'm not a fan of Christmas albums from contemporary artists. Too often, they seem like selling out. It's usually an album for the sake of an album wherein nothing original or superlative is presented by either performers enjoying their fifteen minutes of fame, artist/performers putting out something safe to mitigate a more edgy release (i.e. Christina Aguilera's Christmas album shortly after "Dirty") or artists selling out for one reason or another. With her legions of feminist and pagan fans, Sarah McLachlan's venture into Christmas music, entitled Wintersong seems to fall within the last category. And I write that as one who loves the works of Sarah McLachlan and who loved her latest album, Laws Of Illusion (click here for that review!).

With twelve tracks clocking in at 45:39 minutes, Wintersong is a celebration of the ordinary and the expected from an artist who usually does not conform to the traditional. I don't recall Sarah McLachlan having any sort of image problem, so he insistence on releasing something so conventional as Wintersong is positively baffling to someone who has appreciated her unique take on things.

Released in 2006, Wintersong includes such standards as "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and "Silent Night" alongside her original track "Wintersong" and covers of Gordon Lightfoot's "Song For A Winter's Night" and Joni Mitchell's "River." Sadly, McLachlan's rendition of "Happy XMas (War Is Over)" is presented without irony, perhaps because McLachlan is Canadian and they are wisely sitting the current American . . . miscalculation out. Still, given that she has quite the American following, a more audacious rendition would have been nice.

For those looking for conventional and traditional, Wintersong excels. Hearing McLachlan croons about "Christ the king" on tracks like "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" is somewhat unnerving given how powerfully she rocked on the idea of the pagan cross preceding Christ on "Building A Mystery" on Surfacing. On virtually every other track, she provides a sound and style that could be any female vocalist singing Christmas carols.

The notable exception is "The First Noel/Mary Mary" which was arranged by McLachlan to combine the two traditional songs into one new medley. The result is nothing extraordinary, though it does sound different from the other tracks in that it does not sound instantly recognizable. The sound of this track also employs more instruments resulting in greater scope and volume of the track than anything else on the album.

Still, it's not enough to justify the expense of this lackluster disc. Sure, McLachlan can sing. Even her fairly blase rendition of "Silent Night" illustrates that she has the pipes we expect from her. But there's nothing surprising, nothing audacious, nothing new in the way she sings "Silent Night." There's nothing exciting. "Silent Night," like virtually every other track on the album, lacks zest. There's no spark to say that this is Sarah McLachlan's Christmas Album! This is an album whose best reaction might be a neutral "meh."

At worst, Wintersong seems pandering to the political and cultural climate of the mainstream of the time and it's disappointing coming from the artist who brought the world tracks like "Fallen" on Afterglow. If it seems like I am desperate to cite more impressive and artistic endeavors by Sarah McLachlan, it's true, I am. McLachlan has proven she can write, sing, perform and make music. She's done it all at a pace that has kept her fanbase growing and intrigued.

Wintersong is gutted by a complete lack of any genuine sense of artistic endeavor such that by the time "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" comes up, the listener is ready to vomit from the unrelenting conformity evident on this disc. This could be expected from the latest American Idol contestant desperate to cling to their fifteen minutes, but words do not express the disappointment in the sound of such lackluster performances that could be ANY female vocalist coming from Sarah McLachlan. It's with dread that I consider that some of my other favorite female artists like Sophie B. Hawkins, Heather Nova and Dar Williams could someday sellout and produce something like this.

It is with great pleasure that "Christmas Time Is Here" - the final track of the album - has come as I finish this review so I do not have to endure this work one more time while writing and perhaps this is the ultimate celebration to the lack of originality embodied by Wintersong (the album). This duet featuring Diana Krall is so ambiguous that it is unclear whether or not Krall is playing piano or singing along with McLachlan. If it is a true duet, their voices are presented in such a way as to be virtually indistinguishable from one another as to make the point of the song somewhat lost. Their talents are presented as interchangeable as opposed to complimentary.

In this way, "Christmas Time Is Here" is emblematic of the rest of the album's lack of originality and the sense that this could be any performer performing the songs. It's too bad it was Sarah McLachlan; for I am a fan and this outing is far below her standards.

The best track is the original "Wintersong," the rest of the album could be lost to time and not missed.

For other Christmas albums, please check out my reviews of:
Elvis' Christmas Album - Elvis Presley
Midwinter Graces – Tori Amos
One More Drifter In The Snow – Aimee Mann
20th Century Masters: The Christmas Collection – The Best Of Reba – Reba McEntire


For other album reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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