Birth, death, tragedy and joy; the six years since the release of Sarah McLachlan's last studio album Surfacing have been both defining and redefining, not just in the world's recent history but also in Sarah's own life.
As a result, Afterglow is a record of many layers. At first glance, the warmth of production, the purity of her voice and the beautiful harmonies all serve as a reminder of the reasons that McLachlan has gained worldwide acclaim for her talents. As the disc unfolds, however, it becomes clear that this record is a merging of two elements: the wonderfully familiar and the new.
The most familiar aspect is unquestionably the richness in Sarah's music. Afterglow contains many moments that evoke reminders of the singer's unique musical gifts. From the reflective first single, "Fallen", to the love-inspired lyrics of "Push", to the gorgeous, whispered tones of "Answer", there are many melodies on Afterglow that showcase her strengths.
Some of Sarah's favored moments seem destined to be beloved by fans as well. "'Answer' is one of my favorites", she admits, smiling broadly. "It's a total 'two o'clock in the morning, whispered in your ears' headphone track. That's always been my thing, feeling the very essence of a song. I have to be able to break it down and still feel its strength acoustically on piano or guitar. If the essence is strong, you can do whatever you want with it, it'll still be good. "
I own my insecurities I try to own my destiny That I can make or break it if I choose - "Perfect Girl"
While the familiar is most charming, equally endearing is the newness found within Afterglow's grooves. Ironically, one of the biggest changes in Sarah's music is also perhaps the least noticeable to the listener's ear: her songwriting process. "I used to go live in a cabin in the woods for eight months and write and write and write. Now, spending time with India [Sarah's young daughter] means that I have two hours in the day where I'm not focused on her, yet even then my focus is continually being brought back to her. All of my old tricks didn't apply anymore in songwriting, and I really had to find that new way."
In exploring that process, Sarah discovered another benchmark; for the first time in her career, not one song on Afterglow was written on guitar. Instead, all were created on piano. Every one of the tracks were written in the last 2 1/2 years and all were recorded either at producer Pierre Marchand's home studio in Montreal or at McLachlan's own home studio in Vancouver. For courage to pull away there will be hell to pay the deeper you cut to the bone - "Time"
Anyone who is familiar with Sarah McLachlan's recent history might well expect that the songs on this record would be entirely about love and loss. Since 1997's Surfacing, Sarah lost her mother to cancer and had a baby. "To me," she admits, "Afterglow is a perfect metaphor for that reason. Such a huge transition...first, losing my mother, then five months later giving birth to India. It's still all a blur to me -- it has less to do with the album tracks and more to do with my recent state of mind. I'm sure in five or six years there's going to be a record about all of this, but it's too close right now."
Even during McLachlan's 'down time', her philanthropy never lulled. She has continued to impact the lives of others. September 2003 marked the third year that Sarah has funded the Sarah McLachlan Music Outreach Program, which provides free music education classes to inner city youths whose school music programs have been affected by budget cuts. "As a kid," she recalls, "music saved my life; having that one thing that I knew I was good at made all the difference. A lot of these kids might have that, but there's no outlet. It feels so good to be able to see their lives impacted, and I'm the first one at the recitals giving them a standing ovation. There's hardly any joy comparable."
Back to the project at hand, Afterglow is a record of cumulative life experiences: a collection of beautiful melodies, lush instrumentation, occasionally surprising lyrics, and a musical whole that is yet another reminder of just how talented this artist is.
"When anyone asks 'Why did it take so long in between records?'" Sarah explains, unhesitatingly, "The answer is that I was just living my life. I lost a mother and I became a mother. Almost a year after having India, I walked away from music for a few months. I didn't play my piano, I didn't open up my journals, I just really needed to let go of all the pressures and the expectations of 'it's been so long...gotta get this record out' stuff. I felt paralyzed. Taking a break and walking away was the best thing I could have done. I came back to it with fresh ears, listened to the tracks, and I realized that it was all sounding really good and to finish it didn't seem impossible anymore. That's my truth. It's honest, and it brought me to a much happier place. I'm loving music again."