Saturday, February 23, 2013

Just Enough In The Live Album: The Razor Decision On Mirrorball

The Good: Some decent live interpretations of favorite Sarah McLachlan songs, Good voice, lyrics
The Bad: Pretentious live noises, Nothing genuinely new, "Adia" is terrible!
The Basics: While not Sarah McLachlan's most original outing, Mirrorball makes some decent live versions of past favorites for all listeners.

Live albums by any artist take a lot to get a positive review from me. In fact, it was agonizing over Oasis' terrible Familiar To Millions (reviewed here!) that I originally realized that I could not in good conscious recommend something by an artist I loved that was truly so terrible. For a long time, the only two live albums that truly satisfied my criteria for recommending were Heather Nova's Wonderlust (reviewed here!) and Dar Williams' Out There Live (reviewed here!). In a razor decision, today I add Mirrorball, Sarah McLachlan's live endeavor.

McLachlan, like Nova and Williams, does not have a decisive "Greatest Hits" compilation (at least at the time of this writing), so Mirrorball allows the casual Sarah McLachlan fan a chance to get some of McLachlan's better songs in one place, without what some would consider "the fat" of the non-singles tracks. With McLachlan, this is a hard argument to make. Released between Surfacing and Afterglow, Mirrorball is an opportunity for casual listeners of Sarah McLachlan to get her best hits off Surfacing along with previous radio hits and the single "I Will Remember You" that did generally well on the U.S. charts. It is an opportunity for fans of McLachlan to get a virtual "Best of" Sarah McLachlan for Surfacing and the prior albums.

What I'm looking for in a live album is an opportunity to hear songs I enjoy performed in a meaningfully different way than what appears on the standard album or radio edit of a song. Live shows are VERY difficult to sell me on in a c.d. because they usually lack the energy of the moment, any truly original material (like artists telling the story behind a song) tends to hold up poorly upon many relistenings, and whenever a song is reinterpreted or represented, there is the potential for the song to be remade poorly. Sometimes, what pushes a live album over the edge is something that one may only get on the live album.

Mirrorball is a tough call on some of those fronts. The audience is conspicuous throughout the album with appropriately timed applause, cheers and singing along. The audience, however, is subdued enough that there's no real energy on the album conveyed by the audience. That is to say, the placement of the audience does nothing significant but remind us that this is a live album.

The thing is, fans of Sarah McLachlan - even those who like her music solely from the radio - will know right away that this is a live album, without the kind of canned cheering the is produced into the album at predictable intervals. Starting with "Building A Mystery," McLachlan assures the listener that this will not be the standard album presentation by throwing in an abrupt (and deafening, if that can make sense) stop in the music to accent one of the refrains. It's clearly a different interpretation.

The album continues with a haunting version of "Hold On." My only experience with "Hold On" thus far (I'm anticipating my reviewer's copy of Fumbling Toward Ecstasy any day now!) was three days ago when I caught the music video for this song. I was not impressed with the video or the song. The Mirrorball version seems slower, more haunting and overall more stark than the produced version, which works exceptionally well for accenting such lines as "Hold on to yourself / This is gonna hurt like hell."

McLachlan runs into the problem with reinterpretation on one of my favorite Sarah McLachlan tracks, though. On "Adia," the tempo is faster, McLachlan has more accompaniment and the whole version sounds more jazzed up. This is a disservice to the stark beauty of the song where McLachlan quietly wailed out, "Believe me Adia / We are still innocent / It's easy / We all falter / Does it matter?" Here the song loses its punch and for some reason on this track the audience is accented more, further gutting the emotional resonance of the song.

What saves this album ultimately are the strengths that usually sell me on a Sarah McLachlan album; the lyrics and the impressive voice of McLachlan. On "I Love You," McLachlan's voice is angelic and melodic in ways that make anyone who can't sing (that includes me!) envious. And McLachlan is an able poet, making listening to most of her music easy on the ears, even if some of her lyrics are hard (emotionally) to hear.

On McLachlan's Rarities, B-Sides & Other Stuff, one of my problems was how songs like "Possession" were remixed as dance tracks. Even without hearing the originals, I knew that this song that sang ". . .Voices trapped in yearning / Memories trapped in time . The night is my companion and solitude my guide . . ." ("Possession") was not a dance number. On Mirrorball, "Possession" is restored to what I may only assume is its rightful place as a masterfully wrenching dreamsong that, well, possesses the listener.

Mirrorball might actually be better as an intro to those who have not yet become fans of Sarah McLachlan than for those who have enjoyed her previous studio endeavors, as there isn't anything truly unique to this album.

The best track is either "Hold On" or "Possession," the low point is "Adia," which is something I never thought I'd be able to write!

For other Sarah McLachlan reviews, check out my reviews of:
Rarities, B-Sides & Other Stuff
Closer: The Best Of Sarah McLachlan
Laws Of Illusion


For other music reviews, please visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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