Six years is a long time between studio albums — but sometimes life gets in the way. Canadian pop powerhouse Sarah McLachlan actually spent about 2-1/2 years working on her latest disc, “Afterglow,” the follow-up to her 1997 breakthrough album, “Surfacing.” But its release — it arrives Nov. 4 on Arista — was sidetracked while the artist dealt with the death of her mother and birth of her first child.
DESPITE THIS interval, McLachlan’s ethereal voice and haunting lyrics have already been warmly ushered onto the airwaves. First single “Fallen” debuted at No. 1 on the Hot Digital Tracks chart, and on Adult Top 40 it is No. 10 this issue.
“A lot of different kinds of music have dominated the airwaves for so long that hopefully now there is a place for me,” McLachlan says.
“I felt like the day Lilith Fair ended, the door slammed shut and all of a sudden there were Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake and angry white male bands,” she recalls. “I thought, ‘I’m glad I’m taking a hiatus here. There’s no place for my music at all.”’
Lilith Fair, the heralded female singer/songwriter-driven concert series founded by McLachlan and her manager Terry McBride (CEO of Vancouver-based Nettwerk Music Group), launched in 1997 and ran successfully for three years. Participating acts included Jewel, Indigo Girls, Sheryl Crow, Natalie Merchant, Erykah Badu and Dixie Chicks.
But with the early success of “Fallen,” the door seems to be opening again.
“For artists who show true artistic talent, the climate couldn’t be better,” Arista president/CEO Antonio “L.A.” Reid says.
“The climate is bad for predictability. The climate is bad for disposable hits. The climate is amazing for singer/songwriters who are doing compelling records,” he observes. “We have huge expectations for ‘Afterglow.”’
Anchored by “Fallen,” a strings- and piano-laden song about making and recovering from mistakes in life and love, “Afterglow” contains numerous single-worthy tracks and remarkable musical and lyrical moments.
“Answer” is a song about finding the love of your life, which is reminiscent of the bare “I Love You” from “Surfacing.” It focuses on McLachlan’s soothing voice.
“Push” delves into the give-and-take between two people do in a relationship and features a melodic, calming accompaniment. Airy background vocals form the backdrop to “Time,” a track about the confusion of love.
Strings and percussion clash in “Stupid.” The song focuses on a relationship gone bad through the catchy lyric: “How stupid could I be/a simpleton could see/that you’re not good for me/but you’re the only one I see.”
Another standout track is “World On Fire,” about living in today’s confusing world.
“If there is any one song that is about my daughter or issues at hand, it is certainly that,” says McLachlan.
“That song was about, ‘What is this world we are bringing our children into?’ People are flying planes into the World Trade Center, and they are blowing up buildings everywhere.
“It is all the small things that make the world go round. Smiling at the little old woman or helping her across the street or teaching your children the right things in life and to understand compassion and empathy for other people.”
McLachlan adds that outside of that track, the album really does not touch on her mother’s death or the birth of her daughter, India.
“It takes me a long time to process information and experiences and be able to look back on them objectively,” she says. “That’s why I couldn’t write about India or my mother now. It’s too close still.”
What she was able to share, she explains, was “human relationships and what they do to people. That’s a topic that I keep going back to. They do some pretty messed-up stuff and they do some pretty incredible things, too. They’re a constant source of inspiration that we can all relate to.”
She adds that the record might sound best when “played very loud, very late after drinking too much red wine.”
Such songs about love and relationships have been successful for McLachlan, a three-time Grammy Award winner.
“Surfacing” peaked at No. 2 on The Billboard 200 and has sold 5.4 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It spawned the hit singles “Adia” (which reached No. 3 on The Billboard Hot 100), “Angel” (which peaked at No. 4), “Building a Mystery” and “Sweet Surrender.”
The 1999 live album “Mirrorball” reached No. 3 on The Billboard 200 and sold 2.9 million copies. It featured the hit “I Will Remember You.”
McLachlan has already embarked on a three-month promotional blitz to reach established and new fans.
She has been performing and doing interviews at major radio stations across the country and will appear on 12 TV programs throughout November. They include talk shows hosted by David Letterman, Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres, “Today” and “Live With Regis and Kelly.”
McLachlan will tour in support of the album next year, first going to Europe, Australia and Japan and then focusing on North America in the summer.
Retailers anticipate strong sales throughout the holiday season. Virgin Megastore senior VP of product and marketing Dave Alder predicts that his customers will respond “very warmly” to “Afterglow.”
“I think a good indicator is to compare her to the Dido album, which has done very well off the back of strong radio play,” he says.
“Both of these releases are definitely pieces of quality work and have a wide appeal in demographic and reach,” Alder continues. “‘Fallen’ has helped Sarah reach new listeners that probably weren’t aware of her last releases or were too young at the time.”
McLachlan hopes people will enjoy the record, though she waves off potential criticism.
“My guideline for success — and this is really, truthfully honest — is whether I am really proud of this record. If I am proud of the record, which I am, then I let it go,” she says. “If other people like it, then that’s a big old bonus for me.”© 2003 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters.