The Good: Beautiful music, Amazing voice, Good lyrics, Themes
The Bad: Exceptionally depressing fare, Could stand to be longer
The Basics: With brilliant lyrics and a well-developed musical sound, Afterglow is a surprisingly good listen that will allow listeners to dwell on their emotions.
There is an art to selling sadness. While anyone may make a work of art that has the potential to uplift, it's a far harder thing to make music that makes one think of the darkest regions of our being and still want to listen. Sarah McLachlan is one of the few artists that is able to articulately envelop the listener in a cocoon of the most sad, aching emotions expressed with her beautiful voice and leave the listener wanting more. Given how close to thematically homogenous this album is, it's impressive one wants more after hearing it.
But I do. That's the power of Sarah McLaughlan on Afterglow.
Afterglow is an album of contradictions; it is sad, but the listener yearns for more of the same. One of my pet peeves, artists releasing singles that are only the first few tracks, is present on this album. In fact, the first three tracks are the album's three released singles, in their order of release "Fallen," "World on Fire," and "Stupid." The thing is, while "Fallen" is arguably the best track and deserved to be the first single, other tracks are phenomenal and the listener does not feel let down when the first track ends. This is not an album one thinks "I've heard the best already, I can turn it off."
Afterglow is almost unrelentingly sad, though. Opening with "Fallen," a ballad about plunging from the path one expected to follow, Afterglow explores emotions of sadness and loss. There is a strange sense of irony to knowing McLachlan had a baby between Surfacing and this album, given how depressing most of the songs are.
Actually, "depressing" is a horrible word for the songs on Afterglow. It implies that if you listen to this disc, you will become sad. No, this is an album that deals with sad themes, depressing aspects, but it explores them, makes the listener empathetic and enveloped, but not crushingly sad.
So, while "Fallen" laments ". . . the bitter taste of losing everything / I've held so dear" and one might recall times we have felt so low, it does not crush our soul. There's no way to describe it better; somehow McLachlan allows the listener to recall the most painful moments of our existence and she and her music bring us out of that recollection again.
It's not like there's a lot of happiness on this album. "Push" is arguably the most upbeat, as a "thank you" to the person who puts up with the narrator with consistent love and regard. It's a beautiful song, actually. And unlike "Drifting," which is a longing song begging for the narrator's lover to return, "Push" feels like the recipient of the song might actually appreciate the thoughts or even be listening. Outside "Push," though, the songs explore the realms of sadness and outright despair.
Sarah McLachlan's primary instruments are the piano and her voice and she plays both wonderfully on Afterglow. This is an album with a rich sound as she is often accompanied by guitars, bass and drums. Many of the songs have an orchestral sound to them and it works as an album that fully immerses and enchants the listener. There may be no better way to describe it.
Anyone who likes female artists will appreciate Afterglow. With her distinctive voice that dominates the alto and soprano ranges, she is a musical force. And the poetry of her lyrics is her own. She wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on the disc making it truly her musical vision.
Who will not like this disc? Well, anyone who doesn't like the female perspective. Tackling loneliness and insecurities and longings from a distinctly feminine perspective, Afterglow is accessible to anyone who wants to be emotionally connected to it. But the listener has to be willing to listen with an ear for sadness. Outside the people who are not in the mood to let their demons dance while they cry, Afterglow is for!
This is a perfect companion album to Surfacing and it shows real growth in McLachlan's ability and articulations. It is amazing to me, given the quality of "Fallen" how long I went before purchasing this disc! It's on heavy rotation at my house now and I suspect it will quickly find its way to the top of most any listener's list if they give it a chance.
The best track is "Push," the only unremarkable track is the finale, "Dirty Little Secret."
For other Sarah McLachlan reviews, check out my reviews of:
Closer: The Best Of Sarah McLachlan
Laws Of Illusion
Check out how this album stacks up against other album and singles I have reviewed by visiting my Music Review Index Page where the reviews are organized best to worst.
© 2012, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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