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Sarah McLachlan
Surfacing (Arista)

Lighten up, Sarah! Life's not so bad. You've just launched the successful Lilith Fair, married your drummer, Ashwin Sood, and released your sixth album, Surfacing. Let go of some of that angst and sing us a little ditty.

No such luck. If you've heard the new single, "Building A Mystery," you might think Sarah has actually gone and poured out a sweet surprise of an album. But the single is by far the best song on the release. "Building A Mystery" is upbeat, it's catchy, almost a toe-tappin' good time for this soul-searching Canadian singer/songwriter. It even strays from the emotional landscape of most of McLachlan's songs and presents a portrait of a spiritual guy who holds back his emotions in an attempt to shroud himself in mystery. The lyrics are pleasingly obtuse, and less rife with cliches than many of her songs. But then the opening measures started sounding a whole lot like the opening bars of that Joan Osborne song about God, "One Of Us." Joan and Sarah are both playing on the Lilith Tour, so I played them together on my stereo and -- lo and behold -- the two songs do start in incredibly similar ways.

Never thought I'd be saying this, but "One Of Us" just rocks compared to "Building a Mystery." It is twangier, edgier, Osborne's voice much more present; McLachlan sounds like she's singing in a fog, like she's never quite engaged with her music. And that's the irony of Surfacing. The problems Sarah traces in the lyrics of the first song -- the guy is building a wall, not letting it all hang out -- are exactly the problems that mire down the rest of Surfacing. The first song, an admittedly catchy single, is just a tease; the rest of the album never gets off the ground.

Sarah McLachlan's voice is pure in tone, clear and earthy. She's never too breathy or warbly or nasal; she seems like an honorable and well-meaning. But the songs on this album just aren't very interesting, either in their instrumentation or lyrics. Everything -- particularly on slow songs like "Angel" -- seems muted, whitewashed, mellow to an extreme. It's an aural womb so dark you feel like you're in hibernation.

Not that the album doesn't have its uses. It's good music to listen to in the bathtub by the light of a couple of candles; it's good music to talk on the phone by; if I heard it while I was shopping in the mall, I might even think it was hip. It succeeds in a certain goal: to wind a pretty voice inbetween easy, unchallenging electric folk.

-- Jennifer Braunschweiger

from Mtv Online