Song of the Day #1,368: ‘Circle’ – Sarah McLachlan

Best Albums of the 90s – #8
Fumbling Towards Ecstasy – Sarah McLachlan (1994)

I’m contemplating a theory that excellent albums within a genre I don’t normally like receive an extra boost due to the odds they’ve overcome.

Last week’s example was Garbage’s Version 2.0. That album, and the band in general, features a heavy, borderline electronica sound that generally turns me off. But their particular execution of it works like gangbusters. I believe if I were a techno fan, that album might strike me as very good but not worlds better than my other favorite albums in the genre.

On the flip side, as a fan of singer-songwriter types and power pop, it takes something very special to break through the mountains of really good albums I own in those genres.

Country is another example. I’m not a fan of the genre in general, but the artists who have broken through (Brad Paisley and Miranda Lambert, Lyle Lovett to the extent that he is a country artist) have emerged as definite favorites.

I believe that theory accounts for my enduring love of Sarah McLachlan’s Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, a goth princess’s Lilith Fair dream of a record. I don’t go for the ethereal wispy-ness of this sort of music most of the time — it makes my eyes roll far more than it makes my toes tap. But Fumbling Towards Ecstasy is just about perfect.

McLachlan kept up that momentum for one more album, 1997’s Surfacing, before settling back into the worst habits of her genre. But Fumbling remains her masterpiece. Sexy, sad and at times emotionally wrenching, this record is a true journey. McLachlan spins tales of an obsessed fan, a battered wife, a woman losing her husband to disease and some lucky guy whose love is better than ice cream.

It all has the richly produced sound of something that Lord of the Ring‘s Arwen would have on her iPod. This is the sort of music you listen to while riding a unicorn. But this album gets it exactly right.

There are two of us talking in circles
And one of us who wants to leave
In a world created for only us
An empty cage that has no key

Don’t you know we’re working with flesh and blood
Carving out of jealousy
Crawling into each other it’s smothering
Every little part of me

What kind of love is this that keeps me
Hanging on
Despite everything it’s doing to me
What is this love that keeps me coming
Back for more
When it will only end in misery

I know too many people unhappy
In a life from which they’d love to flee
Watching others get everything offered
They’re wanton for discovery

Oh my brother my sister my mother
You’re losing your identity
Can’t you see that it’s you in the window
Shining with intensity

What kind of love is this that keeps me
Hanging on
Despite everything it’s doing to me
What is this love that keeps me coming
Back for more
When it will only end in misery

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One thought on “Song of the Day #1,368: ‘Circle’ – Sarah McLachlan

  1. Dana says:

    I have always thought of McLachlan as falling into the realm of the singer-songwriter genre, so I’m not sure I agree with your classification of her style or your explanation as to why you appreciate this album as some kind of exception. Admittedly, the production of her songs skews more into the pop arena, rather than the more folk or acoustic sounds of the Indigo Girls, Tracy Chapman, etc…

    Anyway, I generally like the few songs I have heard from McLachlan, including this one, but I have never really taken the time to hear this album in its entirety or any of her other albums for that matter.

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