Closer is the title of Sarah McLachlan’s new greatest hits offering. One can only wonder what it refers to. Is she closer to adult contemporary nirvana? Perhaps closer to retiring? Maybe closer to the musical well drying up? Sarah’s struggles with writer’s block are well documented, so right off the bat that makes this chronological hits compilation an interesting case study. Her early albums Touch and Solace hinted at the later genius to come — 1993’s Fumbling Towards Ecstasy proved that genius with aplomb. But from that point on it just seems the songs were never quite there.
Early singles “Vox,” “Into the Fire” and “The Path of Thorns” practically overflow with personality. They are, simply put, some of the most captivating Canadian alt-pop songs ever written. Irrefutably those early songs were nothing short of magical, especially coming along when they did — at the end of the seemingly vacuous, big-haired ’80s. During the dawn of house-based pop ditties she was a musical bridge between eras. Sarah was the voice of real, the voice of pure unabashed pop poetry. Vox indeed.
But then things kinda went strange. With Surfacing, one of the most-anticipated albums of the ’90s, she seemed to go pop, albeit in an indirect way. It can’t be denied that the adulation of the masses really does change the game. Hits like “Building a Mystery” and “Sweet Surrender” are, of course, represented on Closer and mark a turning point in this condensed discography. Critical acclaim, Lilith Fair and universal adulation led to Afterglow, which I always suspected was subconsciously so-titled in reference to the afterglow of her commercial and artistic peak. It all just became a little boring. Maybe she had nothing left to prove. Writer’s block certainly didn’t help matters. But in spite of that, Sarah filled in the gaps with respectable compilations of dance remixes, rarities and B-sides to tide over her devoted fans.
It seems odd timing for Sarah to release a greatest hits at all. This compilation would have made more sense about eight years ago. Still, this collection can’t be discounted: It contains far too many pop gems. New tracks “Don’t Give Up on Us” and “U Want Me 2” are the soundtrack to Dullsville, but it doesn’t detract from the whole. It would be really nice if Sarah branched out from only working with Pierre Marchand. I think Guy Sigsworth could do wonders for her. Time will tell.