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Album review: Sarah McLachlan's 'Laws of Illusion'

June 15, 2010 |  7:30 am

Sarah_m_240 Except for Sarah McLachlan's voice gliding over images of needy animals on the ASPCA commercials once parodied by “Saturday Night Live,” the Canadian singer-songwriter and Lilith Fair co-founder has barely been heard from in the last seven years. This year, though, she returns with the latest incarnation of the all-female touring festival, and her first album of new material since “Afterglow” in 2003.

“Laws of Illusion,” much like Lilith Fair 2010, provides an opportunity to reassess the legacy of McLachlan, whose 1994 album, “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy,” went triple-platinum. As far as her concert concept goes, Lilith Fair 2010, with its remarkably varied lineup of R&B, country, indie and Top 40, feels in sync with our genre-fluid world now more than ever. That the lineup is all female seems almost incidental, a victory compared to 1997-99, when seemingly every conversation about Lilith centered on gender, not even at large, but as constructed by the music industry.

Timing has been equally kind to McLachlan the artist, though it doesn't result in a similarly shifted perception. “Laws of Illusion” could've easily been released in the late '90s, so little has changed about McLachlan's style of songwriting and delivery. She still has a deft sense of song construction, with parts that link together in revelatory ways. But in the execution of these songs, “Laws of Illusion” often disappoints. Too many times, a cringe-inducing guitar tone rings out that's become so synonymous with adult contemporary trappings that it mostly suggests the perfumed sanctum of the local Anthropologie store.

The last song of the album, “Bring on the Wonder,” is one of the album's most beautiful departures: silvery layers of McLachlan's voice singing over only the barest slip of piano. If only McLachlan would've stripped out the more unoriginal instrumentation on other tracks and relied solely on her voice; it's a haunting, evocative thing we'd follow anywhere.

— Margaret Wappler

Sarah McLachlan

"Laws of Illusion"

Arista

Two and a half stars (Out of four)


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