Even the most casual of Sarah McLachlan fans knows the Canadian singer/songwriter does bittersweet, regret and wistfulness as well as any artist.
What may come as a surprise to listeners of “Laws of Illusion,” her first album of new material in seven years, is how well she does joy. On opening single, “Loving You is Easy,” an almost impossibly carefree McLachlan sings about the first giddy blushes of a new romance. There may still be a heartbreak hotel at the end of lonely street, but McLachlan has found a way out. Or as she sings on "Heartbreak": "Heartbreak, no, you can't catch me/I have on heels, but I move too fast." Stream the album here.
“Laws of Illusion” finds McLachlan again working with her longtime collaborator/producer Pierre Marchand. After almost 20 years together, the pair wisely shake things up a little on “Laws.” Instead of laboriously spending days meticulously fixating over every note, they recorded six of the 10 new songs in five days live. That process gives much of the album a fresh, raw feel.
Since 2003’s “Afterglow,” life has kicked McLachlan around a bit: now 42, she and her husband split two years ago shortly after the birth of their second daughter and the detritus of that marriage is strewn throughout “Laws.” Whether it’s the electronic, propulsive “Awakenings, in which she wonders, “how the hell did I end up like this?” or the heartbreaking “Forgiveness,” in which she is neither ready to forgive nor forget, her broken love lies bleeding throughout much of the album.
But the story doesn’t end there. “Laws” follows an arc of despair and then on hope. On the layered, sweet, guitar-driven “Illusions of Bliss,” McLachlan, tentative and a little gun shy, nevertheless dives back in to love’s waters. By the time we reach “Loving You is Easy, she’s delightfully in over her head again.
If she’s not willing to let go on “Forgiveness,” on “Rivers of Love,” she’s come to the conclusion that it all comes down to “leaving it all behind,” and how long is it before you “drown” in the river of love.
McLachlan’s marvelous voice, which shifts effortless from ethereal to weather beaten here, sounds as strong and pliant as always. Marchand’s true gift is surrounding it with the perfect instrumentation, whether it’s the guitars on “Illusions of Bliss” or the synths on the hypnotic “Love Come” or gentle drums on the shut-out-the-rest of-the world track, “Out of Tune.”
There’s a legitimate complaint to be made that two of the 12 tracks here, “Don’t Give Up on Us” and “U Want Me 2” (about the dissolution of her marriage) were already available via her greatest hits set, 2008’s “Closer.” Plus, she covers Susan Enan’s “Bring on the Wonder,” which, by now, is very familiar to McLachlan fans (although her largely a capella version is breathtaking). But those are small quibbles about an album that otherwise feels like a very welcome return from an old friend.