Sarah McLachlan’s latest disc Shine On is reportedly inspired by both the death of her father and her desire to live with more resilience going into the second half of her life. Coming as it does on the heels of the aching, heartbreak-drenched Laws of Illusion, this would lead the casual observer to think another dark, brooding affair is just around the bend.
Surprisingly, for an album inspired by loss, Shine On starts with the light-on-its-feet ballad “In Your Shoes”. Clearly, McLachlan is owning her words and welcoming the listener into a more upbeat world. The vibrant rush of feeling only starts to slow a little by the time “Monsters” offers a breather. It’s brooding, contemplative, and full of the kind of lyrical couplets that are pure Mclachlan, but at the same time are coming from that place of strength and resolve. “I should be thinking with my head / and not with my broken heart,” indeed. Where songs like “U Want Me 2” showed her at her weakest, most vulnerable, here were find the music of someone who has recovered from those wounds and is looking forward to the rest of her life. Not that Laws of Illusion wasn’t a fine work. It was, but here it’s a refreshing turnaround to hear newfound optimism, ensuring she doesn’t sink into a rut.
On this album’s centerpiece “Song for My Father”, a moving eulogy is painted with a spare, evocative backdrop. And far from being one-dimensional, it celebrates even as it mourns the loss. Halfway through the album, the theme of resilience in the face of loss and uncertainty is still holding up as strong as ever. Even on songs that by their very title suggest pain, loss, despair or any other number of upsetting emotions, “Brink of Destruction” is a plaintive, relaxing number about bouncing back from the worst moments in life.
Album closer “The Sound That Love Makes” is a sneaky number. Starting as it does so quiet and spartan, only to deftly burst into a bouncy, vibrant number out of nowhere, it’s a fine way to bring the album to a close, and shows McLachlan playing with a style she doesn’t often use. The track sounds out of time, with touches of ‘60s folk, and that ukelele giving it the feeling of a warm, pleasant night in Hawaii. Whether that images tickles your fancy or not, the warmth and uplifting feel is there nonetheless. Couldn’t ask for more, truly. And whether the move to Verve Records is really responsible for this or not, McLachlan sounds more adventurous on this disc than she has in quite a while.
Shine On is described by McLachlan as a means of finding her footing after the loss of her father’s unconditional love. Such a journey doesn’t always flow well when set to song, but McLachlan has been trafficking in this particular brand of heart-on-sleeve ethereal songcraft her entire career. In her hands, it sounds just fine, and if there aren’t as many catchy hooks to be found as on some of her previous offerings, the rewarding music to be found here is worth the listen for anyone willing to take the time to let the good feelings in.