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Surfacing (album)

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Studio album by Sarah McLachlan
Released July 15, 1997
Studio Wild Sky Studios
Genre Pop
Length 41:14
Label Nettwerk (Canada)
Arista (US)
Producer Pierre Marchand
Sarah McLachlan chronology
Fumbling Towards Ecstasy
Singles from Surfacing
  1. "Building a Mystery"
    Released: August 19, 1997
  2. "Sweet Surrender"
    Released: March 10, 1998
  3. "Adia"
    Released: May 4, 1998
  4. "Angel"
    Released: November 24, 1998
  5. "I Love You"
    Released: 2000

Surfacing is the fourth studio album by Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan. Released in 1997, it was produced by McLachlan's frequent collaborator, Pierre Marchand. McLachlan set about writing Surfacing in 1996, after two and a half years touring for her previous album, 1994's Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. Mentally exhausted, she found it difficult to concentrate on her new album and took six months off in Vancouver. After that she completed the ten songs for the album and went to Marchand's Quebec studio to record.

Surfacing was released in July 1997, coinciding with the start of McLachlan's Lilith Fair tour. The album was a commercial success worldwide, reached the top position on the Canadian RPM 100 Albums chart and number two on the US Billboard 200. Critical reviews were mixed; some of the more positive reviews praised the songwriting, while the album's detractors criticized it as banal and slow. The album spawned two Billboard Hot 100 top-five hits, "Adia" and "Angel", the top-15 hit "Building a Mystery", and the top-30 hit "Sweet Surrender". A radio-only song, "I Love You", was released in 2000.

The album won four Juno Awards including for Album of the Year. "Building a Mystery" was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, while the instrumental-only song "Last Dance" won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.


Following the 1993 release of her third album, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, McLachlan spent two and a half years touring.[1] This long period on the road finished in January 1996; she was due to begin work on her fourth album in April of that year, but was mentally exhausted. She later said "When I got off the road, I thought Fumbling was my swan song, [and] I'd never make another record ever again. I couldn't imagine writing another song in my life. I had a huge psychological block for a long time."[1] She spent time working in the studio in Quebec but struggled to produce anything for her new album. At her manager's suggestion, she returned home to Vancouver and took six months off.[1] She said that after this break—and some time spent in therapy—she began to feel more in control of her creativity and started writing material for the album.[1]

One of the first songs written for the album was "Angel". McLachlan said that writing the song was easy, "a real joyous occasion."[1] It was inspired by articles that she read in Rolling Stone about musicians who turned to heroin to cope with the pressures of the music industry and subsequently overdosed.[1][2] She said that she identified with the feelings that might lead someone to use heroin: "I've been in that place where you're so fucked up and you're so lost that you don't know who you are anymore, and you're miserable—and here's this escape route. I've never done heroin, but I've done plenty of other things to escape."[1] She said that the song is about "trying not to take responsibility for other people's shit and trying to love yourself at the same time."[2] Another song that she found easy to write was "Building a Mystery", co-written with her regular collaborator, Canadian musician and producer Pierre Marchand. Marchand heard her playing a guitar riff and suggested adding some lyrics that he had already written. They came up with the rest of the lyrics together, according to McLachlan, "pretty darn quickly."[1] When the album was finished, McLachlan commented, "I was so happy when I could let it go. I didn't give it another thought when it was done."[3]

Recording and release[edit]

Like most of McLachlan's albums, Surfacing was recorded at Marchand's Wild Sky Studios in Morin-Heights, Quebec.[4] Marchand, who produced, engineered and mixed the album, recorded it on an Otari RADAR recorder and a Neumann 149 microphone.[4] McLachlan played piano, acoustic guitar and electric guitar and Marchand played keyboards, bass and a drum machine as well as providing background vocals. The other musicians on the album were Jim Creeggan on upright bass, Yves Desrosiers on guitar, musical saw, lap steel guitar and slide bass, Brian Minato on bass and electric guitar, Michel Pepin on electric guitar and Ashwin Sood (whom McLachlan married in 1997) on percussion and drums.[5]

The album was released on July 15, 1997, on Nettwerk and Arista Records, reaching No. 1 on the Canadian RPM 100 Albums chart and No. 2 on the US Billboard 200.[6][7] The release of the album coincided with the inaugural tour of McLachlan's Lilith Fair in mid-1997.[8] The first single from the album was "Building a Mystery", released on August 19; it reached No. 1 on the Canadian singles chart and No. 13 on the US Billboard Hot 100. "Sweet Surrender" was released March 10, 1998, and reached No. 2 on the Canadian chart and No. 28 on the Hot 100. The third single released from the album was "Adia" on May 4. It peaked at No. 3 on both the Canadian singles chart and the Billboard Hot 100. "Angel" followed on November 24, reaching No. 9 in Canada, and No. 4 on the Hot 100.[9][10] "I Love You" charted at No. 23 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs in April 2000.[11]



