Sarah McLachlan sings like an angel and writes like a wretch. In a voice both shimmering and omniscient, she expresses a ruinous enslavement to love.

”I’m shaken by the violence of existing for only you,” she pants in ”Do What You Have to Do.” In ”Sweet Surrender,” she mewls, ”I only hope that I don’t disappoint you/When I’m down here on my knees.”

Can a soul so enfeebled possibly be the same brain trust who cooked up one of the most successful feminist events of all time, this summer’s Lilith tour? So much for that old connection between art and life.

Regardless, on Surfacing, McLachlan’s fourth studio album and her first since 1994’s double platinum Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, she continues to make beautiful music out of terrible experiences. Lyrically, McLachlan’s work can tend toward the shallow and purple. (One number kicks off with the line ”What ravages of spirit conjured this tempestuous rage.”) But McLachlan’s voice, melodies, and even her approach to sound give her extreme stance credibility. Her best tunes recall the sinewy clarity of early Joni Mitchell, while her production (courtesy of longtime collaborator Pierre Marchand) adds an earthy ambiance worthy of Marchand’s esteemed mentor Daniel Lanois. Never have McLachlan’s recordings sounded so dense and alive. Yet the album’s centerpiece remains the star’s voice — an instrument rich and knowing enough to redeem even the poor souls her lyrics embrace. B

  • Music