Musical Notes: Sarah Mclachlan’s “Afterglow”

Sarah McLachlan
Sony/ATV Songs

Listening to the radio one evening, I could not help but notice a new song blasting though the airwaves. “The past can be undone, but we carry on our back the burdens time always reveals. In the lonely light of morning. In the wound that would not heal. It’s the bitter taste of losing everything I’ve held so dear:“. I heard the lyrics echo from the radio.

“What was the name of that song?” I thought as I continued to listen.

For the next couple of days, I walked down the street trying to figure out the artist who wrote and sang the lyrics to the song. Baffled, I walked down the street with the lyrics stuck in my head. In search of an answer, I went inside of a music store for assistance. Amidst a crowd of shoppers, I walked into the holiday-decorated store, only to hear the same lyrics over the music store’s loudspeakers.

“Could you please tell me the name of the song on the loudspeaker?” I asked the clerk behind the desk.

“Oh, that is Sarah McLachlan’s new album, Afterglow. We just received a new shipment this week. Would you like to purchase a copy?” he responded.

Surprised at the clerk’s response, I impulsively handed over $20. Was it worth my money? I asked myself as I walked out of the store with the album in my hand:

As soon as I arrived home, I started to regret my purchase. However, as soon as I placed the CD into my computer, I completely changed my mind when I heard the lyrics again.

Composed of ten brand new songs, Canadian singer Sarah McLachlan enchants the souls of listeners with her soulful lyrics on Afterglow. According to McLachlan, the meaning behind the title of her album is as follows: “When you look up Afterglow in the dictionary, it is defined as ‘the glow or light that remains once the sun is gone’. You’re used to this bright, shiny beautiful glow but the moment the sun disappears, all of a sudden you have to readjust everything. It’s a very transitional moment. A lot of these songs are about transition…the turning over of the rock, what’s underneath, the murky, shadowy uncertainty where everything looks very different” (2)

With the debut song “Fallen”, McLachlan sings a story about a woman who, after making a regretful decision, is desperate for divine intervention to help her “glow” again. In the following two verses of “Fallen”, the woman negatively questions her self worth in society, as she sees herself as “messed up” in her efforts to try to change the situation for the best. Being unable to live out the good intentions brought onto her by society, the woman feels as though she is only left with reminders about the scars from her past from the people who are the closest to her. In the final verse, even though the woman is left hopeless, she transforms to accept her loss in her relationships, while warning other women to be careful of the mistakes they have made in their lives.

“Time” tells the story of a woman’s journey toward “Afterglow”. She vividly personifies the passage of time passively haunting her life in comparison to “shadows moving across the wall”. Scared, she continues singing, feeling as though time is out to harm her. On the other hand, despite her failed attempts to stop time from harming her, she feels as though she needs more time in her life. Her love-hate relationship with time leaves her in a state of confusion, between wanting to keep time in her life in order to please the time controlling her life and wanting to keep time from controlling her life forever. Courageous with her inner battle against time, she finally transforms herself to forget about the harm time has done to her, by choosing instead not fight against it.

Contrasting on an optimistic note, is “Push”, which tells the story of a woman who has found her “Afterglow” in a person she genuinely trusts and believes in. Seeing the best and the worst of her, the other person keeps on appearing back in her life. The person she believes in has been emotionally “pushed” away by her many times during the worst times in her life. Yet despite her insensitivity, she relies on the other person to save her from drowning back into the dark depths of despair. Time and time again, the trustworthy person comes back, “offering her a softer place to land”. In the final verse, the woman is transformed when she leans that trust and forgiveness are needed in relationships, as shown through simple gestures, displays, care and concern, especially in times of need.

Closing my eyes, I stop for a moment now to reflect on this album. For the rest of the long hours of the night, I continue to let the other seven songs on the album play continuously in the background. I think again about the real reasons of why I purchased “Afterglow” that day. Was it because of the story behind the lyrics? Was it because of the sound of Sarah McLachlan’s voice? Was it because of the instrumental background music? Or was I simply a consumer of effective radio promotion? For whatever reason beyond my immediate comprehension, I slowly begin to understand what drew me into purchasing her album in the first place:

I would recommend Sarah McLachlan’s “Afterglow” to women, especially to women who are struggling to confront with past issues in their lives and who need a little bit of inspiration to turn their lives around in order to transform themselves for the better future they deserve. After all, perhaps this album can help women kick-start the transformation process to see the “Afterglow” at the end of the long and dark tunnel:

(1) McLachlan, Sarah. “Fallen.” Afterglow. Sony/ATV Songs, 2003.
(2) McLachlan, Sarah. Sarah McLachlan: Biography. 21 Nov. 2003.