Writing for The New York Times, Sia Michel called the album "lushly atmospheric" but also ambivalent. She said that while the album paints a "vivid emotional landscape", it is at odds with McLachlan's statement that the album was about "'facing ugly things' about herself"; not revealing anything particularly dark. Michel also noted certain old-fashioned ideas in the album, particularly in "Sweet Surrender", that contrast with the work of contemporaries such as Ani Difranco and PJ Harvey. She cited "Witness" as the highlight and said of the album, "[p]erhaps she hasn't found what she's looking for, but at least she's trying."[8] Elysa Gardner of Los Angeles Times gave the album two-and-a-half stars out of four and said it "Showcases her considerable strengths--a shimmering soprano voice and a knack for intelligent, emotionally forthright lyrics but also suffers from a lack of compelling craftsmanship and textural daring."[12]

Music critic Robert Christgau gave the album a mixed review, with a C- rating. He said that although he had stayed away from McLachlan's music in the past, "between her Lilith Fair counterpalooza and 'Building a Mystery' bonanza, [he] had to dive in, and got less than [he'd] bargained for." He criticized McLachlan's "monumental banality" and summed the album up as "renormalized pop at its most unnecessary."[13] A reviewer for Rolling Stone criticized the album's slow tempo, commenting that "if you want a piece of her nirvana, you have to go along at her protracted, glacial pace." They said that McLachlan is too "rigid in her introspection" and that they would like to hear her "work up a good head of steam".[14]

AllMusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine gave the album three stars out of five and compared it unfavorably to McLachlan's previous album Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. He said that some of the songs were good, and praised "Building a Mystery" in particular, but said that the album offered nothing new. He also noted that the timing of the release, coinciding with the launch of Lilith Fair and the publicity that McLachlan received from that, helped sales of the album.[15] Jom, a staff reviewer for Sputnikmusic, gave the album a positive review, calling it "one of [McLachlan's] best albums" and praising her "tremendous growth as a songwriter and a musician".[16] In interviews, American hip hop artist Darryl McDaniels of Run-D.M.C. has said that hearing "Angel" on the radio, and subsequently listening to more of McLachlan's music, helped him though a period of depression.[17]

Starr report[edit]

The album was mentioned in the Starr Report, the late-1990s account of Independent Counsel Ken Starr's investigation of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.[18][19][20] After a visit to the White House in November 1997, Lewinsky wrote that she "noticed you (President Clinton) had the new Sarah McLachlan CD" and that "whenever I listen to song #5 (Do What You Have to Do) I think of you.".[19][21] McLachlan's representatives had no comment on the matter.[18]


At the Juno Awards of 1998, McLachlan won four awards: Best Female Vocalist, Songwriter of the Year (with Pierre Marchand, for "Building a Mystery"), Best Album (for Surfacing) and Single of the Year (for "Building a Mystery").[22] The following year, she did not win any awards, but was nominated for Single of the Year (for "Adia") and Best Video (for "Sweet Surrender").

At the 40th Grammy Awards in 1998, McLachlan was nominated for three awards; she won the awards for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (for "Building a Mystery") and Best Pop Instrumental Performance (for "Last Dance").[23] In 1999, she received one more nomination for the album, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (for "Adia"); she lost to Celine Dion.

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Building a Mystery"   Sarah McLachlan, Pierre Marchand 4:07
2. "I Love You"   McLachlan 4:44
3. "Sweet Surrender"   McLachlan 4:00
4. "Adia"   McLachlan, Marchand 4:05
5. "Do What You Have to Do"   McLachlan, Colleen Wolstenholme 3:47
6. "Witness"   McLachlan, Marchand 4:47
7. "Angel"   McLachlan 4:30
8. "Black & White"   McLachlan 5:02
9. "Full of Grace"   McLachlan 3:41
10. "Last Dance"   McLachlan 2:33


  • Jim Creeggan — upright bass
  • Yves Desrosiers — electric guitars, lapsteel, slide bass, saw
  • Pierre Marchand — bass, drum machine, background vocals, keyboards
  • Sarah McLachlan — vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, piano
  • Brian Minato — bass, electric guitar
  • Michel Pepin — electric guitars
  • Ashwin Sood — drums, percussion, piano, background vocals[5]


Chart Peak
Australian ARIA Albums Chart 37[24]
Canadian RPM 100 Albums 1[6]
Dutch Mega Album Top 100 52[25]
New Zealand RIANZ Albums Chart 13[26]
UK Albums Chart 47[27]
US Billboard 200 2[7]
Year Title Chart peak positions
1997 "Building a Mystery" 1 97 13
1998 "Sweet Surrender" 2 28
"Adia" 3 55 18 3
"Angel" 9 36[a 1] 4
2000 "I Love You"
"—" denotes a release that did not chart.



