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Musical bliss, and that's no illusion
on June 16, 2010
LAWS OF ILLUSION is Sarah McLachlan returning to her finest form, last seen since SURFACING, released 14 years ago. This album took 7 years and perhaps countless ups and downs in McLachlan's life to make - and the wait is every bit worthwhile. McLachlan's discography has always been timeless, such that SURFACING could have been released yesterday and LAWS OF ILLUSION in 1996 and no one would be able to tell. Such is the excellence of musical craftsmanship and brilliance of song-making partnership between McLachlan and long-time producer Pierre Marchand.
There are 12 songs (and an additional bonus track) on this latest album, 2 of which previously featured on GREATEST HITS released 2 years ago. Initially I was critical of this, blaming laziness and lack of effort. Then I became appreciative. "U Want Me 2" is one of the best McLachlan songs ever - lush instrumental, poetic lyrics, ethereal vocals all lending to heartbreaking imagery. I'm glad I have it on here as part of the collection rather than having to keep going back to the GH collection to hear it. It fits in perfectly with LAWS OF ILLUSION like the last piece of jigsaw. And 13 songs on a McLachlan studio album is always a bonus, considering SURFACING and AFTERGLOW only had 10!
LAWS OF ILLUSION is perhaps McLachlan's hardest and edgiest sounding collection - swirling electric guitars are present on most songs. But the sound never drifts too far from what all fans will claim is McLachlan's (sort of what you'd expect if Enya did rock). The album also contains some of McLachlan's happiest sounding songs in a sing-songy, chorusy way: "Illusion Of Bliss", "Loving You Is Easy", "Out Of Tune" and "Heartbreak". Even the instrumentation is fuller, more uplifting, a little bit more bouncy as if it were skipping happily along. But make no mistake, those "happy" songs never end up sounding like cotton candy having been through the hands of this queen of melancholy. McLachlan always finds a way to serve them up as mostly minor-chord songs that transition into a major-chord chorus. "Illusion Of Bliss" is a misnomer, there is no illusion about the bliss contained in this song.
I need to specially mention "Forgiveness", my newest, favourite McLachlan song. The instrumental arrangement is exquisite, the melody is trademark McLachlan. The solitary piano beginnings deceive the listener into thinking this as "Angel" #2, but when the beats drop, background cooing vocals enter and guitar envelope the song, you discover the masterpiece. I think this song inspired the classy and dreamy album cover. I also need to single out "Awakening". It is different, moody, electric-guitar-rock-loud and has a song structure that is not immediately discernible. But it is a stand-out and showcases McLachlan as a rock goddess doing Coldplay. Finally, "Rivers Of Love" and "Changes" deserve attention too, as a throwback to the SURFACING era. This is your 2010 "Do What You Have To Do" and "Full Of Grace" respectively. Check out the saw.
I have deliberately left out the most important ingredient on LAWS OF ILLUSION for last. Shimmering, magical, breath-taking, expressive, soothing and flawless: McLachlan's voice. It is what makes a McLachlan CD a McLachlan CD. It has remained the same from the day I first started listening to her. Her phrasing is unique; her slight cracks are emotion-drenched; and the oft-featured yodel-break is skilfully used throughout.
LAWS OF ILLUSION is pretty much perfect. I'll be spinning this one for however long it takes for the next McLachlan CD to drop. If she takes this long to release music as astounding as this, so be it.
16 June 2010