Album Review: Sarah McLachlan – Closer: The Best Of Sarah McLachlan

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The hottest singer to ever come out of Nova Scotia, Canada, Sarah McLachlan has long been a balladeer representing strong-willed female musicians.  After all, she did start the ’90s pop culture event, Lilith Fair. Women and sensitive guys who wanted to have sex with Jewel flooded the tour all over North America, but many walked away with a certain memory of this brief, female-dominated time in music. The memory was that Sarah McLachlan is a pretty damn good musician and a hell of a singer.

This compilation is the ultimate Sarah McLachlan collection and why wouldn’t it be? It has 20 years of music on it. The album is available in both a single-disc version and a two-disc edition, with the tracks in chronological order and many gems added. The two-disc album is organized with everything before her breakthrough album, Surfacing, on the first disc. The second disc features a selection of tracks from Surfacing, Afterglow and a variety of bonus tracks.

The first three tracks on the album are the only songs from her output from the 1980s. The highlight is “Steaming”, which retains a really solid drumbeat throughout the song and when compared to her other songs, this seems to be the first indication of the pop vocal sound she would adopt for her later success. “Ben’s Song” is a bit too choral for a McLachlan song, but its presence on the album is important to illustrate how much McLachlan has grown as a singer.

The next three tracks come off Solace, which was the album where a bit more people started taking notice of her skills. “Into the Fire” was her first hit in America and is kind of a funky song. It feels as if it might have been influenced by the Minneapolis sound of the late ’80s/early ’90s that dominated music. The deep bass grooves and funky piano playing aren’t very indicative of Canada, but due to that country’s proximity to Minnesota, it isn’t surprising.

“Possession” is a standout track and was a single and quasi-hit in America. The song has a very “hey, I remember that song” quality that many songs of the 1990s have, but instead of being a one-hit wonder, this song was an indication of what was coming for McLachlan.

What came for McLachlan was a string of some of the strongest female piano-driven songs ever released, and most of them are here. “Building a Mystery” is still a monster song. McLachlan came out of the gate with the release of Surfacing with a new look, Lilith Fair, and a huge hit that announced her arrival to anyone who wasn’t paying attention. The song still stands up today. It still has a good beat, her vocals are still spot on, and the occasional swear word reminds the listener of the carefree ’90s when people could get away with some profanity.

“Sweet Surrender” actually sounds better in retrospect now; the electronic instrumentation at the beginning of the song was clearly ahead of its time. The vocal interplay with the guitar near the end is also kind of a reminder of how good, not only vocally, but musically Sarah McLachlan was. A lot of the other hits from that time are hers and they still sound strong. “Adia” is still a powerful song, “Angel” is still the mega hit it was before, but now it’s packaged with all her other stuff.

“I Will Remember You” is presented here live and due to its constant use at graduations (even to this day), this version actually stands out as something new on a song everyone has heard at some point. The original version is also found at the end of the second disc, so don’t fret if you are aching to hear it the way it was released.

Overall, Closer: The Best Of Sarah McLachlan is a strong compilation album. She has long been one of the titans of female musicians and this is a respectful gathering of her discography from the past 20 years. The early stuff is nice to remind yourself what McLachlan began from and once those memorable ballads and pop hits start coming, you can’t really fault yourself for singing along or lighting a candle or some other feminine type thing. After all, it is Sarah McLachlan. This isn’t workout music. This is softly sung, beautiful music from a strong female singer, and when it is collected nicely like this, why not just enjoy the great lyrics and melodic sounds?

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