Sarah McLachlan – Laws of Illusion

“Here I go again,” Sarah McLachlan sings in the opening lines of ‘Illusions of Bliss,’ the second track on her latest album, Laws of Illusion.

And even that early in the album, those words ring unfortunately true. She’s singing about returning to an ill-fated romance, but she may as well be referring to her increasingly tired brand of ethereal pop rock.

McLachlan seemed unstoppable after the back-to-back mid-90s smashes Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and Surfacing. Songs such as ‘Possession,’ ‘Good Enough,’ ‘Sweet Surrender’ and ‘Building a Mystery’ tapped into a seductive mid-tempo vibe that was complemented perfectly by her sweetly yearning vocals. Those albums are classics not just because of their rich sound but the solid songwriting of McLachlan and Pierre Marchand.

That streak continued for about half of 2003’s Afterglow (‘Fallen’ and ‘Train Wreck’ are favorites of mine from that album) but the rest lacked focus.

Seven years later, I had high hopes that McLachlan would get her groove back but Laws of Illusion turns out to be her weakest effort yet.

Because of her strong songwriting, McLachlan has always been able to avoid easy cliches. You know, the idea that her music is for Wiccan Lilith Fair types and the sort of people who believe Tolkein’s Middle Earth is real. Laws of Illusion‘s lack of good songs, however, leaves it wallowing in the goofiness. It sounds like she recorded these songs while riding side-saddle on a unicorn.

This is the first album McLachlan has recorded since breaking up with her husband, the sort of emotional trauma that often leads to good music. Many of these songs mine that territory but none very successfully. In fact, the best song here is the first single, ‘Loving You is Easy,’ which feels out of place among all the heartbreak tracks.

I’ll stop piling on, but suffice it to say that seven years after a half-good album, I expected more from Sarah McLachlan. It’s sad but a little bit liberating to write off an artist who once really spoke to me. I’d like to think McLachlan will surprise me someday with a return to form but I’m not holding my breath.

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