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RECORD RACK

Fumbling Towards Excitement

March 13, 1994|RICHARD CROMELIN

SARAH McLACHLAN

"Fumbling Towards Ecstasy"

Arista

* * 1/2

On McLachlan's third album, her singing is formal and studied, like the performance of an actress portraying a New Age troubadour in a stage musical. When intensity is called for, producer Pierre Marchand just generates another vocal track and layers it on, instead of requiring McLachlan to reach for something and disturb the regularity of her lulling murmur.

Marchand sustains a portentous throb as he weaves the electronic-folk-ethnic environment that's become the standard setting for introspective singer-songwriters in the '90s. It's an aural womb where feelings are signified rather than summoned and conveyed.

McLachlan's occasionally evocative words often involve the ways that love tangles things up, tracing a struggle to achieve a breakthrough of a spirit stifled by denial, obsession and need. They're not really powerful or especially demanding, and while the production fits them out with banners of urgency, her delivery is oblivious to any tensions or nuances.

This preoccupation with seductive surfaces makes McLachlan a good bet in the mellow-music marketplace, but at a time when women's perspective is being expressed so provocatively by such artists as Liz Phair and PJ Harvey, this seems especially timid and tepid.

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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