This is the Sarah McLachlan I was too young for; the kids at my school weren’t into this music when it came out and I don’t think she was big enough in the States yet to make it on MTV when I got the chance to watch that at my cousins’. I say this because, though I was 12 at the time this came out, I don’t really recognize any of the songs, even though I’ve heard of the title of this CD. On the other hand, I knew four tracks off of Surfacing really, really well, just due to airplay (I was in high school at that point and Much Music existed).
Not knowing any of these songs is an advantage, actually. There are few associations for me with this record than the later big hit and I think that’s for the positive. McLachlan has a strong sense of melody and that plus her voice are probably the biggest strength of the record. I could imagine that, if I didn’t have a certain antipathy to some of the arrangement choices here (see below), this might win me over.
As others have noted, a lot McLachlan’s lyrics on this record (and maybe in general) are a lot darker than you would think (infamously on “Possession”). I think the combination of her music aesthetic, the types of melodies she uses and the industry marketing around her can easily blind you to what she’s singing about.
But for me, where I get stuck is the arrangements: too much funky drummer (see the aforementioned “Possession”) and too much going on in the arrangements, not enough of it interesting. As I noted with Surfacing, listening to this record makes me wonder what I would think of her if she just recorded with guitar or piano, and maybe the occasional bass or drum kit and that’s it. Honestly, I have no idea if her songs would work better with such arrangements – it sure feels like the arrangements match the way she sings her songs – but I can’t say I like these arrangements; they really don’t do anything for me.
I think I’m just bound to prefer more idiosyncratic performers even if she is a pretty good songwriter.