  1. ^ "Angel" charted on the UK singles chart in February 2002, after being remixed by Rollo Armstrong under the name of "Dusted".[29]


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  2. ^ a b McDonnell, Evelyn (September 1997), "Lilith Fair", Spin, Spin Media LLC, p. 64, retrieved May 12, 2010 
  3. ^ Taylor, Chuck (September 6, 1997), "Sarah McLachlan's Recent Emergence On Radio Is Anything But A 'Mystery'", Billboard, Nielsen Company, retrieved July 20, 2010 
  4. ^ a b Tingen, Paul (March 2000), "Pierre Marchand — Producing Sarah McLachlan", Sound on Sound, SOS Publications Group, retrieved May 15, 2010 
  5. ^ a b "Surfacing > Credits", AllMusic, Rovi Corporation, retrieved May 15, 2010 
  6. ^ a b "Top Selling Albums", RPM, 65 (21), July 28, 1997, retrieved July 16, 2010 
  7. ^ a b "Surfacing — Sarah McLachlan", Billboard, Nielsen Company, retrieved July 16, 2010 
  8. ^ a b Michel, Sia (August 17, 1997), "Sarah McLachlan: Between Two Worlds", The New York Times, The New York Times Company, retrieved May 12, 2010 
  9. ^ a b "RPM100 Hit Tracks – Top Singles", RPM, 65 (24), August 18, 1997, retrieved July 17, 2010 
    "RPM100 Hit Tracks – Top Singles", RPM, 66 (15), December 15, 1997, retrieved July 17, 2010 
    "RPM100 Hit Tracks – Top Singles", RPM, 67 (9), May 25, 1998, retrieved July 17, 2010 
    "RPM100 Hit Tracks – Top Singles", RPM, 68 (14), January 25, 1999, retrieved July 17, 2010 
  10. ^ a b "Sarah McLachlan Chart History", Billboard, Nielsen Company, retrieved July 17, 2010 
  11. ^ "Sarah McLachlan Album & Song Chart History", Billboard, Nielsen Company, retrieved July 23, 2010 
  12. ^ Gardner, Elysa, "You're making your list and we've made ours: tons of ideas for presents--even for those hardest to please. : From Elton to Boyz to Celine to Dylan, It's an Album Bull Market", Los Angeles Times, retrieved April 1, 2013 
  13. ^ "Consumer Guide Reviews: Sarah McLachlan",, retrieved June 20, 2010 
  14. ^ "Sarah McLachlan: Surfacing", Rolling Stone, Wenner Media, December 23, 1997, archived from the original on October 23, 2007, retrieved July 16, 2010 
  15. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas, "Surfacing > Review", Allmusic, Rovi Corporation, retrieved May 15, 2010 
  16. ^ Jom (May 23, 2006), "Sarah McLachlan — Surfacing", Sputnikmusic, retrieved June 20, 2010 
  17. ^ D., Spence (February 24, 2006), "DMC: Saved By An Angel", IGN, News Corporation, retrieved July 16, 2010 
  18. ^ a b Staff reporter (1998-09-16). "Sarah McLachlan Named In Starr Report". MTV. Retrieved 2012-10-11. She's a multi-platinum recording artist, founder of the wildly successful Lilith Fair, but now Sarah McLachlan has received the ultimate honor -- she's mentioned in the newly released Kenneth Starr report. 
  19. ^ a b Strauss, Neil (1998-09-24). "Musical Damage In Starr Report". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-10-11. Buried in the report is a deleted computer file written by Monica S. Lewinsky about the Canadian singer and Lilith Fair founder Sarah McLachlan. ''When I was hiding out in your office for a half-hour, I noticed you had the new Sarah McLachlan CD,'' she wrote. ''I have it, too, and it's wonderful. Whenever I listen to song No. 5, I think of you.'' 
  20. ^ Catlin, Roger (1998-09-17). "Starr Report Unearths New Bedfellows". Hartford Courant. Retrieved 2012-10-11. Sarah McLachlan: ``Do What You Have To Do,'' a mournful track on her 1997 ``Surfacing,'' was cited by Lewinsky as a song that made her think of Clinton. 
  21. ^ Starr, Kenneth W. (1998-09-11). "H. Doc. 105-310 - Referral from Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr in Conformity with the Requirements of Title 28, United States Code, Section 595(c)" (PDF). United States House of Representatives. p. 86fn. Retrieved 2012-10-11. 
  22. ^ "McLachlan, Our Lady Peace Major Juno Winners", MTV, MTV Networks, May 23, 1998, retrieved July 17, 2010 
  23. ^ Luce, Patrick (March 22, 2010), "Sarah McLachlan To Release New Studio Album In June", Monsters and Critics, WOTR Ltd, retrieved July 17, 2010 
  24. ^ "Sarah McLachlan — Surfacing", Australian charts portal, Hung Medien, retrieved July 16, 2010 
  25. ^ "Sarah McLachlan — Surfacing", Dutch charts portal, Hung Medien, retrieved July 16, 2010 
  26. ^ "Sarah McLachlan — Surfacing", New Zealand charts portal, Hung Medien, retrieved July 16, 2010 
  27. ^ a b "Sarah McLachlan", The Official Charts Company, retrieved July 23, 2010 
  28. ^ "Week Commencing 13th October 2008" (PDF), The ARIA Report, ARIA (972), p. 36, 2008, retrieved July 23, 2010 
  29. ^ "Sarah McLachlan Singles",, retrieved July 17, 2010  Note: "Sarah McLachlan" must be searched manually