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Music Review: Sarah McLachlan – Laws of Illusion

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It’s fitting that Sarah McLachlan’s Laws of Illusion begins with a track called “Awakenings.” The entire process of recording her seventh studio album was guided by recent life experiences, including her divorce from the former drummer in her band, so the process of waking up to new realities takes centre stage.

More than just a breakup album, Laws of Illusion is a balancing act between loving the idea of love and discovering surprising bitterness in the ashes of fallen relationships. It’s a fascinating piece of work, one that I’ve existed with for quite a while now.

Musically, Laws is a soothing, emotional, poignant record that evolves gracefully from sweeping ballads to cogent, crisp meditations on strength and carrying on. It’s an album of melodic growth somewhat, too, and that’s due in large part to the seven year gap between this release and Afterglow. There’s no question that the industry has changed considerably in that time, but there’s also no question that McLachlan is one of the finest singers in music today.

The arrangements come with that familiar sweeping sensibility, but longtime McLachlan producer Pierre Marchand layers things beautifully with just the right tweaks. Nothing is overzealous or overwrought, leading to a very satisfying folk-pop album.

McLachlan’s pristine voice remains the core of Laws of Illusion, guiding each song like an angelic presence. Her higher tones, courtesy her concise mezzo, aptly touch the edges of certain words ever so gracefully, while her deeper vocal moods add girth and cutting paradox where essential.

McLachlan isn’t content with a singular vision on Laws of Illusion and she tells tales of love in all its forms. The single “Loving You Is Easy” fits in many interpretations, including as a somewhat sarcastic love song or as a heartfelt smidgen of tender poetry. It functions as part of the whole, following up the regretful soul of “Illusions of Bliss.”

The honesty hurts on “Forgiveness,” a piano-led meditation that finds McLachlan singing “And you ask for forgiveness, you’re asking too much.” Perhaps it’s no mistake that the melody flirts with Bonnie Rait’s version of “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”

“U Want Me 2” feels a little like Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” initially before heading into a buoyant bit of balladry. “I hope there’s forgiveness in the distance between us,” McLachlan sings.

As a complete journey through McLachlan’s last three years, Laws of Illusion is a decisive, meaningful, moving, baffling chronicle. She isn’t concerned with industry trends, mercifully, and instead tells her story with beautiful candor, letting the bewilderment fall where it may and expressing her true soul with every elegant note. Complete albums like this are all too rare.

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