Talking Shit

There's More to Sarah McLachlan Than Sad Puppies

You're home on a Wednesday at midnight watching the same Seinfeld episode for the fiftieth time (not that there's anything wrong with that). You get up, take a piss, and come back to a familiar voice singing those haunting words: "In the arms of the angel…" On the screen, there's a puppy with one eye rotted out, a kitten that looks like it's been fed a steady diet of dirt and sadness for all ten days of its life. You fumble around looking for the remote as one helpless tear slides its way down your cheek. 

In high school, I thought I was too "cool" to enjoy music made by someone as corny as Sarah McLachlan, the singer of that now tainted and tragic tune, "Angel." But once I hit college, her songs made me cry. Not because of dying dogs, but because they were so damned good.

I don't know what happened to me, but that summer before my freshman year, I finally let myself enjoy music I was once embarrassed by. I learned to love old school Miami bass, Brian McKnight's dramatic R&B, and definitely making out to "Crash." Yes, you heard me, Dave Matthews. This was 1997, so that's what people in college listened to — like everyone in college, no matter what they tell you. We were all — liking it or not — "Under the Table and Dreaming" (and some of us were literally, wearing a prom dress, stoned under a table after a frat mixer).

I enjoyed my time listening to jungle and drum 'n' bass on South Beach, I saw Roni Size perform at Cameo at a '90s Winter Music Conference party. I played my Black Star tape thin. But I also embraced uncool music. And I fucking loved it. 
Since, I've gotten hooked on plenty of other sappy crap that 12-year old me would bitch slap adult me for singing along to. And to that little girl her with her too-short hair and pair of Chucks, I say, "lighten up."
It's weird how some musicians can, after many years forgotten, return to both your emotional and literal playlist. 

Let's start and stop with Sarah McLachlan. She's been touring the US lately and thus, is back in our universal (un)consciousnesses. In 1997, she released Surfacing. This was the first of her albums that I listened to regularly. It won two Grammys the following year for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Instrumental Performance. Who knows what those categories mean. The point is, people liked it. It sold 16 million copies worldwide. And if you can listen to "Sweet Surrender" without crying, then God help your children.
I can seriously hear that song on repeat again, 18 years later, and enjoy almost everything about it, the structure, the lyrics, her voice.

Maybe it's the whole normcore thing making nostalgia cool again, or the fact that everyone that's 24 looks like they got trapped in my middle school closet and decided high-waisted pleated pants and a crop top my mom got at Ross are a good idea.

Millennials are like perpetually locked in that time between high school and college. They're idealistic, intense, they have feelings. Gen X slackers were and had all those things, we just reacted to them very differently — we weren't as driven, but just as judgmental.

And though I try to blame the kid in the Nike sweatshirt and greasy hair, what if (gasp) the song is actually really good.

But that doesn't explain why I wasn't drawn to it for almost two decades. Why does music sound good some years and then not others? Maybe it's the sincerity of millennials and the rise of emotionally heavy music again that leads me back to a wailing Sarah McLachlan. Perhaps, as I grow and change as a person, so to do my tastes. 

Before Surfacing came out though, there was Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. And when I sit down now and listen to three songs off that album, "Possession," "Fear," and "Ice Cream" and ignore the rest, I realize that this is timeless and delicious pop music. And that maybe Sarah McLachlan was never bad at all, maybe it was just my taste that was tainted.

Two last points. Remember how she launched Lilith Fair? OK, yeah. I went one year. And not the good year or whatever, but I saw her on the piano at Coral Sky Amphitheatre. I bought a homemade hemp bracelet while the Indigo Girls performed. What's less hip than that? Not much. But it's so very "now." Lilith Fair reflected and brought to life those aforementioned ideals. It did something — which is more millennial than slacker. It allowed music to be larger than just sounds. All those emotions made a difference in the world, she sang for change, and that's cool again in a way. Caring is cool.    

The singer put out her first album in forever last year called Shine On. For now though, I'm choosing to just rediscover that old McLachlan feeling.

Sarah McLachlan

8 p.m. Saturday, March 28, at Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Admission costs $45 to $150 plus fees. Call 954-462-0222, or visit

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Liz has her master’s degree in religion from Florida State University. She has since written for publications and outlets such as Miami New Times, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Ocean Drive, the Huffington Post, NBC Miami, Time Out Miami, Insomniac, the Daily Dot, and the Atlantic. Liz spent three years as New Times Broward-Palm Beach’s music editor, was the weekend news editor at Inverse, and is currently the managing editor at Tom Tom Magazine.
Contact: Liz Tracy