Saturday, March 3, 2012

36 Songs, 36 Days (2012 Edition), Day Six: Wait by Sarah Mclachlan

Look into her long, dark, befreckled, Canadian mirror...
And here we have someone who really benefited from the interest in female artists in the early 90's. After all, she was recording solo before the Tori Amoses and the Alanis Morrisettes and the Fiona Apples of this world, having two albums and an EP out before Little Earthquakes hit. That being said, an argument could be made that it was the success of Amos that prompted the album this song came from, Fumbling Toward Ecstacy, to become the big breakout hit that she was looking for.

Much like Billy Joel, I have something of a strange relationship with Mclachlan. I was aware of her previous two albums, Touch and Solace, as tracks from them received airplay on WDRE before that august alt-rock station gave up the ghost. I didn't care for those early tracks, but the lead single from Fumbling Toward Ecsctacy, 'Possession,' did grab me enough for me to buy this album. Sometime after Mirrorball, however, I began to drift away--probably because I felt that Mclachlan was one of those musicians who found her niche and comfortably sat within it, never venturing out of it and stretching herself. Hell, I wonder at times if she'll be lauded in the future more for what she did with her fame (promoting alternate energy sources, promoting interest in female music by founding Lilith Fair) and some of her stranger interview statements (like when she proclaimed she hated deodorant in that weird Details interview) than her actual musical output.

(Say what you like about Amos. She may have her periods of complacency, but she is not afraid to try new things. She may rush back to her core group of fans afterwards, but at least she tries.)

This is very, very typical Sarah McLachlan....but then, pretty much everything she puts out is. And that may be the problem.

McLachlan has an amazingly powerful instrument in her voice. It has the capacity for great emotional range, and when she allows herself to let loose like in 'Possession,' she can grab you by the metaphorical throat. But more often than not, she's content to take that voice and tether it to the same pseudo-jazz Cinemax-After-Dark-soundtrack background sludge that makes all her songs sound pretty much alike. And when she doing these song-a-likes, her voice ends up being technically sound....but cold, precise, like she's doing this more as an intellectual exercise. And even though the song could be about a failed relationship, could be about a failed marriage, could be about mental illness, could be about failed attempts at having a doesn't connect.

But then, in writing that last paragraph, that may be the genius of McLachlan as a songstress. The combination of haunting soundscapes and vague lyrics invite us to complete the story with our own experiences and impressions, so that the guy who sees this song as being about a failed marriage and the girl who interprets it as a song about regrets over an abortion are both right. McLachlan doesn't have to reveal anything of herself to make herself special; she lets the listener reveal things about themselves to make them love her. I may not appreciate that trick, but I respect it.

No video for this one, but here's a live performance from 2003....

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