The Good: Good vocals, lyrics, instrumental accompaniment, production, duration
The Bad: Illustrates well the rocky start of Sarah McLachlan
The Basics: The limited edition version of Closer: The Best Of Sarah McLachlan is the definitive version of the album for fans, but for those who enjoy only the radio hits of Sarah McLachlan, it might well illustrate how it took so long for her to break.
One of the best gifts my wife hunted down for me this last holiday season was the two-disc limited edition version of Closer: The Best Of Sarah McLachlan. For my regular readers; you’re not seeing things. I have reviewed Closer: The Best Of Sarah McLachlan (reviewed here!) before, but that one was the single disc version and with twice the content (and discs), the two-disc version is well-worth its own review. With quite a bit more music, the content that came from McLachlan’s breakout album Surfacing and its follow-up, Afterglow, are somewhat diluted. While this might make it seem like the second disc is the main reason to buy the two-disc version of Closer: The Best Of Sarah McLachlan, what it actually does is illustrate what a long trajectory McLachlan had in becoming a powerhouse on the pop-rock circuit. Her sound evolves over the two discs from a nebulous artist determined to show off her vocal range (McLachlan’s sound starts solidly soprano in a way that would make Mariah Carey jealous and is almost unlistenable) to a poet who finds a balance and range that makes her words sparkle.
Closer: The Best Of Sarah McLachlan is a compilation album which was released over five years ago and I was shocked that the two-disc version is so hard to find now. (FYI, for those hunting down the Limited Edition version: some sellers drilled a hole through the packaging for no particular reason I can find, but given how many collectors might want a pristine copy for their collections, it’s smart to ask the seller first) One of the other interesting aspects of listening to the two-disc version of Closer: The Best Of Sarah McLachlan now is how little seems to be missing from it. I know I truly enjoyed Laws Of Illusion, but listening to this album which preceded it, I cannot instantly recall what song from that fine album I would want to add to this!
With twenty-seven songs occupying two discs that clock out at fifty-four minutes and over an hour, respectively, Closer: The Best Of Sarah McLachlan is a decent blend of early works, popular hits, new songs and production versions/remixes. The work is almost entirely the creative endeavor of Sarah McLachlan, though, as she wrote or co-wrote every song on the album. As well, she provides all of the primary vocals and plays piano or guitar on almost every track. What she doesn't do is produce, but given that she has a longtime producer who produced this album as well as providing other instrumental performances on it, one assumes McLachlan is happy with the results.
For those who might not have heard the music of Sarah McLachlan, McLachlan is one of the understated rulers of independent pop-rock music for the 1990s and 2000s. Her piano and vocal-driven songs (mostly pop ballads) tend to be poetic, clear, and highlight the emotions of love, loss and the struggles that come with loss. Her career started in Canada and on the first disc of Closer: The Best Of Sarah McLachlan, the listener hears how she evolved on her first two albums from a Tori Amos (“Vox”)/Madonna (“Steaming”) hybrid into her own distinct musical voice.
Instrumentally, most of the songs are piano-driven. Songs like "Fallen" are deep and melodic, haunting in their tunes while on "Adia," the piano is used more as a support instrument to highlight the tune created by the vocals. Still, on some of her middle and later works, like "Sweet Surrender" and "World On Fire," it is the presence of the electric guitars which are most striking and that shakes the album up well. What is perhaps the most striking aspect of McLachlan’s instrumental accompaniment is the fact that she began her career with some much bigger sounding songs that are powerfully percussion-driven (like “Steaming”). Those songs contain a very different sound than the more familiar ballad-style (like “Ben’s Song”) that listeners might be familiar with. Unfortunately, even on Closer: The Best Of Sarah McLachlan, McLachlan reveals some of her creative weaknesses from early in her carreer; having “Drawn To The Rhythm” and “Hold On” put so close together on the album makes it hard to deny how closely they resemble one another!
Vocally, Sarah McLachlan is an amazing talent with a natural soprano voice. That talent is immediately evident on songs like “Vox” and “Ben’s Song.” The range McLachlan has suits her well, though; as her later works take her down into an alto range, her lyrics become more clear and powerful. While her early songs have an eerie quality brought out by her high pitched vocals, the later songs that go lower bring her lyrical mastery to the forefront and that plays very well to her listeners.
Lyrically, Sarah McLachlan is an able poet and Closer: The Best Of Sarah McLachlan shows that off remarkably well. One of the reasons McLachlan was able to rise to prominence was her use of imagery and emotion in her songs. When she sings “Your love is better than ice cream / Better than anything else that I’ve ever tried” (“Ice Cream”), it is hard not to get a warm feeling and be stimulated by the sense of adoration one has for the love of their life. McLachlan taps into raw emotion of love in an almost effortless way with her comparisons and imagery.
As well, McLachlan is quite adept at making social issues musical, which is something few outside the Folk genre do effectively these days. But, with lines like “I watch the heavens but I find no calling / Something I can do to change what's coming / Stay close to me while the sky is falling / Don't wanna be left alone, don't wanna be alone / The world's on fire and / It's more than I can handle” (“World On Fire”), McLachlan taps amazingly into a sense of universal angst about the times we live in. The Internet may have made the world smaller, but it has allowed the problems that surround us in the world to become more evident and overwhelming and McLachlan presents that incredibly well.
Despite having a decent poetic ability, even McLachlan falls into the trap of predictable rhymes on some of her songs. It is hard not to cringe reading the singsong lines "I knew you wanted to tell me / In your voice there was something wrong / But if you would turn your face away from me / You cannot tell me you're so strong . . . In the terms of the years that pass you by / In the terms of the reasons why" (“Path Of Thorns”). Even with some mediocre rhymes and occasional cliche, though, McLachlan makes her words sound good.
Anyone who wants to cull through most of the truly best of Sarah McLachlan from her first two decades of writing and performing music professionally will find value in the two-disc version of Closer: The Best Of Sarah McLachlan. The well-rounded presentation of McLachlan’s works is well worth the investment for fans and casual fans alike, as well as anyone who wants to get a broader view of one of the radio-hit artists who has a far deeper career than her two most successful albums might suggest.
The best songs are "Hold On" (Disc 1) and “Adia” (Disc 2) and the low points are "Ben’s Song” (Disc 1) and “I Will Remember You (Live)” (Disc 2, which is superfluous considering the original version without crowd noises is present on the disc).
For other Sarah McLachlan reviews, check out my reviews of:
Fumbling Towards Ecstasy
Rarities, B-Sides & Other Stuff
Laws Of Illusion
Check out how this album stacks up against others I have reviewed by visiting my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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