Sarah McLachlan: Laws of Illusion

RIYL: Annie Lennox, Enya, Jewel

Sarah McLachlan’s brand of pillowy, doe-eyed balladry has always been easily parodied, but beneath all the glossy instrumentation and tastefully aching vocals, her music has always had a dark depth that belied its adult contemporary trappings – and offered proof that it’s possible to create placidly pretty music with real emotional undertow.

Sarah McLachlan

Alas, this is something McLachlan seems to have forgotten during the seven years since she released her last album of original material. Right from the album cover, which finds her lounging beautifully on the moon, Laws of Illusion has the disconnected, gauzy air of a fantasy; the track listing floats woozily from one vaguely moody, mid-tempo number to the next. It’s like a Thomas Kinkade painting set to music – which is pretty ironic, considering Illusion is more or less a song cycle about the collapse of McLachlan’s marriage. You’d think this would raise the stakes for her usual themes – love, obsession, heartbreak – but instead, these songs feel curiously flat, with melodies that have the plastic echo of McLachlan’s past work and some of the most enervating arrangements of her career. Even the song titles are tired: “U Want Me 2”? Where’s a Prince lawsuit when you need one? Any random Peter Cetera album has more heft.

None of which probably matters to most Sarah McLachlan fans. Her earlier work’s resonance earned her critical respect, but it’s got little to do with the millions of records she’s sold; to a lot of people, a Sarah McLachlan album’s true value lies in its smooth surface appeal, and Laws of Illusion is nothing if not smooth. If none of it is particularly memorable, well, McLachlan’s voice is as lovely as ever, and these songs will still sound great with your next candlelit bubble bath. Proceed accordingly. (Arista 2010)

Sarah McLachlan MySpace page


Lisa Donnelly: We Had a Thing

Although Lisa Donnelly is but unknown at this point, there’s something uncannily familiar about her solo debut. Having fronted the L.A. outfit A.M. Pacific and after mining the Hollywood club circuit, it’s only natural that she should exude the air of a veteran, and indeed the confidence and ease with which she delivers her material belies any hint of relative inexperience. If anything, Donnelly may be too ambitious; We Had a Thing suggests she may be trying to cover too much ground for a first outing. And in fact, with songs that run the gamut from ethereal ballads to propulsive hip-hop, it’s hard to get a handle on Donnelly’s true essence. Try Sarah McLachlan meets Madonna. She even throws some sitar into the mix with the song “Blue,” suggesting a psychedelic spin that quickly turns into a meditative mode. Still, the most telling track on the album – both literally and figuratively – is the leadoff tune “Laugh,” an intriguing narrative about a dinner party encounter with a psychic who preps her for the future. Being that she’s a bit derivative, it’s difficult to read Donnelly’s chances for success based on this album alone. Still, it suggests there’s plenty of potential for ongoing endeavors.
(BT Media 2009)

Lisa Donnelly MySpace page