Some things about Sarah McLachlan have remained constant since the early days of her career. Pierre Marchand has singularly produced all of her albums except her first. She’s rarely written with co-writers other than Marchand, and she’s practically been the face of Vancouver label Nettwerk since both of their beginnings.
On Shine On, her 8th studio album, none of these remain true.
While Pierre Marchand remains on board as her producer, Bob Rock steps in for three tracks, and Sarah herself takes over for another three.
Most of the songs have co-writers beyond Marchand, including country songwriter Hillary Lindsey, Don Felder and Luke Doucet, among others.
And finally, Shine On is Sarah’s first album to be released outside of Nettwerk. She split, amicably, from her longtime label several years back and now calls jazz label Verve home.
How are these changes reflected in her sound? There isn’t really much difference on the surface. She remains within the parametres of what one would expect from her.
The one downside of her last record Laws Of Illusion was that there was no element of surprise. There was little that made it unique. Shine On does offer some surprise even if just taking into account the album’s variation. Opener and first single In Your Shoes has a very standard Sarah melody that wouldn’t have been out of place on any of her last three albums.
Beyond that, she ventures across other genres in what might be her most versatile album. Broken Heart starts out not unlike Angel but with the addition of a slide guitar, it would make a suitable country tune.
Surrender and Certainty, one of the album’s highlights, has a jazzy feel to it as one of the strongest ballads Sarah has recorded in quite some time.
And for an album written predominately following the passing of her father, that’s saying something. The next track, Song For My Father, is a heartfelt folky acoustic number dedicated to him where she sings “your light buried the dark/a constant unwavering heart.”
It comes at a moment of realization that this is a side she hasn’t explored much but sounds great doing.
Both Love Beside Me and Brink Of Destruction evoke her earlier years, where the former is the edgiest Sarah has sounded since Surfacing and is her best bet at a radio hit, while the latter is most reminiscent of her Fumbling Toward Ecstasy days.
Another contrast to past recordings like Fallen or U Want Me 2 is Sarah’s lack of expressed vulnerability. While she is experiencing changes, she is showing acceptance and strength. She acknowledges that she “should be thinking with my head and not with my broken heart.”
With Monsters, she takes it one step further and acknowledges that she needs these experiences in order to learn from them. Situations of being used or mistreated. “Think what your life would be missing if you didn’t have him to sing/to sing about.”
Shine On is unlikely to win over anybody new for Sarah, who has likely reached that point in her career where her new music is unlikely to get noticed beyond her core base, but she still has songs of worth and has written some of her best work for this album. It’s not groundbreaking, even for her, but it’s more than enough to show that she hasn’t lost what made her one of Canada’s premier singer/songwriters.
1. In Your Shoes
2. Flesh and Blood
4. Broken Heart
5. Surrender and Certainty
6. Song For My Father
7. Turn the Lights Down Low
8. Love Beside Me
9. Brink of Destruction
10. Beautiful Girl
11. The Sound That Love Makes
12. What’s It Gonna Take*
13. Little B*