Album Review: Sarah McLachlan – “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy”

Sarah McLachlan released her third studio album, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, on October 22, 1993 in Canada. It was released in the rest of the world in early 1994. Fumbling Towards Ecstasy became her international breakthrough album; as of November 2003, the album sold 2.8 million copies in the United States.

Fumbling Towards Ecstasy opens with “Possession,” which was released as the first single from the album. The lyrics of the song are written from the point of view of an obsessed fan, and were based on letters that McLachlan had received from one. It has become one of Sarah McLachlan’s classic songs, and it’s also one of my personal favorites from her catalog. This is followed by “Wait,” which features a piano and percussion. Lyrically, the song is from the point of view of a speaker who seems to have some confusion in their life, and is considering leaving a lover behind.

Next on the album is “Plenty,” which starts out slow at the beginning, but it quickly picks up in intensity. Lyrically, the speaker is talking about someone who they’re interested in, and realizing that the person doesn’t feel the same way about them. This is followed by “Good Enough,” which was released as the third and final single from Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. This was the first song I ever heard by Sarah McLachlan, and got me interested in her material. It’s a slower song, with the speaker of the song talking about someone they have come to care about, but question why it seems like what they do is never good enough for that other person. There’s also a hint that the person the speaker is talking about has also gone through some physical abuse.

The next song is “Mary,” which has more of an electronic sound than the previous songs on the album. The song tells the story of a woman named Mary who is going through a state of confusion in her life. This is followed by “Elsewhere,” which features a piano and Sarah’s vocals. Lyrically, the speaker is someone who is very much in love.

Next is “Circle,” which picks the tempo of the album back up. The lyrics of the song are about a couple in a relationship, with the person who isn’t the speaker wanting to leave the relationship; however, the speaker is trying to cling on and doesn’t want to let go. “Ice” features an acoustic guitar and percussion, and really slows the tempo of the album back down. The lyrics of the song talk about a relationship where the speaker has been lied to, yet the speaker stays in the relationship; and the speaker even admits at the end of the song that they are a fool for doing so.

“Hold On” was released as the second single from Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. Musically, is a more midtempo song than “Ice.” Lyrically, the song is about holding on, even when things in your life and in your relationships may look bleak. This is followed by “Ice Cream,” which has a jazz feel to it with the piano and the percussion. It’s the shortest song on the album, and it’s a song where the speaker is telling the person they’re in a relationship with just how much they are in love with them. This is one of my favorite songs on Fumbling Towards Ecstasy.

The next song is “Fear.” It’s another downtempo song, and this one is about being in a relationship, but having fears and doubts concerning that relationship. The song builds in intensity as it goes along. The last listed song on Fumbling Towards Ecstasy is the title song. It ends the album on a downtempo note, and it’s about someone moving past the fear of a relationship, and thinking they’re ready to move things to the next level. The album closes with a hidden track, which is a solo piano version of “Possession.” This is a really nice acoustic version of the song; the song works just as well in this stripped down version as it does in the full recording heard at the beginning of the album.

Overall, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy is a very strong album, and it is definitely more commercial leaning than her previous albums had been. After hearing this album, it’s really no surprise that a few years later, the Surfacing album would be written and produced in the way that it was.


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