Revisiting Sarah McLachlan’s “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy”

Released 30 years ago, the album features “Possession” and “Hold On,” with other notable songs like “Ice Cream” and the title track.

By bonneville on April 29, 2024
Sarah McLachlan performs on stage in a blue dress with a background singer behind her
LONDON, ON – MARCH 17: Sarah McLachlan performs during the 2019 Juno Awards at Budweiser Gardens on March 17, 2019 in London, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Famous for starting Lilith Fair and for her ad campaign for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Sarah McLachlan is embarking on a nationwide tour, “Fumbling Towards Repair,” featuring Feist as the opener. The tour marks the 30th anniversary of the album in the US, where she will play the album in its entirety, plus a few more songs, according to McLachlan. 

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Let’s take a look at the impact the album has had throughout her career. 

The production: songwriting and controversy

“Fumbling Towards Ecstasy” is McLachlan’s third studio album. The Canadian label Nettwerk Records released it in October 1993 in Canada, but it was released in the US later by Arista Records, in February 1994. 

The album was produced by Pierre Marchand in Montreal, where McLachlan wrote most of the songs included on the album. All songwriting credit goes to McLachlan, with co-writing credit with Marchand on the title track. 

The first track on the album, “Possession,” scores the singer’s reactions to her fans, who concocted fantasies that they were already in a relationship. After receiving excessive fan letters from one fan in particular, an Ontario man named Uwe Vandrei, she decided to write about the experience of a man obsessed with a woman. 

Following the song’s release, Vandrei filed a lawsuit against McLachlan for using his words without crediting him. The case never went to court, however, as Vandrei died by suicide before it went forward. 

McLachlan stated that after releasing the song, she stopped receiving those types of letters, to her relief. 

The reception: Canada versus the US reacts

When McLachlan released the album in Canada, it was a huge hit immediately. Reception in the US a few months later, however, remained in the middle of the pop charts. “Hold On” was later included on her 2008 greatest hits compilation, “Closer: The Best of Sarah McLachlan.”

Despite its slow reception, the album grew to international acclaim, breaking her into the mainstream in other countries. It also crossed over into film, when a piano version of “Possession” was included on the 1996 “Due South” soundtrack. 

The legacy: continued relevance today

The songs from “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy” inspired many musicians in the ’90s. Elements of McLachlan’s singing and style can be seen in Dido’s otherworldly vocals, Paula Cole’s songwriting, and Nelly Furtado’s pop-folk fusion, which also contains trace elements of her influence. 

In 2022, Pitchfork ranked the album 119 out of their “150 Best Albums of the 1990s,” in 2000, Colin Lark featured it as #200 in his “All Time Top 1000 Albums” book. And eventually, a 3-disk legacy version was released in 2008 to celebrate its 15th anniversary. These accolades signal its continued relevance today, even if McLachlan’s other albums performed better on the charts (such as “Surfacing,” which she released in 1997). 

Listening to the tracks, McLachlan’s storytelling prowess and flowing vocals stand out among the contemporary song production. Unlike her later work, this album feels both lonesome and ethereal, moods that complete a rewarding listening experience.

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