Touch is finally released in Asia, complete with hand-drawn liner notes by the Tree Fairy of Folk Pop herself. While Sarah McLachlan has done a lot in the press lately to shed herself of this image (now we know that a: she swallows and b: she's had a dream where she was a beautiful gay man with two penises), Touch, her debut album, pretty much says that she asked for it in the beginning.
Not to say that the album isn't a musically innovative, almost daring piece of folk-pop fusion. "Vox", the song that made her an underground hit, is driven by McLachlan's highland-edge voice, 12-string guitar and some terrific live drumming that creates a fantasy of a dance track, and the remix at the end of the album "Vox (Extended Version)" is just as lively and strong.
The vital percussion drives a lot of the saccharine out of the tracks, such as in "Trust", the dramatic "Steaming" and the multi-textured instrumental track "Uphill Battle." All of the instruments seem to be played live without looping, and the final cut is something at once intimate, warm, and human.
The problem is the lyrics.
McLachlan reached a songwriting peak with Fumbling Towards Ecstacy that she both built towards and came down from. Before Fumbling Towards Ecstacy, she was singing things like "I'm lost inside this tangled web in which I lay entwined, oh why" ("Vox") or "if I cried me a river of all my confessions will I drown in my shallow regret?" ("Black"). After Fumbling Towards Ecstacy is a lot of the same self-absorbed dirge: "all I feel is black and white / and I'm wound up small and tight" ("Black & White"). But anyway, who reads the liner notes these days except picky little critics?
Much of the power of McLachlan's music, however, is the perfect way her words mesh with her songs, as if they were created at the same time. You won't find any of these songs on Touch; it's Solace where McLachlan finally begins to come to her own.
Still, the musical concepts on Touch are very interesting, and McLachlan fans won't be very disappointed with tracks such as the Enya-like voice textured title track or the sorrowful ballad "Ben's Song." I've seen copies of both Touch and Solace in Thailand, but here in Korea, Solace hasn't been released; the hint here is that for those who understand English, get Solace (or better yet, Fumbling Towards Ecstacy) where the words count. For those of us who listen to McLachlan for the music, Touch is probably the better choice.