Album Review: Sarah McLachlan – “Surfacing”

Sarah McLachlan released her fourth album, Surfacing, on July 15, 1997. The album charted at number one on the Canadian RPM 100 Albums chart and at number two on the Billboard 200 chart. The album also won four Juno Awards and two Grammy Awards. Surfacing has become Sarah McLachlan’s most commercially successful album.


Surfacing opens with “Building a Mystery,” which was released as the leaf-off single for the album. Sarah has explained that lyrically, the song is about the fact that people have insecurities to hide and they’re usually hidden by wearing a facade. This song won a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 1998 Grammy Awards. Personally, this is my favorite song on Surfacing.

Next on the album is “I Love You,” which gained some notoriety during the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal. Musically, it’s a very laid back and mellow piece. Lyrically, it’s a rather straightforward song about being in love with someone. This is followed by “Sweet Surrender,” which was released as the second single from Surfacing. Musically, it picks the tempo of the album back up. In some respects, it also has a kind of ethereal sound to it. “Sweet Surrender” was also featured in the Daryl Hannah film, Wildflowers.

The next song on Surfacing is “Adia,” which was released as the third single from the album. Supposedly, the lyrics reflect an apology Sarah made to her best friend for dating and marrying her friend’s ex-boyfriend. Musically, it’s a rather simple piece with a heavy emphasis on piano. There is also some percussion on the song as well. Personally, I think this simple sound works with the lyrics of the song. “Adia” is another song I really enjoy on Surfacing.

“Do What You Have to Do” is another song with a rather simple arrangement. This one also has a focus on the piano, but strings can also be heard in the background. Lyrically, the song seems to have the speaker in love with someone rather deeply; it appears that the person they love may not necessarily love them back. This is followed by “Witness,” which is another slower song, but it features a more “electronic” sound instead of a piano. This has an even more “ethereal” sound than “Sweet Surrender” does.

Next on Surfacing is “Angel,” which was released as the fourth single from the album; it was also included on the soundtrack for City of Angels. “Angel” was the first song Sarah wrote for the album, and she has said she wrote it about Jonathan Melvoin, the touring keyboardist for the Smashing Pumpkins who died of a heroin overdose in 1996. “Angel” has a very simple arrangement musically, which a major emphasis on the piano. Personally, I think this simple arrangement is perfect for what this song is about, and I also think the song is also very inspirational. This is followed by “Black & White,” which is a midtempo song that picks the pace of the album back up a little bit.

“Full of Grace” first appeared on the Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff collection. It’s another slower song, with an emphasis on piano and strings. Lyrically, the speaker of the song isn’t in the best of places in their life, but they want to get out of the place where they are. The closing song on Surfacing is “Last Dance,” which is an instrumental that’s about two-and-a-half minutes long. This instrumental features keyboard and strings, and it’s a perfect song to close an album with.

Surfacing is an album that flows together very well, and in my opinion, it’s a rather strong album. It’s one of Sarah McLachlan’s best albums, and for me, it’s just as strong as Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. If you enjoy female singer-songwriters, then I think you will enjoy listening to Surfacing.

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