Music

Sarah McLachlan: Fumbling Towards Ecstacy

This Legacy Edition shines the spotlight on one of the best albums of the '90s.


Sarah McLachlan

Fumbling Towards Ecstasy

Subtitle: Legacy Edition
Label: Legacy
US Release Date: 2008-08-05
UK Release Date: 2008-08-04
Amazon
iTunes

By all rights, 1991's Solace should have broken Sarah McLachlan into the mainstream. By the time of its release, McLachlan had worked out some of the stylistic kinks of her debut, 1989's Touch, opting for a more direct sound. Solace featured McLachlan in full-bodied pop flight, although songs like "Black", with its noir-ish foghorns-in-the-night gloom, might have been too dark for some folks. Strangely enough, "Possession", the song that keyed people into 1993's Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, comes from the perspective of a stalker. "Good Enough", which was also a hit, deals with domestic abuse. So maybe subject matter wasn't as important as the way it was presented, as Fumbling Towards Ecstasy remains a truly gorgeous album.

The album's success also stems from one of McLachlan's underestimated talents: her ability to anchor her best songs with evocative lines that anyone can claim for their own purposes. For all of "Possession"'s disquieting imagery, its centerpiece lyric -- "I will be the one to hold you down / Kiss you so hard / I'll take your breath away" -- can be interpreted as a healthy statement of passion. It's certain that, in the tradition of songs like the Police's "Every Breath You Take" and R.E.M.'s "The One I Love", listeners who latched onto "Possession" did so because it felt like a positive love song. And who (apart from maybe McLachlan herself) is to say they're wrong? Even "Good Enough", with lyrics like "It wasn't the wind that cracked your shoulder and threw you to the ground", can be romantic from the viewpoint of someone wishing to come to the rescue and make things better. That kind of tension seems only natural for an album that borrows its rapturous-sounding title from a line in a Wilford Owens poem about World War I ("Quick boys, in an ecstasy of fumbling we fit the masks just in time").

Blending a little of Touch's ethereal wispiness with the earthiness and emotion that McLachlan found on Solace, Ecstasy ranges from soaring pop ("Possession") to delicate balladry ("Mary") to mournful sax-laced meditations ("Ice"). Throughout the record, McLachlan pushes her vocals into rarified territory, sometimes losing notes in brief moments that feel like the song simply can't hold her emotions. McLachlan certainly wasn't the only female songwriter pushing herself in such ways during the '90s (a decade that also saw the rise of artists such as Tori Amos, Beth Orton, Paula Cole, and a solo Natalie Merchant), but she brought everything together on Ecstasy in a way that few others could. Ecstasy is the sound of an artist's talent and vision meeting the perfect production.

McLachlan followed Ecstasy with the hugely successful Surfacing, and began a steady retreat from the spotlight due to marriage, family obligations, and philanthropy. She's released the occasional album and shown up performing a guest spot here, some soundtrack work there, but her reduced visibility has made Ecstasy something of a forgotten album -- which is strange, considering its role in helping McLachlan launch high profile ventures such as the Lilith Fair festival. Legacy's Deluxe Edition seeks to remedy this situation by providing not only Fumbling Towards Ecstasy in gorgeous packaging with pre-Raphaelite fontwork throughout the liner notes, but also by including The Freedom Sessions (expanded by one track) and the Fumbling Towards Ecstasy: Live DVD (augmented with an electronic press kit, a photo gallery, and three videos).

The Freedom Sessions, a collection of bare-bones demos and alternate tracks from the Ecstasy sessions, has always been a satisfying addendum. As for the live DVD, it too has always been a pleasant companion to the album, although it really doesn't hold many surprises, despite the high quality performance. This Deluxe Edition attempts to paint Ecstasy, The Freedom Sessions, and the live DVD as equal parts of a trilogy, but it's more accurate to say that Ecstasy is the large celestial body orbited by the other two. Also, this is material that most serious McLachlan fans already own, and it's hard to say that the new bonus material is significant enough to make very many people trade in their old copies. A quality presentation in every way -- from the packaging to the sound -- but it doesn't seem to serve McLachlan's die-hard fans (the ones most likely to spring for a release like this) very well.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Trey Anastasio sings the new "Everything's Right" with the ladies harmonizing behind him to generate both an uplifting anthem of personal empowerment and a melodic jam vehicle that brings the entire audience into a collective groove of spirit family unity.

It's All Hallows Eve in the City of Angels, and the historic Wiltern Theater is the place to be as guitarist Trey Anastasio leads his solo band into town for a celebratory performance. The show isn't drawing fans from all over the country as when Anastasio's primary band Phish played Halloween in Las Vegas last year, where the promise of a musical costume set saw the band deliver a truly transcendent performance for the ages with David Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. But this show from the Trey Anastasio Band is still the top Halloween ticket in California, drawing in fans from across the state for what remains a relatively rare visit from a musical hero whom many fans consider to possess his angelic aura.

Keep reading... Show less

"I'm proud of coming in second for my high school's alumnus of the year award to Mitt Romney. I would've liked to have beaten him, but he has lost enough for a lifetime."

So what the living heck is the gang up to now? Well, they won't tell us, but boy is it exciting.

You see, for Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott, each new phase of their career is marked by some sort of wonderful thing. Their first two albums together under the band name Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., gained a small but respectable cult following, but with 2015's self-titled re-envisioning, the guys streamlined their pop sensibilities into something that required a bigger studio budget, resulting in the biggest hit of their career with the song "Gone". They even placed in PopMatters Best Pop Album ranking for that year, which is no small feat.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image