In listening to the Bloom Remix Album, the second venture into compiling a full-length Sarah McLachlan release with the remixes that normally adorn her singles, a few things occur to me:
Sarah McLachlan’s voice has become stronger over the years. In her early days, McLachlan was confined to the playlists of those who would appreciate a female artiste, someone uncompromising and fearless, someone entrenched deeply in “alternative” culture. “Vox”, the only track here from McLachlan’s debut album Touch, displays a voice far different than that of the rest of the album. The release of Fumbling Toward Ecstasy marked a turning point for Ms. McLachlan’s voice, as she injected it with sensuality and sensitivity, a sound that she has developed to the point of constant lullaby on the songs from her most recent proper album, Afterglow. Listening to that evolution on Bloom, the sentiment that “Vox” was carelessly tossed in here as a token early track for the diehard fans would be a difficult one to avoid, if not for one thing:
Sarah McLachlan’s songwriting has become weaker over the years. Don’t get me wrong—I loved Surfacing as much as any soccer mom, and I think it’s a lovely, well-produced album. The thing is, in listening to “Vox” and the remixes from Fumbling Towards Ecstacy and comparing them to the Afterglow tracks, there’s a disconnect where metaphor is replaced by cliché, inventive melody replaced by schlock. It’s still some of the prettiest, heartstring-tugging schlock around, but it’s schlock nonetheless. But then, this isn’t just a Sarah McLachlan album, it’s a Sarah McLachlan Remix album, the point of which is to take the emphasis off of artistry, and put it on adrenaline. Of course, this exposes the fact that
It’s difficult to dance when Sarah McLachlan is singing. There are plenty of proper dance tracks on Bloom, including a well-produced take on “World on Fire” and a version of “Stupid” that actually dirties up the original a little bit, with more minor keys and an emphasis on the distorted guitars that made the original somewhat listenable. Still, McLachlan’s voice is so soothing as to beg examination, even when there are beats crashing and synths squelching behind her. It’s tough to want to dance when the vocalist is so busy soothing and caressing. So it holds to reason that
The chill-out tracks on Bloom are lovely. The “Dusted Mix” of Fumbling Towards Ecstacy‘s “Ice” is exquisite, and the downtempo masters in Thievery Corporation turn Afterglow‘s closing track “Dirty Little Secret” into a shimmering trip-hop tune. Talvin Singh does a solid job with “Answer”, adding his trademark brand of Eastern charm while almost totally eschewing beats completely. They’re all lovely pieces that wisely avoid drawing attention from McLachlan’s voice, a pitfall that one particular track on Bloom can’t help but fall into, helping to prove one of the fallacies of the modern-day remix album:
If a song on a remix album only features the artist on the album credit, it’s bound to sound out of place. The inclusion of the “will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas Mix” of a DMC (yes, that DMC) song, where McLachlan’s only purpose is to sing the chorus of Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” feels like a cheap attempt at appealing to a hip-hop demographic by previewing a track from DMC’s forthcoming album, not to mention a way to boost the list of artists contributing to the album. DMC, for his part, sounds fine (if a little stilted), but in this selection of songs, his presence is jarring and unnecessary. Couldn’t we have fit another remix of a track from Touch or Solace in here?
Ultimately, all of the above adds up to an album that is, y’know, kind of nice. Sarah McLachlan fans, particularly those partial to Afterglow (which, admittedly, isn’t all that many), are likely to enjoy hearing their favorite songs in a new light, much as they did two years ago when Arista released the first Sarah McLachlan remix album. Everyone else will be left wondering why Bloom even exists in the first place.